White House Down: Channing Tatum Vs. Jamie Foxx

At the center of “White House Down,” Emmerich’s new action thriller, is John Cale, played by Channing Tatum. Ex-military, now a Capitol policeman, Cale is a father struggling to bond with his estranged daughter. And as White House Down begins, it looks like Cale still hasn’t quite figured it out. He’s just been turned down by the Secret Service – despite his heroic career, he has been deemed unqualified to protect the president. But everything will change for him when that same day, on a chance visit to the White House, the unimaginable happens: a paramilitary group attacks the building, and only Cale is in a position to protect the president.

“It’s the perfect motivation for the character,” says producer Harald Kloser. “He wants nothing more than to protect the president. And that’s partly because his daughter wants that so badly, too – the president is her hero. But the person from the Secret Service who is doing the interview – the person who holds his future – doesn’t feel he’s up for the job. He doesn’t get it. And then all hell breaks loose – he has to save his daughter, the president, and the world. He has to earn the job about 20 times throughout the course of the movie.”

“The thing Cale really cares about is repairing his relationship with his daughter,” says Tatum. “He’s a guy who ran away from a lot of his problems, and even though he’s stopped running now, he’s wondering if it’s too late. If it takes saving the leader of the free world to get the love and respect of his daughter, then that’s just what he’s going to have to do.”

“Cale is a very ordinary guy,” says Emmerich. “He’s one of those characters who just wants to do the right thing, but whatever he does, it’s not quite working. And then, with the events that happen in this story, he gets his chance. He has a very strong motivation, but a lot to overcome.”

Part of the attraction to White House Down for Tatum was the chance to work with Emmerich. “I’ve had so much fun on this movie,” adds Tatum. “One morning we were shooting at five a.m. – it was a long day and he was the only one chipper as he could possibly be. He leads from the front, and I like that.”

For Emmerich, the feeling was mutual – the chance to work with Channing Tatum was the last piece of the puzzle that sealed the deal. “When I met him, I immediately realized that I would only make the movie with him – if he didn’t do it, I wouldn’t, either,” says the director. “I realized he was exactly that character – a very good-looking guy, but with a strong ‘everyman’ feeling about him. He’s funny and smart, he knows what he wants.”

“Channing has it all – he made perfect sense as John Cale,” says Fischer. “He’s proven he’s a movie star. When Roland and Channing first met, Roland said, ‘He’s the guy. Without question.’”

Of course, Tatum was perfect for the role not only for who he is – “a guy who has an ease to him, a humor, confidence, even a little cockiness and swagger,” as Vanderbilt says – but how he is, physically. John Cale is a demanding action role, and Tatum was up to the task, performing his own stunts when possible.

“Look, what would you rather see: an actor’s face going through a window, or stuntman who turns his head at the last moment?” Tatum says. Safety has to come first, of course, but Tatum wants to do what he can. “It doesn’t hurt to go through the fake glass, it’s one of those stunts that’s safe for me to do, and it’s fun to do it, so let’s do it.”

“On the set, there was a first time that we were going to do a stunt, when he said, ‘Well, I want to do this myself,’” Emmerich remembers. “I was surprised, but thinking about it, it makes sense. Look at his dance movies – Step Up, Magic Mike. Dancers are very good stunt people, because they have total control over their bodies.”

Jamie Foxx as President James Sawyer

Fox’s President Sawyer is the man at the center of the storm in the film. “It’s a complicated role,” says Vanderbilt. “You have to have a serious side as the President of the United States, but also, the president in our movie has got to be able to play the fun stuff as well. He’s got to be able to play the physical stuff, the light moments, the dark moments, all of it. And on top of it all, the actor had to be believable as an electable president and pair well with Channing. Jamie was a perfect choice.”

“In this situation, the President is faced with the beginning of a new world order,” explains Foxx. “He’s learning that the might of the sword is not always the best course of action. We bring up some of these political issues, but not too heavy on the political side. It’s a fresh look at what I would call a super action hero. Sit down, get ready for the ride, watch Channing go to work and do his thing as Officer John Cale.”

Working with Roland Emmerich was a revelation for Foxx. “As an actor who wants to be a director, I’d think about the movie and wonder, ‘Wow, the scope! How is he going to make this cinematic?’ I got to watch him – I got the chance to look over his shoulder and get a peek at his shot list. It was really a blast. But Roland was also a great collaborator – he allows you to bring in your own voice, your ideas, and then he shapes them in the way that he can execute the movie – and if you go too far off, he’s there to pull you back in.”

Helping John Cale and President Sawyer fend off the ruthless mercenaries and their quest to seize control of the White House is the exceptionally adroit, tough-as-nails Special Agent Carol Finnerty played by Maggie Gyllenhaal.

At the beginning of the film, Finnerty has just turned down Cale’s application to join the Secret Service – but even that is not so simple. “Years ago, they had a crazy love affair,” says Gyllenhaal. “It was a long, long time ago, but they were crazy about each other. And now he’s back, she’s interviewing him, and of course he’s super hot and amazing in a lot of ways. He still takes her breath away. But he’s just not qualified to be a Secret Service agent.”

Gyllenhaal says that her character’s strength is knowing when to go by the book and when to toss it out. “She’s really good at her job, and to be excellent at any job, you have to follow protocol – but not at the expense of what is right or reasonable,” she says. “She very much believes in the system – that’s why she turns down Cale. But when she sees people making decisions that are clearly wrong, she takes charge – and that means doing some unorthodox things. In that way, she’s the voice of reason.”

Jason Clarke joins the cast as the ex-soldier-turned-paramilitary-leader, the head of the invasion force, Emil Stenz. “He’s a former Special Forces guy – doing some nefarious things in strange places – and he became a gun for hire,” says Clarke. “And now, he’s been hired to try to take over the White House, to kidnap the president and try to make some money.”

“The most impressive thing about this film, I have to say, is Roland,” says Clarke. “He wants to make the movie interesting and fun, but he also brings out the drama and gives the audience something to connect to. He’s always got your back, he’s always going to tell the story, and he really knows how to shoot.”

Joey King joins the cast as Cale’s daughter, Emily. Their estranged relationship is put to the test when they are separated during the crisis at the White House. “At the beginning of the movie, her parents are divorced and she’s not too keen on her dad,” explains King. “That’s why he takes her to his job interview with the Secret Service and gets her tickets to the White House tour – he knows she’s obsessed with all things politics and he thinks that will impress her. And it does – she’s super-excited. But then, when they get separated and all this crazy stuff happens, the whole movie is about their relationship. He’s trying to get back to her, and she’s realizing how much he loves her and how much she loves him back.”

King relished the opportunity to work alongside Channing Tatum (and what girl wouldn’t?). Naturally, playing father and daughter, the two were tight on set. “We had this handshake, called the Chan shake. It’s the coolest thing ever – it’s the longest handshake in the world and we choreographed it ourselves,” she says. “He’s so awesome and so fun… he’s like my dad, brother, or best friend.”

Richard Jenkins joins the cast as the Speaker of the House Eli Raphelson, a career politician from the opposing party, and James Woods as Martin Walker, the outgoing head of the Secret Service.