Antoine Fuqua on Why ‘Olympus Has Fallen’

Antoine-FuquaBy//Anslem Samuel Rocque

Antoine Fuqua is not your average Hollywood director. Over the course of his career the Pittsburgh native has quietly built an impressive portfolio that includes a who’s who of talent, ranging from Denzel Washington (Training Day) and Wesley Snipes (Brooklyn’s Finest) to Mark Wahlberg (Shooter) and Clive Owen (King Arthur). Fuqua’s latest, Olympus Has Fallen (in theatres today) continues his penchant for great storytelling through the performances of powerful performers.

Starring Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman and Angela Bassett, the film follows a disgraced Presidential guard (Butler) as he attempts to reclaim the White House on his own as a band of rogue terrorists hold the commander-in-chief hostage in a secure bunker below 1400 Pennsylvania Ave. It’s a non-stop, white-knuckle action thriller that leaves audiences on the edge of their seats as the fate of the free world hangs in the balance. caught up with Fuqua during a press stop in Chicago. Here’s what the filmmaker had t say about his new “horror,” and the prospect of directing an all-Black cast (with elephants?) in the future.

Based on the amount of realistic carnage that takes place on the Nation’s Capitol, would it be fair to describe this as a horror film? 

I actually say it’s more of a thriller/drama/horror film because once I get inside that White House it’s like being in a haunted house. If you got 40 terrorist with bombs and a C130 aircraft shooting up the White House and killing everybody on the streets; at some point that’s a horror film. That evokes imagery of 9/11. That’s scary.

As Americans we often have a false sense of security. Do you think the film would have been as believable has 9/11 not happened?

Not really. I think our brains have been retrained since the whole idea of us discovering what terrorism really is about. The rest of the world was already hip on that because they already experienced train bombings and car bombings. But I think since 9/11 our brains have been reprogrammed to the reality that terrorism is part of our world now and our lives. And when you see this sort of thing especially when it’s done in such a grounded way with logical things happening. You’re like wait a second, this could really happen.

With that said, did you create too real of a blueprint to launch an attack? Is this film a security risk?

What I’ve discovered is that those guys are so aware of so many things and they have their own creative meetings now because in the 9/11 commission they said that we lacked imagination, which was why we were able to be hit. So now they actually have more creative people involved to discuss these things and this is just one scenario and they have things in place to deal with this—believe me. They have contingency plans and it’s unlikely that they’ll get their hands on the president. They might cause some damage on the front lawn. If you’re willing to blow yourself up absolutely you could do it but getting to the president and down in that bunker, good luck with that. It’s not going to happen.

Olympus-Has-FallenYou’ve done everything from Training Day and Brooklyn’s Finest to King Arthur and Replacement Killers. Where does this film fit in with the rest of your catalog?

I think it falls into the evolution of the body of work I’ve been doing. It’s got drama but it’s got a lot of fun and big action. I think as a Hollywood filmmaker there is the business of entertaining, there is the business of making the big blockbuster and doing it with substance. And that’s part of what I grew up on. I’m in Hollywood, man, and I want to entertain people on the biggest scale possible. And to be frank with you, as an African-American that’s the best thing I could do.

What do you mean by that?

Now another African-American kid could come up under me and do the same thing. He or she knows that they just doesn’t have to do a movie about the ’hood. You can make a movie about aliens if you want to. And if you’re going to be a director, who wouldn’t want to have jets and helicopters flying around and blowing stuff up? That’s part of the fun of it.

As an African-American director did you ever feel the pressure to have to do an all-Black ensemble project?

I’ve never had that pressure because I’ve never allowed it to happen. When I used to do videos back in the day I did so many man where it was all African-American that I said I’m going stop doing that and I just did commercials because they don’t have any color. Giorgio Armani, Reebok, Nike, Pirelli… you start to do things that are more international. People might not always know the name or it doesn’t click right away but they see the body of work and say, “I want to hire that guy.” I could walk in the room and be green, but it wouldn’t matter because the work speaks for itself.

Do you have plans to do any films starring all-Black casts in the future?

I would love to do a whole cast full of Black people just like I do casts full of White people. But I don’t really look at projects like that as much as I look at what’s the story. If the story’s lead is an African-American male, he’s an African-American male. If he’s White then he’s White, if he’s Chinese he’s Chinese. If I like the story and subject matter I just want to tell the story.

Most African-American directors start off in the urban world and then transition to mainstream, but you traveled a different career course. Was that purposeful?

I was trying to do urban films. I had a written a script based on an 8th grade gangster who was a killer at age 11. I wanted to do this movie so bad about this kid who was a Crip but when people saw my work earlier on, Jerry Bruckheimer called me and asked me to do Dangerous Minds with Coolio. After that they offered me Replacement Killers with Chow Young Fat. I’m not gonna say no to that. My intro to the business just happened to not be what I wanted it to be, I wanted to go the other route because I know that world, I felt comfortable telling that story but that wasn’t what the universe had in store for me, God had another route. And if they’re not viewing me as some “urban director” then I’m not going to force them to. That’s foolish. So I just stayed on that path. I just don’t have a particular story that takes place where there’s African-American leads… yet.

What would be your ideal story about the Black experience?

There’s a few that I’d like to make but there are much bigger stories, like a story about an African king that I’ve been studying on that are like my Alexander. But who knows where they’ll land in my life. I’ll get them done but if I do my story about African-Americans I want it to be epic and I’d like it to be a period piece something like a Hannibal I want to do something like that. I want to see Hannibal go across to Italy on an elephant’s back. I want to see that.