Roland Emmerich Again Bets the ‘House’
It’s fitting that the sprawling, five-acre estate Roland Emmerich calls home once belonged to Jesse L. Lasky, the vaudeville performer and Broadway producer who, along with Cecil B. DeMille, created the first feature-length motion picture filmed in Hollywood, “The Squaw Man,” in 1914.
A century later, Emmerich seems a clear extension of DeMille’s legacy, the creator of unpretentious, larger-than-life bigscreen spectacles that run the gamut from the prehistoric to the futuristic. His iconic image — the destruction of the White House by alien spacecraft in “Independence Day” — is perhaps as famous as DeMille’s parting of the Red Sea.
This month, Emmerich is back to wreaking havoc on Pennsylvania Avenue in “White House Down,” an ’80s-style action-drama that could bring welcome news to Sony’s largely sagging box office fortunes. Made for $150 million from a $3 million spec script, the movie follows an off-duty policeman (Channing Tatum) touring the White House with his daughter when bad guys (led by James Woods’ rogue Secret Service agent) commandeer the place and threaten to start World War III. Riding shotgun is Jamie Foxx as a thinly veiled Obama surrogate.
“It’s a crowdpleaser,” says a smiling, relaxed Emmerich on the back porch of his three-bedroom, Mission Revival-style home in Hollywood. The night before, he had traveled to a West L.A. multiplex to personally introduce a “White House Down” promotional screening. “I always test my movies very thoroughly.”
Though Emmerich has rarely had critics or cinephiles in his corner, his nine feature films in the 20 years since his American debut, “Universal Soldier,” have collectively grossed more than $3 billion globally, placing him in the elite company of the two filmmakers he admires most: Steven Spielberg and George Lucas.
“I was a big fan of ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Close Encounters’ and ‘Poltergeist,’ and none of my fellow students were into that,” the German-born filmmaker recalls of his days at Munich’s U. of Television and Film, where he enrolled thinking he wanted to become a production designer, but soon felt bitten by the directing bug.
Dean Devlin, who became Emmerich’s writing and producing partner for most of the 1990s, was a struggling Hollywood actor when he signed on for a prominent supporting role in Emmerich’s 1990 German sci-fi film “Moon 44,” which his agent told him had little chance of ever being released. “But when I got to Germany and saw the sets, I was blown away,” Devlin recalls. “Roland’s work with the camera was phenomenal, the way he worked with the actors was incredible.”