Olympus Has Fallen: Interview with Director Fuqua

Antoine Fuqua spent the first decade of this century working nonstop, making nine feature and TV movies in ten years, most notably the gritty cop dramas Training Day (for which Denzel Washington his first Best Actor Oscar) and Brooklyn’s Finest.

But since 2009, he’s only released one film, a TV movie called Exit Strategy, made with his frequent collaborator Ethan Hawke, as several of his passion projects have been delayed for various financial and personal reasons.

This weekend, Fuqua finally returns to the big screen with the popcorn-munching action-genre film Olympus Has Fallen, which stars Gerard Butler as an exiled secret service agent who becomes the country’s last hope when a North Korean paramilitary group takes over the White House and holds the president (Aaron Eckhart), secretary of defense (Melissa Leo) and several others hostage.

New Yorker

Fuqua: I had a place on 57th and Broadway but I gave that up. I regretted giving that up so then we got a place at 14th Street. I love it down there. I’ve had some funny experiences down there. I used to see parents dropping off students [at NYU]; so sweet. Then cut to a month later, I’d be on my way home and see them drunk on the sidewalk. What happened?

Getting Back to Movies

Fuqua: It’s like an athlete, you go nuts. Your family’s like “Don’t you have somewhere to be?” You’re trying to develop your personal projects and get things going. It’s tough.

Fun Movie

Fuqua: This was fun. It was entertainment. When I read the script I thought it’d be fun. Shooting up the White House and building my own White House. (Laughing) You can’t take yourself too seriously.

Villain: Al Qaeda, Russians.

Fuqua: We always find a bad guy. Writers are at home, listening to the news, and they’re like “That’d be a good story. North Koreans.” What are you going to do? That’s part of our culture. It wasn’t about North Korea being bad. It’s just one particular terrorist, just one guy who has a personal debt to pay. Like all of them, they have their grand scheme of conquering the world. They have this thing. But really, it comes down to something personal.

Dennis Rodman’s trip to North Korea

Fuqua: He said Obama should call if North Korea, and then they threatened to nuke America. They said they could preemptively strike.
He got there through Vice magazine, they sent a delegation, It’s the most bizarre thing I’ve ever seen. And did you see what he looks like? He’s bizarre. I don’t know what’s

happening with that kid. He’s doing me a favor. Keeping me in the news. He should be on TV more.

White House set in Louisiana

Fuqua: It was crazy. Every morning you show up on set and it’s pristine and nice and white and then the next day there’s blood on the walls and holes in the walls. It’s chilling sometimes. It’s like a cathedral. It’s this symbol and after a while when you’re sitting there as a director looking at it, you’re like “I would not like to see this happen.”

Digital versus Real Helicopters

Fuqua: Half and half. Obviously, I can do what I could do with the choppers but there’s some stuff you just can’t do. But half and half.

Support from Defense Department
Fuqua: They were nice about it, they just said “Antoine, not on this one.” Tears of the Sun they helped me out on. This one, they said no. And I knew they wouldn’t anyway, but I had to ask. If I would’ve got their cooperation, it would’ve been bigger because of all their equipment and they bring you stuff. I wouldn’t have to pay for everything.

Where Did You Get Choppers and Stuff?

Fuqua: We leased them from people who actually had them. There are individuals that actually have these things, private companies have them and you can rent them out and do stuff to them. It’s kind of scary. Years ago, you’d say “No. No one would have that.” Now it’s “I could have it.” That’s part of the problem we have in the country. Just recently, they caught someone and they showed what he had in his house. This guy had 50 calibers, automatic weapons, explosives, C4. He had it all.

You can get it legally.

Fuqua: Yeah. There are people that build AK 47’s. You can order the parts. They have it and they keep this stuff and sometimes we see the worst of it. You don’t want to be a police state, but how do you police to protect, especially the children. How do you do it? And when you get, not just drugs, it’s gun running and explosives and all these things…It’s complex, and it’s difficult and it’s there. So, you see in the movie the garbage trucks; that’s all based on guys who really know how to do that stuff. They taught me how to do that stuff.

Hollywood violence

Fuqua: It weighs on my conscious quite a bit. The recent tragedy in Connecticut broke my heart. It’s a hard thing. You try to just entertain people as a director and you try to live in that fantasy world of entertainment. That’s it. It’s just entertainment. You rely on the good nature of people to understand that and you hope there’s a part of them that goes “Wow. That weapon just blew that guy’s brains out. That’s not a good thing. That’s not cool. That’s an ugly piece of equipment made to do that.”

You hope that’s the part they walk away with. But, it’s hard to be responsible for it all and it’s hard to be responsible for individuals who just have something wrong. They have a sickness and you can never predict whether your film had influence on that or if it’s just something going on in their home, or just something going on in their head. So that weighs on me all the time and it does make you look at script material differently. You start looking at things and going “Do I want to do that right now?”

Next Project

Fuqua: I’m trying to find inspiration. I’ve got a project that I want to do called Southpaw I really want to do that next.

Tupac Movie?

Fuqua: I’m working on that script. If I can get a great script, I’ll make that movie at some point. I’m in no rush right now. My next movie, I’d like to do something much more personal. Southpaw’s really about a father and the daughter, it’s more emotional. You kind of have to do that and then you come back and hopefully you’re small one is ready. The script’s ready, the money’s there. It takes forever. You have to get the actor’s schedule, you have to get your schedule, you have to get the money. First and foremost, you want the material to be great, especially when it’s personal. It’s like you’re pushing a boulder uphill, but if you can get it there…

I haven’t shot digital yet, but thank god for digital because it does allow especially indie filmmakers to just go make a movie for nothing. That’s the beauty to me of digital. Sometimes they make it look good but sometimes you just accept that and say “Let’s just tell a good story. Let’s do good performances and execute the job and people will forgive you for that.” That’s not what it’s about anyway. For me it’s different. I love film and I love aesthetically to say something with it, but if you’re an indie filmmaker and you have no money, who gives a shit? Just tell your story. It’s great.

Fuqua: I’ll tell you a quick story that inspired me but the main thing really, it gave me new life a little bit. I was a judge a few years ago at the Venice Film Festival which means you have to watch god knows how many movies a day. It’s like torture, torture. But, they did it and you watch it and you see these little movies made in the Philippines or in India, Israel. They had no money. What they achieve, you just go “You know what? Anyone in the whole world out there could go make a little movie.” Because of the digital medium anyone can go make a movie. And I was so excited about that because there is that feeling sometimes in myself where I go “You know? Maybe in the time between when I’m trying to do all of this bigger stuff, I could just make a little movie.” That’s inspiring, when you see these guys do that.

Joss Whedon made the movie Much Ado About Nothing, shot it for 12 days in his back yard. That’s great! You have to love that. You discover new things. It’s about discovery. We don’t even know how far we can push the digital medium yet. We don’t what we can actually get away with. You just experiment a bit and these guys that are out there doing it are, to me, they’re forging a new way. It’s just fantastic.