Director’s Reel: Roland Emmerich revels in destruction, from ‘Independence Day’ to ‘Day After Tomorrow’ to ‘Moonfall’

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Director Roland Emmerich talks to Yahoo Entertainment about all of his biggest films from Independence Day to Day After Tomorrow to Moonfall in the latest episode of Director's Reel.

Video Transcript

ROLAND EMMERICH: You know they like said, it's-- we take care of that. Jean-Claude, he said, like, don't hit him that hard, and he's, doesn't like it.

[SMASH]

- Is that intimidating-- telling Dolph Lundgren and Jean-Claude Van Damme what to do for however many months on the set?

ROLAND EMMERICH: Even worse, I had to tell Dolph Lundgren that he would play the bad guy. We changed the script quite a lot. So we walked into Dolph Lundgren. And said, like, I think we have to get this more conflict, and because of that, you have to-- you play the bad guy. But he was very-- he was fine with it.

[SPACE SOUND]

ROLAND EMMERICH: I had seen Star Wars in film school. And actually, I was like at that time, figuring out the story for "Stargate." But I could never imagined ever to do a movie like that. So when I finally could do "Stargate" was like for me, a dream come true. Because all of a sudden, I had like 45 million and could really do it right.

Well, he was Oscar nominated for the "Crying Game." And that was his first movie he did. One of our producers asked me once, how do you see that character? And the only character I could see was Michael Jackson. So you need really interesting actors. And Jaye Davidson was like, kind of fantastic in it.

We got really excited. And then he all of a sudden didn't want to do any movies anymore. And we then had to buy him by offering him $1 million, which was at that time a lot of money.

[CRASHING SOUNDS]

ROLAND EMMERICH: I had a meeting at-- at Warner's, because "Stargate" was very successful. And I got all these different offers. And I went to-- to Warner Brothers. And they-- when the two present me this prison escape movie and it has Harrison Ford in it, and I asked them at one point, so what's the budget? Right?

They said like, well, it's 70 million. 70 million? I could finally make my alien invasion movie. This development lady, she said, why not?

[SUSPENSEFUL MUSIC]

- Welcome to earth.

ROLAND EMMERICH: Well, they just didn't felt that Will was ready for it. They just said, no, to it. And I could never understand that. And I then insisted on will Smith.

But they also had a problem with Jeff Goldblum. How can you have a problem with Jeff Goldblum? Right? At that time, race was maybe less a-- a subject matter. But I thought, gosh. This is 1996. I mean, we need some Black heroes.

[GODZILLA ROAR]

- "Godzilla" was a huge undertaking. What motivated you to take that one on?

ROLAND EMMERICH: I didn't want to. But the deal was so good.

[LAUGHS]

And I always said to Dean, I said, Dean, this is like this fat monster. I just don't believe it. And then I said, look, let's do it like this. I'm designing my own monster. I went to Patrick Tatopoulos and said, make him lean, and mean, and fast. Right?

And I expected when I go with this to Japan, they will say, no. That's not what we want. Goodbye. Right? And they all of a sudden said, oh, great. This is the American Godzilla. And we can still do our Japanese Godzilla.

- Is it true that Spielberg tried to talk you out of Godzilla?

ROLAND EMMERICH: No. But I-- I once met him. And he pitched me all their ideas for movies and their scripts. And I always like that.

So when is he mentioning "Gladiator?" And then I asked him afterwards, so why you didn't mention "Gladiator?" And he said, oh, we just sold Ridley Scott on that. That is a movie I would have loved to do.

[DRAMATIC MUSIC]

- Gabrielle, run!

- T-Thomas!

- No!

ROLAND EMMERICH: We tested two people. Mel chose one of the actors. And I wanted to have Heath Ledger in it.

And he said at one point to me, well, you're the director. So I said, well, he approved Heath Ledger. And after three days, he came to me and says, you were right. And I was wrong.

Because he immediately saw what kind of amazing potential Heath Ledger has. He was so young. He was just still a kid.

And he kind of brought one or two of his friends to the set. And they were smoking a lot of stuff. So at one point, Dean Devlin, my producer at that time, had to have a talk with him. And it didn't work. So we had Mel talking to him about it. And that worked.

[LAUGHS]

ROLAND EMMERICH: I watched 9/11 happen in my house in Mexico. So I immediately put the script aside. And said I'm not doing destruction movies anymore.

And then actually, nine months later, a friend of mine said, but why? If you don't destroy any buildings it's totally OK. So when you see the movie The Statue of Liberty is upright and stays upright.

When the whole wave goes into Manhattan, there's not one building getting destroyed. And that's how we solved that. Because whatever the movie was, it was a warning for the world. If you don't change your ways, this will happen.

- Oh, baby!

[LAUGHS]

Bring it on!

ROLAND EMMERICH: It was actually the idea to make Noah's Ark a modern film. Meaning, Noah is the governments of the world. They know what's going to happen. That's how they sold the movie.

I mean, when you make a movie, you never think that some people buy into that. The Mayan calendar is probably not even 2012. It's probably 2027. Or maybe it was long past. They always said, in 2012, the Mayan calendar ends. It was a great hook, actually, to make a movie like that.

- We've got a main--

ROLAND EMMERICH: A lot of people actually said this to me. They said, "White House Down" was the precursor of January 6th. Saying-- and I said, no. I mean, it's too far away. I think it gives it too much credit.

Also, at that time I-- I became an American, because of Obama. I said, if the Americans can vote for Obama, that's such an amazing thing. And I went to my sister and said, let's become Americans. Right? So that was that.

And then, when I was approached by Sony to do this movie, there was this feeling of, we have to make this more right wing. We have to make them all a little bit more brutal. And because it was Obama at the end survives it.

Well, I started with Will Smith. And all of a sudden, he decided to opt out. He decided to do "Suicide Squad." And then I had to find a new way, how to tell the story.

But at the end, it was always like about the Queen comes down to earth. And I think the-- the scene with the bus and the queen giving each other chase, or the queen chases the bus, was a really, really cool idea.

- Brian!

- Marcus!

- I'm losing air! Brian!

[SCREAMING]

ROLAND EMMERICH: I read a book 10, 11 years ago, which was called "Who Built The Moon?" They made a pretty amazing case for it. And when something is that amazing, then you like say, hmm, maybe I should do another movie-- another disaster movie. This was like actually done before COVID hit. Think about that.

- This planet has suffered five extinctions. This is going to be the sixth. [MUSIC FADES OUT]