‘White House Down’ Director Roland Emmerich Can’t Help But Blow up the President’s Home

Movie Talk
'White House Down' director Roland Emmerich
'White House Down' director Roland Emmerich

Roland Emmerich doesn't want to just be known as the guy who destroys the White House. But he's just too good at it to stop.

Believe it or not, the director who blew up 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. with an alien laser in "Independence Day" and dropped an aircraft carrier on it in "2012" actually had some misgivings about trashing the place again for his new movie "White House Down."
In a phone conversation with Yahoo! Movies, Emmerich said he had been working on another sci-fi film called "Singularity," but when it stalled out he was sent the highly sought-after script to "White House Down." He said he blanched at first when he read the title, knowing his own reputation for flattening American landmarks on film. But after one read of the screenplay by James Vanderbilt ("Zodiac," "The Amazing Spider-Man"), Emmerich said he was sold.

Watch an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at "White House Down":

"White House Down" tells the story of John Cale, a former soldier and police officer who applies — and fails — to become a Secret Service agent. But while on a tour of the White House with his young daughter, an extremist group attacks Washington, leaving Cale as the only one who can save the president.

For the lead role of Cale, Emmerich said he had a list of potential male stars, and at the top of it was the name "Channing Tatum." Emmerich had been impressed by Tatum's muscular but comedic work in "21 Jump Street," and after a single meeting with the actor there was no need to go farther down the list. Emmerich called Sony Pictures chairwoman Amy Pascal with good news and bad news. He said the good news was that he wanted Channing Tatum for the part, but "the bad news is I don't want to do the movie without him." Luckily, Tatum jumped aboard.

The role of the President was written for a younger African-American man; Emmerich said he immediately envisioned Jamie Foxx in the role. He noted that Tatum and Foxx had met the previous year at a Sony press event in Mexico where they partied long into the night.

Emmerich said playing the President was a departure from some of the action hero roles Foxx has played in the past. The president in the movie is a "man of peace," as Emmerich described him, who had never fired a gun in his life. Foxx had to tap into his intellectual side, fumbling around when he's called on to handle a rocket launcher. And since he was stuck in a suit, Foxx helped Tatum with his posture so he looked properly heroic in his sleeveless T-shirt.

Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx in 'White House Down'
Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx in 'White House Down'

Not wanting the film to be just another humorless action slog, Emmerich encouraged Foxx and Tatum to improvise during shooting. He said Foxx in particular would often end takes with ad libs that were either too silly or too dirty to make it into their PG-13 movie. Emmerich also revealed that while gifted mimic Foxx can do a pitch-perfect imitation of Barack Obama, he would only do it between takes to amuse the crew. The president he plays on screen is in no way related to the actual resident of the White House, Emmerich made clear.

One advantage of having filmed (and subsequently demolished) the White House so many times before was that Emmerich did not have to do extensive research for this go-around. But they nonetheless kept former Secret Service agents on hand to monitor the film's accuracy. Since the public is so familiar with the White House and its surroundings, Emmerich said the most challenging scene to film was the armored limo chase around the grounds. challenging every department of the production to matching the details of the White House exterior perfectly.

Emmerich did also note that since they filmed the movie, the actual White House has cancelled tours due to cutbacks from sequestration. So for now, going to see the movie is as close to the inside of the White House as you're going to get.

"White House Down" opens in theaters on June 28.