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Permanent Resident of the Home of the Sanely Insane

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Gerrad Hall January 28, 2013

It’s a safe bet the President of the United States is one of the most portrayed characters in TV and film. And where there’s the President, there’s Secret Service.

That’s where Gerard Butler comes into play for the March 22nd release, Olympus Has Fallen, directed by Training Day‘s Antoine Fuqua. In the film, Butler’s Agent Mike Banning blames himself for not being able to save the First Lady (Ashley Judd) when, during a snow storm, she and the President’s limousine is in an accident that results in her death. No spoilers here…that storyline is revealed in the first 30-seconds of the first trailer (below) released last week.

So as if things weren’t bad enough for the President – played by Aaron Eckhart – a year later, North Korean terrorists bare down on Washington, D.C. and 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, ripping through the streets and eventually the protective border of the White House, taking down anyone in their path. On self-imposed desk duty since the First Lady’s death, still having trouble coming to grips with what he views as a failure of his job, Banning’s self-pity and guilt are quickly taken over by his protective instincts and sense of duty when it becomes immediately evident that the President and his young son are in danger.

“The Secret Service job is 100-percent success or 100-percent failure; there is no in between,” Fuqua explains. ”Kennedy dies, it’s a failure. First Lady dies, it’s a failure. Your job is to protect the President. Even when Reagan was shot, that’s a failure; the fact that he was even hit with a bullet and could have died was a failure. Their job is so extreme. So for a guy like Banning, who’s there to protect and put his life on the line for what he believes in, to remove himself [from the President's detail] because he felt like he completely failed [speaks to his state of mind].”

Butler was an easy choice for Fuqua, who’s been a fan since the Scottish actor’s star-making role in Zack Snyder’s 300.

“We met a long time ago when I did King Arthur and he wanted to be King Arthur. And I don’t really even remember him auditioning for me, so he has been mad at me for years,” Fuqua jokingly admits at a preview of Olympus Has Fallen footage. ”We’ve been trying to work together for years. I’ve seen him in these romantic comedies and I want to see him kick some ass and be the guy from 300 again because I really think we’ve lost a lot of men in our film culture. Gerry is a big guy, he’s handsome, and he’s a talented actor, so it’s nice to see him this way.”

In one of the three scenes The Seven Sees recently saw along with a select group of reporters, Butler seems a natural fit for the role, completely delivering on the “kick some ass” attitude Fuqua was hoping for. ”It’s a classic hero’s journey,” Fuqua says. ”He goes into the belly of the beast and finds his inner strength.”

One of the most iconic images of Washington, D.C. in cinema is undoubtedly the destruction of the White House in Independence Day. While the leader of the country has often been in danger in movies, the iconic residence and place of business have never been portrayed on the big screen quite like this.

“The White House is sort of a temple; it represents something…the idea of it falling, the idea of blood on the walls, the idea of what it means to a lot of people,” Fuqua says of the famous dwelling, its code name derived from the home of the Greek mythological gods. (Incidentally, Ricky Jones, a former-but-still-classified government employee who served as technical advisor on the film and was on-hand for the footage preview, says “Olympus” has never been used as a code name for the White House or a President.)

While the Independence Day catastrophe was caused by aliens, Fuqua says that doesn’t make the threat any less, as he found out when working with Jones and other Secret Service agents in researching the film.

“The Secret Service runs scenarios if aliens came to Earth. They actually do this; they sit around and have real discussions about, ‘What if…,’” he explains. ”I [asked Ricky and the agents], ‘How would you do it? Without giving anything away, how would you do it?’ They walked me through it, and it scared the shit out of me because I thought, ‘Oh, that makes sense that they could do it that way.’ If somebody had the willpower and the desire, they can get through the front door [of the White House]. They’ll be dead, but if they had the right equipment and enough explosives and enough shit, they could cause some havoc. Whether they get their hands on the President is a different story.”

The terrorist attack story taking place over the course of 24 hours, or “one crazy night,” as Fuqua puts it, the director says the script lured him in with its attempt to “scare the shit out of Washington. Because in New York we dropped our guard, so now days since 9/11, you believe that we can be vulnerable to this type of thing,” he says. ”It’s not a matter of if; it’s a matter of when.”

In this case, Rick Yune, a D.C. native famous for roles in The Fast and the Furious and as the North Korean terrorist, Zao, in Pierce Brosnan’s final James Bond film, Die Another Day, is the mastermind of this threat. His mother killed by an American landmine in his homeland, his father assassinated as they tried to escape, Yune’s Kang has been patient in planning his revenge.

“He got away and would up in South Korea,” Fuqua explains, “and always harbored that anger – as a lot of terrorists do – and he, of course, says he’s doing it for a prosperous Korea. His goal is to bring North and South Korea together because we interrupted their civil war. So he wants the nuclear codes to our silos, which is why he torturing [the President], and eventually he wants to create a nuclear chaos here in the U.S., to create death and mayhem and for us to suffer.” Kang’s plan long in motion, he fools even his own boss, the South Korean Foreign Minister, becoming his Head of Security. On this day, the President and the Prime Minister have a meeting, the perfect opportunity for Kang to unleash his attack.

If any of this sounds familiar, it’s because Columbia Pictures has a similar movie in the works, White House Down directed by Roland Emmerich and starring Jamie Foxx as the President. Channing Tatum plays a Capitol Policeman who’s on a tour of the White House with his daughter when it’s “overtaken by a heavily armed paramilitary group,” as the movie’s official synopsis describes. So it, of course, becomes Tatum’s duty to protect his daughter and the Commander-in-Chief.

While Olympus Has Fallen opens three months before that one, Fuqua says he wishes the best for everybody. ”I think there’s room [for both movies]. Me and Roland are completely different filmmakers, good or bad,” Fuqua says of any potential White House movie vs. White House movie rivalry. “Once I get all the visual effects right, it has scale. I think we managed to pull that off, and we’re definitely going to have stronger actors.”

But Fuqua, who says he’s friends with Foxx, admits his competitive nature does get the best of him. ”I’ve played sports my whole life, so I want to kick his ass,” he says with a big laugh. ”I don’t want to lose, and I don’t want to see him do bad, but I don’t want to lose.”

Olympus Has Fallen Freeman Eckhart EARLY LOOK: GERARD BUTLER BACK IN ACTION IN OLYMPUS HAS FALLENAn early test screening of Olympus in D.C. scored high, in the 80s, Fuqua reveals, and he says a few females in the audience cried; others had very strong reactions to certain scenes. If the first trailer and the intense and entertaining sequences Fuqua showed reporters is any indication, he certainly has something interesting on his hands with Olympus.

“We’re talking about some serious shit – the Secret Service, attacking the White House,” Fuqua says, “[but] at the end of the day, it’s entertainment. That’s the thing I was attracted to – trying to have some fun with it, some great fight sequences, blow some shit up, try to make it feel authentic to give it some edge, get some great performances so you have something to really hold on to; the characters are real.”

And maybe, just maybe, slip in a little bit of a statement. ”Personally, I always try to say something. In this one, I was basically saying that we should always stay on our guard, stay awake, stay alert. Even though it’s fun, stay alert – it could happen.”

Olympus Has Fallen also stars Morgan Freeman as the Speaker of the House, Angela Bassett, Dylan McDermott, Robert Forster, Melissa Leo and Cole Hauser.
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