On March 26, 2013, Columbia Pictures hosted a special sneak-preview event of the action thriller “White House Down.” During the event, the movie’s trailer and eight minutes of advance footage from the movie were shown simultaneously via satellite to an audience in New York City and an audience in London. There was also a Q&A with three of the key team members of the movie: “White House Down” co-star Jamie Foxx and “White House Down” director Roland Emmerich were in New York City, while “White House Down” co-star Channing Tatum was in London.
“White House Down” is the second major movie of 2013 that is about the White House under attack by terrorists, while a heroic lawman comes to the rescue of the president of the United States and other people trapped in the White House. (“Olympus Has Fallen,” which has a similar concept, arrived in theaters first, in March 2013.) In “White House Down,” Oscar winner Foxx plays President James Sawyer. Tatum is John Cale, a police officer who wants to be a Secret Service agent. Cale is doing a visitor’s tour of the White House with his daughter Emily (played by Joey King) when the White House is attacked by terrorists, who hold several people hostage.
There are moments of humor in “White House Down” that the over-serious “Olympus Has Fallen” does not have. For example, in one scene, Foxx’s President Sawyer character takes a moment in the chaos to go to his closet and change his footwear from formal loafers to Air Jordans. Later, when a terrorist has grabbed President Sawyer by the feet, he hits the terrorist while yelling, “Get your hands off my Jordans!” “White House Down” opens in North American theaters on June 28, 2013. Here is what Foxx, Emmerich and Tatum said at the sneak-preview Q&A when they answered questions from moderators.
Roland, what drew you to this story and what makes “White House Down” different and special?
Emmerich: It was a great script. And what was so great about it is told a very personal story about somebody who loves his little girl very much. And this girl has a hero, and it’s the president. And because of her, [her father] wants to go under the detail of the president and become a Secret Service agent. He’s already a police officer.
And what’s really interesting about it is that there’s this underlying threat. It’s a story where America gets brought down from people within. Normally with every movie, it’s foreign terrorists from some other country … I was so impressed about the script because it was about this house could be brought down by the people who are working for the government, which makes it more of a coup d’état.
Channing, you play a father for the first time in a movie. What was that like?
Tatum: Scary, because I’m about to be a dad. It was kind of fun though. It kind of gave me a nine-year look into the future and what that craziness is going to be. Joey King, she’s an unbelievable, beautiful little monster. She’s such an amazing little actress.
We had so much fun in the movie. I’ve never played a dad. You never know what you’re going to be asked to do. I’ve never been a dad, so you’re going to have to figure it out. But I loved it. It was great.
What was your favorite part of being on the set of “White House Down”?
Tatum: Listening to Roland’s accent every day. It was so much fun to hear how he comes up with words like “Lincoln” [he pronounces it “Link-awn”]. Every morning, he’d be like [he says in a German accent], “Hello, how are you?” It was weird.
No, I’ve always loved Roland’s movies. This movie is not an alien movie, by the way. It’s not “Independence Day 2.” Roland’s right: The feeling of the movie for me, being an American, I’m not a political person, but I don’t know if I’ve ever been in America right now and felt there are two different sides to America.
Like I feel like we’re so split down the middle between red and blue and black and white, I felt really good about the premise of the film. It’s not about some foreign attack. It’s about America really coming to a serious point and attacking itself from the inside.
Channing, how was it working with Jamie Foxx?
Tatum: He’s a mentor, a big brother and by far one of the most unbelievably talented individuals I’ve ever been around, much less get a chance to work with.
Foxx: [He says jokingly] Good to point out … I’ll cut the check later.
Jamie, what was your favorite part of working on “White House Down”?
Foxx: I just think the overall skill. I’ve seen Roland’s movies, and I’m asking questions like, “How did you get it so cinematic?” What was amazing was watching the whole process. I’m like a kid when it comes to this whole thing.
And also watching Channing move. I told Channing, when he saves the world, his whole life is going to change. And watching Roland get this performance out of Channing. He [Channing Tatum] said, “I don’t know what it’s going to look like.”
And I said, “My man, this dude right here, he’s the man, and you the man, and I think I do all right. Trust him.” He did the take, and we looked at the take back, and it was slow motion of Channing [he strikes a seductive poses while pretending to hold a gun]. And I’m like, “You see what I’m talking about?” It was crazy!
We’re on this ride, and it’s really confident. Every day it was dope. And just as far as what I did, coming from “Django [Unchained]” to where I’m the president within a year [he mimes wearing handcuffs to then making a salute].
What did it feel like to play the president of the United States?
Foxx: What we want to make sure is that I’m not playing President Obama. But there are certain times when I do Obama-type things … There are certain inflections, but it’s definitely not him. But we sort of made our own thing. I haven’t seen the film, but there are moments where we laughed out loud, even in spite of all the terrorists. So it’s really good.
Roland, do you have any behind-the-scenes stories to share about making “White House Down”?
Emmerich: There’s so many. These actors had so much fun … It was not only Jamie and Channing. We had Joey King. We had so many great actors and they were all nice people, which is very rare. James Woods, Richard Jenkins, Maggie Gyllenhaal. We had this terrific cast. It was fun. I would like to work with these people again.
Channing, is it true that you did your own stunts in “White House Down”?
Tatum: Don’t you want to see actors go through walls and glass and everything? I hate when it cuts away and you know it’s somebody else having to do painful stuff. Did you like the romantic comedy that we made? Me and Jamie end up together, just so you know.
Jamie, how do you fit your comedic timing in such an action-packed environment?
Foxx: To be honest, it’s Roland. Because he actually says, “Trust me.” We would actually go, “Man, are we doing it too funny?” He said, “Trust me.”
So when you have somebody who this is really their world, as actors, I think the tragic mistake is when an actor starts to take over because he now becomes the person, you can see it in the movie that he’s telling the director or moving it his way. When we relied on him in those moments, and now to see it back with an audience, that’s the [mark] of a person who’s been successful being there. So that’s really kudos to Roland.
Roland, how do you create those scene where you destroy American landmarks?
Emmerich: This movie is mainly an action movie, so it’s not something I’ve done in a long time. So I could not rely on those other movies. It’s about the characters and the chemistry and the story you’re telling. And keep it real.
And I also have this feeling of … you always have to be really careful. I always try to gravitate to humorous moments, but it still has to be in the character. And if it’s not in the character, we won’t believe it. And I would test it the week before. People laugh, clap, and they’re just so into it. And they’re mainly into it because they believe the characters and like the characters. And it should always come from that.
Foxx: It’s incredible. And to add to that, is the way you structure the characters and where they come from. Obviously, Sawyer: intellect, a president who has giant dreams of everyone being peaceful. As he becomes president, it becomes tougher.
There’s one line in there: “I didn’t start out as a politician, but when I got the job, it made me one.” It’s actually dealing with some things that you can actually feel that we’re going through today, along with the action, and I think that’s what makes the movie really unique.
Do you have any closing remarks?
Emmerich: I was a little nervous. You have to understand, you’re the first audience, besides the test audience in California, who’s seen the footage, so I hope you liked it.