IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Dylan McDermott Talks 'Olympus Has Fallen' and His Overall Career

Wednesday, 27 March 2013 15:20 Written by  Jami Philbrick
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IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Dylan McDermott Talks 'Olympus Has Fallen' and His Overall Career

Dylan McDermott has a career that most actors would kill for having appeared on several successful television series and films over the better part of the last twenty-five years.

The actor first gained notoriety for appearing in such popular movies as In the Line of Fire with Clint Eastwood, Steel Magnolias opposite Julia Roberts, and Home for the Holidays directed by Jodi Foster. But it was his role as Bobby Donnell on the long-running series The Practice that made him a household name. Recently he has appeared in a string of successful films including The Campaign, and The Perks of Being a Wallflower, not to mention the hit television series American Horror Story: Murder House, and it’s follow up season American Horror Story: Asylum. Now, McDermott can be seen once again on the big screen playing a pivotal role in the new action film Olympus Has Fallen, which is currently playing in theaters. 

The new movie, which was directed by Antoine Fuqua (Training Day), can best be described as “Die Hard in the White House.” The film centers on disgraced former Presidential guard Mike Banning (Gerrard Butler) who finds himself trapped inside the White House in the wake of a terrorist attack. Using his inside knowledge, Banning works with the head of the secret service (Angela Bassett) and the Speaker of the House (Morgan Freeman) to rescue the President (Aaron Eckhart) from his kidnappers. McDermott plays Dave Forbes, a former Secret Service agent now working in the private sector guarding the prime minister of South Korea who may not be as patriotic as he seems. 

ATTENTION: SPOILERS AHEAD!!! So if you haven’t seen the film yet and you plan to, you may want to be careful reading the rest of this article.

I recently had a chance to sit down with Dylan McDermott to talk about his work on Olympus Has Fallen, as well as his overall career.  The veteran actor discussed the new movie; it’s similarities to Die Hard, why he wanted to be in the film, its amazing cast of actors, the incredible set, training with the Secret Service for In the Line of Fire, working with Gerard Butler and Aaron Eckhart, why America likes their President to be a hero, collaborating with director Antoine Fuqua, his character’s ambiguity, how the film touches on real life issues, and which projects in his impressive career he is personally proud of the most. 

Here is what he had to say:

IAR: To begin with, your role in Olympus Has Fallen kind of reminded me of a classic movie about the Secret Service saving the President called In the Line of Fire. I believe that was one of your first films, did taking this role feel like coming full circle for you in your career?

Dylan McDermott: Yes, absolutely. That's one of the reasons I wanted to do this because I thought it was kind of fun to go back and revisit the Secret Service thing after being away for so many years. Have it as sort of bookends to my career. Also, obviously working with Antoine (Fuqua) for the first time, but just the idea of the Secret Service was something that intrigued me. 

I imagine you did a lot of research into the Secret Service twenty years ago for In the Line of Fire, did you feel like you had to do more research now for this role and has how they operate changed over the years?

McDermott: We had a consultant on Olympus Has Fallen and he really handled most of that. But I had done so much research on In the Line of Fire. I was on detail protecting Hilary Clinton at the time. I wasn't up at the front or anything, but I was there. So I had done a lot of research in my life by the time I made this movie and that was all in my body. 

I'm sure by now you've heard Olympus Has Fallen described as “Die Hard in the White House,” was that a reference that was talked about on set? 

McDermott: I had heard that before. That was kind of like the selling point. I'm trying to make different movies so obviously The Campaign, which was a comedy, and Olympus is action movie, and even my work on American Horror Story. So you know, I’m just trying to mix it up as much as possible, create new characters and just keep showing up in the right movies with the right actors, and great directors. 

Speaking of the actors, you’ve got an amazing cast in this film and I know you don't necessarily work with all of them but it must have been a big draw for you when you heard that Morgan Freeman, Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Angela Bassett and Melissa Leo, among others would be in this film?

McDermott: It's ridiculous. Everybody in this movie is great and it's rare when that happens. The cast that was assembled for this is Triple-A. So of course that's very attractive.

As you know, in Hollywood when there is a good idea everyone tries to take advantage of it. So it should be no surprise that there is another “Die Hard in the White House” type movie coming out later this year. I had a chance to visit Antoine on the mixing stage a few months ago and he talked about the pressure to get this movie out first. As an actor, did you feel that pressure and perhaps a sense of urgency while you were shooting?

McDermott: I did, yeah. We always felt that there was a sense of urgency on this movie. We finished in August and here it is coming out. So the turn-around was really, really fast. 

Did that affect you as an actor on set? 

McDermott: It did, but I think for this movie it worked because we were all feeling the push to get it done, but the movie is so filled with action that it only helped us.

What is it do you think that really attracts audience to the “Die Hard type” film and the idea of one hero going against an unbeatable army of bad guys to save the day?

McDermott: I suppose it's a western. I guess the western is sort of outdated in a way but it's a modern day western. I still think there's the Sergio Leone/Clint Eastwood model of movies in general, with the focus on the one man who's going to do it all. I think we're all still searching for our hero and movies provide that for us. 

Recently, your co-stars, Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, and Angela Basset were on Hardball With Chris Matthews promoting the film, and I thought Matthews asked a very interesting question that I’m going to steal. He said that no matter what your political leanings are, that as Americans there is something we love about seeing the President depicted as a hero in film and on television. He continued by asking your co-stars what is it about that political position that makes us as Americans root for him in fictional drama. Do you agree with that statement and what do you think the answer is?

McDermott: Again, it's one man. I think that we're kind of hard wired to believe in that somewhere. I think that Hollywood has kind of trained us to believe in one man can make a difference. Maybe they have the answers? I think there have been great leaders that have done that. Ghandi has done it, Martin Luther King did it, and I think that we're always searching for someone to teach us, to train us and to help us kind of find our way in this world. Maybe that’s what it comes down to, something echoes back to … maybe it’s Biblical, I don’t even know.  

Aaron Eckhart makes a great cinematic President, obviously your scenes with him are a little intense but tell me about working together?

McDermott: Yes, they are very intense. Our scenes were definitely intense and Antoine was able to let me to improvise a lot of my stuff. Aaron wanted to be ruffed up and he wanted to really have it be very real, so I was happy to oblige. We were all trying to make a very real movie.   

Without giving too much away, you have a very “Die Hard type” scene with Gerard Butler. He is so good in this movie; can you talk about acting opposite him?

McDermott: We had a big fight scene, and it was choreographed. It was a huge night and I think we took the whole night to shoot it. It was real, and dark, and it was emotional. I think there was some redemption certainly from my character at the end, which was so nice because he wasn’t just bad. He was turned grey certainly at the end, which I thought was really cool.   

Again, without giving too much away about the plot, was it important for you as an actor to find the grey in your character and not play him too one-dimensional?

McDermott: I think so because people are grey. There are too many people in prison. They all have their own story, why they did it; their justification, and I certainly think my character has some justified reasons for why he did it. I’m not saying they’re right, but again he justified them. I really enjoyed that it was grey and that he’s not just another bad guy.

When you first arrived in Shreveport, Louisiana and you saw that the production team had built an exact replica of the White House, what did you think? 

McDermott: I mean it’s surreal. It’s crazy. I mean it was 120 degrees outside, you’re in Shreveport and there’s the White House! When you look at the movie you would never know in a million years that we were not in Washington D.C. That’s the great thing about movies. 

What was your experience like working with director Antoine Fuqua on set? 

McDermott: We’ve been talking about working together again. Every once in a while you’ll meet a director that you totally get along with and they totally get you, Antoine’s that guy for me. I think I’ve been searching for a director for a long time, someone who would understand exactly what I’m about and I think Antoine’s it you, know what I mean? So I hope I do another ten movies with him because I just think he’s the greatest. I think Antoine never walked away from a scene feeling like he didn’t get it. But I would write my stuff beforehand and I would just bring it in. He would say, “Oh yeah, let’s choose that, let’s not use that.” So I was able to kind of fill my role out, which I thought was a little thin on the page. So I was able to adjust it and make sure all the bullet points were hit within the film. A lot of it’s there. 

What were some of the aspects about your character that you felt were missing from the script?  

McDermott: Just justifying why. So many times in movies you see the quote unquote bad guy and there’s no story or justification of why he’s doing the things he’s doing. I certainly thought that this guy from a political standpoint, he felt that the country’s going out in a very bad way in terms of globalization, the greed of Wall Street, buying the Presidency, and everything being so corporate. As he says to the President in the film, “I’m a fucking rookie compared to you.” That was it. That was the moment that really justified who he was.

Obviously it’s an action movie and it’s popcorn fun, but at the same time as you just mentioned, Wall Street, and obviously the North Koreans, and other real life issues are addressed in the film. Do you think that’s what makes the movie so powerful in some ways? 

McDermott: Yes, because there is some kind of truth to it. We’re mixing fantasy and reality. We’re praying on people’s emotions and fears, and what could be worse than taking over the White House? Every single American would go into shock and fear. I think they’ve already tried it and not succeeded thank God, but that icon of the White House is so enormous. The star of the movie is the White House because it represents so much. 

Finally, your career spans well over twenty years, on both television and in the cinema. Are there one or two projects in particular that you are personally most proud to have been a part of?

McDermott: Oh man, there’s so many of those; Hamburger Hill, In the Line of Fire, Home for the Holidays, Wonderland, which I know not a lot of people have seen, and certainly The Practice and American Horror Story. There are bullet points along the way that I can point to and say those were great moments.

Olympus Has Fallen is currently playing in theaters.

To read our exclusive interview with Melissa Leo about Olympus Has Fallen, please click here

To read our interview with Gerard Butler and Morgan Freeman about Olympus Has Fallen, please click here

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

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