Antoine Fuqua makes 'Olympus' an inspired hero's journey

05:00 AM, Mar 14, 2013

A former Secret Service agent played by Gerard Butler has to save the president when commandos storm the White House in 'Olympus Has Fallen.' Phil Caruso/


Written By by Brian Truitt, USA TODAY

Antoine Fuqua looked to the White House to find his new hero’s cinematic journey.

The director also puts former Secret Service man Mike Banning (played by Gerard Butler) in a seriously high-stakes situation when a group of North Korean commandos storm that famous Washington home, and it’s up to Banning to save the president (Aaron Eckhart) in Olympus Has Fallen, in theaters March 22.

Fuqua grew up on action dramas like Invasion USA that featured one-man armies against foreign invaders, but with Olympus he went the classic Joseph Campbell route for Banning: The security officer has had a dismal failure when audiences meet him at the start of the movie, and Banning has to begin his quest to get himself back together with four words: “I want back in.”

I love that,” Fuqua says. “I studied Kurosawa and I love when a character asks for something and the universe gives it to them but nowhere near the way you want it.”

Banning gets his chance, but he has to go through hell and fire to come out the other side.

That’s for me the heart of it. That’s what I care the most about,” says Fuqua, who also directed Training Day and The Replacement Killers. “It’s like Apocalypse Now — it’s always that journey up river, and can you get back with your morals intact and as a whole person.”

The filmmaker spoke and spent time with a bunch of Secret Service guys when developing the movie, and found that “they’re pretty special people, man,” he says. “They take an oath to God and country, and they live by it and die by it. For them, it’s 100 percent success or 100 percent failure. That’s it. And they will step in front of a bullet to protect the president, the office, and they mean that.”

Fuqua watched documentaries on the men as well and learned the downside of the job, about how many of them spiraled downward after the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963 and the 1981 shooting of Ronald Reagan.

And when Reagan died (in 2004), you see a Secret Service guy sitting there right by the casket. To the end, they take it all the way,” Fuqua says.

Those are some unique individuals. I don’t know too many people who would step in front of a bullet for me,” the director adds with a laugh. “Maybe my mom. That’s about it.”