For the most part, Antoine Fuqua has been out of commission since he made 2009’s Brooklyn’s Finest, so it seems only fitting for him to step back into the spotlight in the grandest way possible: by destroying the White House.
The director’s new film Olympus Has Fallen, in theaters today, imagines a hypothetical yet hard-hitting terrorist attack on the nation’s capital in which Korean extremists take the president [Aaron Eckhart] and his office under siege. Violent and suspense-driven, the movie goes from zero to 100 in a mere 15 minutes, as rebel armies launch a citywide gun battle leaving few alive, and setting the scene for the fall of our democracy.
According to Fuqua, it’s possible.
“If we didn’t have certain things in place, this is one scenario that could happen,” the 47-year-old director tells theGrio. “Unfortunately, we were attacked with some sick individuals using box cutters. Who would have thought, you know? So a well-trained mercenary group – extremists, willing to die for their cause – every tool they used [in the movie] belongs to us. The weapons were all ours, the garbage trucks…the C-130. They use all of our own things against us. They use our freedom against us. So, absolutely.”
The film was brought to Fuqua’s attention years ago by friend and lead actor Gerard Butler, and was shot over six weeks in Shreveport, L.A. It additionally stars Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett, Dylan McDermott, Rick Yune, and Melissa Leo. Fuqua’s research for the project included reading books, speaking to professionals in the White House, and watching relevant movies. Before committing however, he insisted on scouting locations in the South to be certain he could believably recreate the White House, one of the more intimidating aspects of the production.
“When I was first told, for tax reasons, Louisiana was the best place for it, I just thought, ‘Washington D.C./Louisiana? I don’t know,’” Fuqua recalls. “I went down there, and I saw a big empty field and this huge road, and I was standing there like, ‘There’s nothing here. Nothing. No trees. Nothing.’ And I was with my production designer, and I said, ‘Could you build it?’ And he’s like, ‘I think so.’”
And with that, the monument was erected. Fuqua says his team built as much as possible, including the front facade, rooftop and interiors, and exterior components like Pennsylvania Avenue, the North Lawn, fountain and gates. It was so realistic in fact, that it became a local tourist attraction once it was painted.
“People were driving to work and they would just see the White House,” he remembers. “They would come hang out there, it was crazy. They would take pictures. I think they should have kept it up.”
Of course, after it became a battleground for Fuqua’s fancy, the ravages were evident. The film alternates scenes of nonstop shooting and warfare with those of strategic command, as the White House is attacked from every visible angle. It is as much an entertaining action thriller as it is a communal fear realized, particularly given North Korea’s volatile relationship with the U.S.