IAR INTERVIEW: Gerard Butler and Morgan Freeman Talk 'Olympus Has Fallen'

Thursday, 21 March 2013 11:12 Written by  iamrogue
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IAR INTERVIEW: Gerard Butler and Morgan Freeman Talk 'Olympus Has Fallen'

Olympus Has Fallen remedies a longstanding action movie omission. 

In the decades since Die Hard, audiences have been treated to seemingly every possible "Die Hard in a novel setting" film, from hockey rinks to Air Force One.  While the President's airborne ride has been hijacked onscreen before, somehow the White House has managed to evade cinematic siege.

That changes this Friday, March 22nd, when Olympus Has Fallen bringing thunderous action to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  Gerard Butler (300) stars in the film as Mike Banning, a Secret Service agent who has resigned himself to a desk job after disappointing President Benjamin Asher, played by Aaron Eckhart (The Dark Knight).  When a highly coordinated attack by a team of North Korean terrorists places the White House under their control and results in the President, Vice President, and Secretary of State being taken hostage, Banning is the only man who can save the day from the inside.

While Banning beats his way through bad guys, Speaker of the House Trumbull, played by Morgan Freeman (Driving Miss Daisy), must take the reins of the nation and lead it through a struggle that brings the entire world to edge of annihilation.

Butler and Freeman – who lead an all-star cast that also boasts Eckhart, Angela Bassett (Malcolm X), Rick Yune (Die Another Day), Melissa Leo (The Fighter), Robert Forster (Jackie Brown), Dylan McDermott (The Campaign), Cole Hauser (Good Will Hunting), and Radha Mitchell  (Pitch Black) – were on hand for the Los Angeles press day promoting Olympus Has Fallen, as was IAR Managing Editor Jami Philbrick, along with several other members of the press. The two actors enthusiastically discussed explosions, presidential acting, humidity, researching roles, the ensemble cast, and expressing character through action.

The film is the latest effort from Antoine Fuqua, the director behind Training Day, Brooklyn's Finest, Shooter, and Tears of the Sun.  His filmography boasts quite a few explosions, but he aims to outdo himself with the sequence in which Yune's villainous Kang and his team make their move on the White House, a stretch of the film that finds a high-powered aerial assault driving the President into a trap.

"In this situation, I think the explosions actually are important because this take-down of the White House is one of the most unforgettable action sequences," said Butler. "But it has such a purpose behind it. It’s all relevant. How do they do it? What is the intelligence they use? And it’s a very powerful thing to experience because we were focused, especially Antoine, on grounding it, making it ‘What would this really look like, smell like, taste like?’  So you’re totally pulled into this, and in that respect, I think every gunshot and every explosion is mind-blowing."

Explosions aside, Olympus Has Fallen provides a chance for Freeman to lend his typical gravitas to the proceedings.  It's a bit more complex than many of his other authoritative roles in that Speaker Trumbull is thrust reluctantly into a position.  Similarly, Freeman, who previously played the President in 1998's Deep Impact, said that the allure of Washington power didn't enter his desire to appear in the film, saying, "I don’t see that there is any decision you’re making regarding your role except you’re going to play him or not. What’s in the script is in the script. You don’t go to the director and say, 'Look, I like the idea of playing this. But I want all these lines changed so that I can put more weight into the idea that I would really like to be president.'"

Gravitas from Freeman is nothing surprising, but Butler took note of the intensity that Eckhart brought to his role as Benjamin Asher.  Butler enthused, "[Aaron] brought so much to life for that President, and having worked with him, I was totally inspired by the intensity because what we all have to go through, but what the President has to go through, that’s hard to keep up.  Nobody is more committed and prepared and stays in that space to the point that – I thought I was pretty committed, but I’d watch him and be like, ‘Damn!’  I was very, very, very impressed, and I think you really feel that in the movie, that same tenacity and commitment and brilliance that I got from Aaron."

The production went by at a breakneck pace in Louisiana, and while much of the cast and crew founds themselves sweating like mad in the Southern heat, Freeman found himself feeling perfectly at home, saying, "I was raised in Mississippi, so that heat and humidity is my bread and butter. It keeps me going. I can’t stand cold weather. I’m freezing now."

Oscar-winner Freeman felt no particular need to conduct research on the current Speaker of the House or current Washington politics.  "I don’t think to play just about any role, unless you going to play someone who is living today, that you have to do any research beyond learning your lines. I don’t go for trying to study the Speaker of the House."  Laughing, he asked, "You know who that is?"

"But seriously, I don’t think there is any need for that, he continued. "When I played a prisoner [in Shawshank Redemption], some of the actors went to go spend the night in jail. Really?! To learn what?"

Butler's Mike Banning spends much of the film engaged in fisticuffs, but the actor felt envious of the less action-oriented thespians when Freeman showed up on set, explaining, "To be honest, I was very jealous the week that Morgan arrived because literally this excitement came over the whole set. It was amazing to watch.  And I really wished I had been involved in those scenes; it would’ve been great to be in.  A lot of my favorite stuff in this movie is what happens in the crisis room.  It’s so incredibly great to go in and experience what it is those people do that we don’t know when this happens.  On 9/11 we were saying, ‘Where is the President?  Who’s making decisions?  What’s happening?’  Here, you realize, and this is why it was great to have this incredible cast to really humanize these characters and see the decisions they have to make and that they’re real people who happen to make split-second decisions that will affect the planet." 

Butler wasn't alone in being impressed by the cast assembled in that situation room.  "One of the great things about this work that we do, I’m still kind of star struck," said Freeman. "I see actors, I’ve seen everyone here to incredible work and to get a chance to dance with them is a serious perk in life. In terms of Angela, yeah, I’m there. Dylan and I have worked together a couple of times before. You find a good dance partner and you just want to dance.

"The stakes are rising and they’re going into territory where this is no protocol for even what they do," Butler said, "so I would’ve loved to have been involved with that, but it’s fun to go and kick ass as well.  Antoine and I were wanting to make this guy really, incredibly brutal and uncompromising to give some satisfaction that I feel in our recent history we felt we never got.  After 9/11, it was done; everybody was gone.  Here, we have a stand-off situation with an escalating international crisis, but the terrorists are there and we need to see some payback."

The pugilistic expertise of the Fuqua was instrumental in crafting the action of Olympus Has Fallen, according to Butler, who said, "He’s seriously a Golden Gloves boxer, so to make an action movie with a guy who understands fighting and who understands character."

"You can say so much with the fights, or you can say nothing," he continued.  "And we were always about this specific kind of intention behind this guy fighting because stunt guys are incredible, but they’ll often give you stunt-y moves, and you [say], ‘No, I want this.  I want a surprise or I want to be lethal or I want to punish.’ what’s the intention behind that?  When you’ve got a guy like Antoine who completely understands that and yet understands character and performances, then it makes it a really  - that’s why we have such a rich movie.  It’s not just an action movie, it’s a thriller, but it’s an emotional ride as well with characters you get involved with because all of that." 

Check out IAR Managing Editor Jami Philbrick's exclusive interview with Academy Award winner Melissa Leo, who plays Secretary of Defense Ruth McMillan, by clicking right here.

And to read our visit to the mixing stage of Olympus Has Fallen, please click here

Olympus Has Fallen opens nationwide on Friday, March 22nd.

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