In the action thriller “White House Down,” policeman John Cale (played by Channing Tatum) has just been denied his dream job with the Secret Service of protecting U.S. President James Sawyer (played Jamie Foxx). Not wanting to let down his daughter Emily (played by Joey King) with the news, he takes her on a tour of the White House, when the complex is overtaken by a heavily armed paramilitary group. With the nation’s government falling into chaos and time running out, it's up to Cale to save the president, his daughter and the country.
“White House Down” was considered a disappointment at the U.S. box office when the movie was released in 2013, but the movie did most of its business outside the U.S., and it got better reviews from critics than the reviews for “Olympus Has Fallen,” another 2013 movie about the White House being attached by terrorists. Some people have speculated that “White House Down” would have had better ticket sales if it the movie had been released before “Olympus Has Fallen.” Here is what Tatum, Foxx, Maggie Gyllenhaal (who plays Secret Service agent Carol Finnerty) and director Roland Emmerich said at “White House Down” press conference in London.
“White House Down” shares some plot elements with “Olympus Has Fallen.” Roland, how is “White House Down” different?
Emmerich: It’s not based on [“Olympus Has Fallen”]. It has big explosions. It’s at a certain point where you can’t explode anything anymore … One is real events and the others are movies. I think we have to be careful not to take movies too seriously, because I don’t take my movies too seriously.
These events are too tragic to compare it to a movie. That’s what irks me a little bit. You make a movie and it should be fun and entertaining. What’s happening Boston right now [the Boston Marathon bombing] is too terrifying to talk about, even for me.
Channing, did you want Jamie Foxx to play the President of the United States? Did you do your own stunts?
Tatum: Who doesn’t want Jamie Foxx as a president? I can’t really take full credit for that. I think we all did. But yeah, I like doing my own stunts. I go to movies all the time, and I know when they cut away. When the actor’s face goes through the window, it’s all sugar glass. It’s not going to hurt you. But for insurance purposes, they don’t let us actors go through things and whatnot, but I enjoy it. But back to the Jamie thing, I’d vote for him!
Channing, what did you find interesting about your “White House Down” character John Cale?
Tatum: One of my favorite films from the ‘80s was “Red Dawn.” It was [about] a foreign attack. One of the first things I read on [“White House Down”] was that I thought it was going to be something like that. It wasn’t. It was about Americans turning on Americans.
I thought about the country at the moment. We’ve never been more divided. I thought it was kind of relevant and fresh. And I started focusing on the character. It was a strange character that was trying to save the leader of the free world through the love of his daughter. That’s all he could think about.
The patriotism and the love of his daughter was everything. Every decision in the film was clear for me. Every decision that he made was for his daughter. I think it was the thing that made me understand the movie. I understood it. I could put it in one line, one sentence. And I knew what the movie was after that.
Channing, what was it like doing the action scenes in “White House Down”?
Tatum: When Roland is shooting things at you, and everything is exploding, the adrenaline is not what you’re worried about. You’re worried about being at the right place at the right time so something doesn’t fall on you. It’s good. When the movie starts, it’s a sprint to the end.
Keeping the adrenaline up is the problem. You spike, and then you want to come down. I got to do some stuff on this movie I’d never done before. I got to do a nine- or 10-foot fall into that glass on the roof.
It was cool. It was a lot of fun. I like actually doing the things the character does because you feel gratified when, at the end of the movie, you’re supposed to be tired at beat up, I’m actually tired and beat up, so there’s less acting.
Jamie, did making “Django Unchained” influence you to do another action movie like “White House Down”?
Foxx: “Django” was such an incredible ride for anybody who loves cinema. That movie was remarkable in the sense of how iconic the character is. A lot of people didn’t know Django in the States, but Django overseas was already iconic. And to actually be in the movie with Quentin Tarantino and see it jump off, it was amazing.
What’s great about it is what I call “the evolution of freedom”: to go from playing a slave to playing the President of the United States in one year. I didn’t take too long. It was great to have the chains off and have my suit on. I was like, “Cool.” When you’re playing a slave, it can wear on you a little bit. But transitioning to [“White House Down”] with another fantastic cast, it’s just been a wonderful ride.
Maggie, did you take part in any “White House Down” action sequences?
Gyllenhaal: I didn’t get to do too much of the actual running through burning buildings action. I did a little bit [of action]. I play a Secret Service agent. In the beginning of the movie, I’m seriously “by the book” and intellectual and maybe a little dead inside. And then I run into Channing in the hallway and start to become a little bit more alive. [She laughs.]
And as the movie goes along, for her, instead of being just a powerful woman who has to shut everything else off, it’s impossible to shut everything else off because the world is blowing up … and I’m sort of more in a safe place, trying to figure out what’s happening and where to go.
Did any of the actors know each other before working together on “White House Down”?
Tatum: I’m a ginormous fan of everybody at this table. I was jacked up to get to the set and start playing around.
Gyllenhaal: [Jamie and I] met because Jamie made a movie [2005’s “Jarhead”] with my brother and my husband. They were all in the same movie together. I was a little scared of you.
Foxx: What? Why would you be scared of me?
Gyllenhaal: You had your own trailer and your own thing going on at the time. I love you, but when we met, you were …
Foxx: You know, I was the drill instructor for the movie …
Foxx: I was a little scary.
Channing, how do you feel about the White House being “blown up” by a German director?
Tatum: Let me figure out how to answer this. Whether he’s German or not, I don’t know if I’ve known a filmmaker who can do anything with more style than what he does it in. He’s truly one of the most gifted people and free people I’ve been able to work with. I’m honored to get to work with him, in this film especially.
As far as my most sacred house in the country getting blown up, it’s weird. With everything going on in the world, these are movies. You go to movies because you want to see something that is extraordinary, whether it is catastrophe or epiphany or whatever.
You go to movies because you want to see somebody overcome the thing you can’t overcome. This is a movie. I’ve always looked at it as a movie. And I hope it never happens in real life.
Jamie, what did you do to give yourself a presidential demeanor?
Foxx: I got to go to the White House a couple of times. We did a Motown revue for the President when they were honoring Motown. So I got a chance to go, and I was the MC. It was interesting that everything at the White House has to be checked.
They asked me what jokes I was going to tell. They made me write them out on a piece of paper. I was like, “I’m not saying none of this sh*t.” I gave them jokes I wasn’t going to tell.
And as I was saying other jokes, you could see [government employees] saying, “Those aren’t the jokes he was going to say.” It was a trip that everything had to be fleeced, because anything that goes awry, it could compromise the situation. There were jokes I made, like President Obama dancing on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” because President Obama doesn’t dance so well. Anyway, some of those things I looked at.
Also, the pictures on the wall of all of the presidents were amazing … What I noticed about President Obama was that he was presidential, but at the same time, it looked like you were able to walk up to him. He didn’t have the air of “You have to say ‘Mr. President.’”
That’s why a lot of times, people say “Obama” because he felt like a friend, he felt like someone who was at ease. So I took a bit of that, but it’s definitely not an impersonation of Obama. Our relationship is more like two fun guys. Once you see the movie, you’ll understand. It’s not an impersonation, but I definitely took things from that experience.
Channing, did you feel heroic in making “White House Down”?
Tatum: I had Roland Emmerich aiming the gun, so all the bullets happened to miss me. It was supposed to be a guy who wasn’t up to snuff, as far as making the grade of being a Secret Service agent. Those guys get unbelievably scoured from what they’ve done from the third grade to the point they want to get into the Secret Service. He hasn’t done it all right.
And ultimately, it became, as Jamie was saying, it became two guys that were just guys at the end of the day trying to get out of a house while people were trying to do wrong. We just relied on each other. And it became more of a partnership than the President and a Secret Service guy, because on paper, I definitely wasn’t a Secret Service guy.
Roland, could you have made “White House Down” with other actors?
Emmerich: No. After I met [Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx], I couldn’t have been happier. First, I met Channing in New York. And afterwards, I talked to my people and said, “We would be so happy to have him.”
It’s one of those things where you meet somebody and you go, “Oh my God, he’s perfect for this part. He’s smart, he’s intelligent. He’s good-looking.” You immediately feel comfortable with him.
Jamie was another story. I went down to Louisiana and met Jamie in his slave outfit. He had this beard. I was a little bit scared, but over the course of the dinner, we got a little bit better. Only when we actually worked together did I realize who well that all works.
That’s somewhat what you have to do as a director. You have to gauge, “Will these guys fit together?” And I realized with both of them, they spoke highly of each other. They were true fans.
That’s important that people like each other, because I don’t think you can totally fake that on screen. And then, when we started shooting, it was one of those things where we were actually high-fiving each other — the producers and the writer were like, “Oh my God, this is better than what we expected. It’s super-fantastic.” Because it’s also a lot about the chemistry.
Channing, do you think you’ll be doing more action movies, maybe with Roland Emmerich?
Tatum: I can think of maybe two or three other directors who make movies on the scale that [Roland Emmerich] makes. They go in one place, and that’s summer. It’s an honorary place that they reside in.
You make a movie that’s so global, and they don’t just reside in one place. Yeah, I absolutely think it’s a graduation. I hope it is. Same thing with these guys [he points to Foxx and Gyllenhaal] though.
Roland, is there an underlying message to “White House Down”?
Emmerich: I think every good, entertaining movie should have a message. I really believe that, because if you do it without it, the film feels a little bit soulless. I try to put in every one of my movies some sort of message. I don’t want to overdo it, because I don’t want people to get annoyed by it, but it’s good to have a message.
And every movie story tells you something about the human condition. In this movie, it’s about the division in America and how people are not acting democratic anymore because they are so far apart from each other.
For more info: "White House Down" website