*It’s been a banner year for Black filmmakers thus far beginning with the great film “Broken City” directed by Allen Hughes from a story written by Brian Tucker, then “Stoker,” written by Wentworth Miller and now “Olympus Has Fallen” directed by Antoine Fuqua.
All of these stories, of course, have appeared on these pages. Also opening this week in New York and Los Angeles is “The Sapphires,” written by Tony Briggs who will tell his story next week, along with Australia’s blacks. Be on the look out also for the black western, “They Die At Dawn,” written and directed by Jeymes Samuel who will tell his story in an upcoming issue
The acclaimed actress Angela Bassett is always a pleasure to see onscreen and off. She was at the Waldorf Astoria recently to talk about the gripping and engrossing film, “Olympus has Fallen.” With such a serious movie, I thought I would kick the interview off with a humorous, silly question.
So Angela, what is harder being an actress and convincing audiences or being the head of the nation’s Secret Service agency?
Surely, the head of the Secret Service, Surely [Laughs]. I was very honored [to play Lynn Jacobs] because historically we have not been in that position. This is the first time on film that a woman is portrayed in that particular role. So it’s a real honor and I was very thankful to Antoine and his vision of changing the way that we look at that position—and this has happened before. Sometimes entertainment leads the way. It’s about creativity and opening up what the world can look like; it doesn’t have to be one particular thing, you know. We saw that in ‘Deep Impact’ with Morgan Freeman as our president and someone said, ‘oh, what do think about that? A president could look like this!’ So the director of Secret Service can look like this.
Did any one woman come to mind playing a powerful female?
Women who have a strong voice…were an inspiration. It might be Shirley Chisholm, who ran for president, Barbara Jordan, yeah, strong but smart women…
Can you talk about your relationship with Gerard Butler, the dismissed inside man? [Interview with Gerard Butler appeared last week]
Nothing was planned out, but I think what was helpful was that the first day of shooting we were in the café having breakfast. So the audience is thinking about how long we’ve known each other and even though she’s not on his detail and he’s doing something else, they still have a good rapport and a strong relationship.
What was your first reaction to the script?
Well, what drew me initially and foremost was to work with Antoine [Fuqua] and that he was going to turn this character and make it a woman. Plus, it was one of those page-turners. I don’t know if it’s my history of growing up, but usually going through something and then being resilient, fighting back with your back against the wall, that’s what I’m drawn to. I like stories about people, the humanity in us, and challenges.
Of course this is a Hollywood movie, but do you think something like this could ever happen?
I hope not! [Laughs]. Wow, oh my gosh! But with the tech crew that we had on the set I think we’re in good hands. Just sitting around having conversations and hearing about some of the places they’ve been and things that they’ve done or are required of them, it went a long way to make me feel secure that this would not happen.
A jubilant Antoine Fuqua enters the room and before he even sits down, says, “Anything Gerald Butler said is a lie.” He has to be aware of the fact Butler has done nothing but heap a ton of praises on his director. And Butler is not the only one—all the cast members that preceded Fuqua hailed him as a director. Screenwriters Creighton Rotenberger and Katrin Benedikt also told me that Fuqua make the story more plausible by changing the day of the attack from July 4th to the 5th because security would be more lack. It goes without saying that a film about terrorists who blow up the White House is no joke but Fuqua did have a blast.
What was it like having to build a White House set and then blow it up?
It was obvious a White House set had to be built. We made that phone call and they didn’t like that idea. Obama said, ‘I don’t think so.’ It was a complex operation. There wasn’t a lot o green screen; we built all those fences, all that stuff is real. People had to actually be on those fences; there was running, gunning and bullets flying. It was complex but a lot of fun to do. Walking down those beautiful hallways was incredible. Some of the tech guys that had worked in the White House got chills. They were like, ‘this is amazing,’ and then I was like, ‘I can’t wait to I blow it up’ [laughs]. I was like a kid in a sandbox.
Was it a conscious decision to have two very powerful women in this?
I wanted great actors in the movie, period. But I never thought about it in the sense I wanted them to be women, if that makes any sense. With Angela, I’ve wanted to work with her for years and Melissa Leo as well. I think the head of the Secret Service was written as a man and I thought why does it have to be a guy. Let’s get Angela but like in my mind I didn’t sit back and think, ‘oh they never did have the head of Secret Service as a woman in a movie. I just wanted to work with Angela.
I understand you had something to do with the final outcome of the script?
It was a little different. It wasn’t as grounded and as real and I said if you make it more real, if you make a version than I want to make then, I’ll do it. They did and I got excited about the idea to attack the White House in a movie for fun, that’s a big event. Why not?
Either 100% success or 10% failure?
Those guys [Secret Servicemen], by the way are pretty incredible. I don’t know too many people who every day you wake up your job is to take a bullet for somebody else for the office. If you think back on the Kennedy assassination, that’s100% failure and a lot of those guys had a rough time, a lot of people did, the country did. At a funeral of any president’s death, they’re always there because they’re with them most of their lives. They’re sitting there at the coffin up to the point where they put them in the ground. That’s an incredible job. Their job, their life, everyday is prevention. Ronald Reagan gets shot, that’s a failure. They should not be shot or hurt or touched in that way. So that was an important part of the hero’s journey as far as Mike Banning’s [Butler] personal journey is concerned. It’s a very difficult thing to do so on the set daily there was that reminder.
At what time did you hear about ‘White House Down’ and what was your reaction?
First time I heard about it was actually after I read this script and they said there’s another movie being made, ‘White House Down’ and it had Jamie Foxx and Channing Tatum in it. My reaction was, ‘great.’ Again, if you’re going to let me make a grittier version—my version of this film, then there’s room for both of us because Roland [Emmerich] is a different director. You can give a director the exact same script and because our visions are different, our approach is different and our life experiences are different, it’s just going to be different movies. So it didn’t, sway me in any way. I didn’t think about it much. I wasn’t thinking about, ‘I’m gonna beat Roland.’
Was gun violence on your mind while making this film?
Always. Always on my mind. I have children. Always in my mind but you have to separate reality and movies and that’s our job; to be responsible adults about the decision process of weapons in this country. There’s a process that needs to happen. It’s a tricky question because the bigger question is a bigger answer. I don’t like guns as an individual personally because they’re built to do what you see in movies. Luckily in movies everybody gets to go home and be with their families, but I think about it all the time.
The ‘Admission’ oxymoron
The comedy “Admission” has no tragic ending but there are some sad outcomes for its star, Tina Fey. But the ending does not take away from the comedic ride of its stars that include Paul Rudd, Nat Wolf, Lily Tomlin, Gloria Reuben, and young star Travaris Spears, who plays the adopted African son of Rudd.
Tina and Paul, what was the biggest challenge you faced in tackling your role?
TF: For me, it was just trying to do a good job on what I felt was the dramatic arc of the movie and there were certainly scenes that were more emotional than anything I ever had to do before and prepare for that correctly and have that be believable.
PR: Just doing it in general is a challenge. And just hope that you buy it, buy me in the part that works in the context of the story, that the conflict seems legit, that the character does not seem one dimensional. The challenge is bringing the material to life. Oh god, did I just say that? Forgive me.
What should families going through the admission process take away from the movie?
TF: You should do your best, but also know that the results don’t define your value as a person, or your future as a student or an adult in the world. It does not define what you’re going to be. There are so many kids that do the right thing to get on that track and now there are too many of them on that track. As these schools make a genuine attempt at diversity, these kids from the old school path get bumped out. Hopefully that reshuffling will make them more interesting people.
What kind of jobs did you have before you made it as an entertainer?
TF: I made cheesesteaks at a swim-club snack bar, so my mom could have free access to the pool. That was one summer job. My brother did it for years and then she transitioned me in to doing it, so she could have employee access to the pool. And I worked at a YMCA outside Chicago. My hours were like 5:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. That was my first real job.
PR: I did that for a while. Waited tables while I was at school. I worked at a Bennigan’s. I actually worked in the kitchen at a Bennigan’s. I didn’t even get to wait tables, I was in the back expediting and making salads.
What other themes are offered up in this movie?
TF: I think it is a lot to do with parenthood and the sacrifices people make as parents. … Being a parent is going to change your life in ways that are not always your choosing. I think that’s definitely a theme of the movie.
PR: Hearing Tina say that, I remember when I had my first child, my son’s now eight, and when I had him people said he’s adapt to your life, kids adapt to parent’s lives.
Syndicated columnist Marie Moore reports on film and TV from her New York City base. Contact her at [email protected]