Action flick’s Washington premiere draws big stars, even bigger crowds.
By John Arundel
Washington has seen its inordinately fair share of high-wattage motion picture events over the past year, but none quite like Friday’s dazzling screening of the Summer action filck White House Down, starring Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx and Maggie Gyllenhaal.
This was a Hollywood styled rollout that only Errol Flynn and P.T. Barnum could have devised.
First, there was the shrieking. It was almost ear piercing at times, especially at the exact moments when Tatum and Foxx emerged from tinted window black Suburbans at the AMC Georgetown. About 1,000 overly anxious fans, mostly teenage girls awaiting in breathless anticipation for the stars, were arrayed along lower K Street behind police barricades and yellow crime-scene tape.
Apparently D.C. police do not keep around restraining tape in the event that hundreds of manic Channing Tatum fans suddenly show up to catch a glimpse of the handsome, ripped action star.
“I’m definitely not taking off my clothes,” Tatum laughed, when presented with the first question from a (female) reporter. A few minutes later he changes his story. “Actually, that’s not true, I do take off my clothes.”
Tatum, 33, has made the transition from male stripper in Tampa to South Beach model to America’s latest action superhero with a graceful charm and uncanny ability to take on complex characters.
In “White House Down,” he’s progressed to being an action star carrying a movie, the movie industry’s highest rank, he says. “It’s always scary,” he said. “But you know it’s always exciting to get to work everyday. I’m the luckiest person in the world, because I get to work in action movies, the highest make-believe stakes there are.”
On Friday, Tatum looked fetching in a striped navy blue suit, giving the thumbs up and signing as many autographs as he could. The first time dad, whose wife Jenna gave birth on May 31, playfully swung around one of his co-stars, 12-year-old Joey King, on the white carpet, which replaced the standard-issue red carpet.
This was a reminder to invited guests that the Roland Emmerich thriller is about terrorists who take the White House, 11 blocks away, and successfully diverts attention, at least initially, away from the movie’s “HBC,” or High Body Count.
A lot of bad (and good) guys die onscreen.
Despite its storyline, the screening snagged some high-profile guests from the Obama administration, including Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who no doubt took mental notes on how to prevent any such horror from ever taking place. “I saw the title ‘White House Down’ and I went oh no, no, no. It can’t be, it can’t be!” she told reporters. “I’m here tonight because I think it’s going to be a fun movie.”
Secretary of the Navy John Dalton agreed. “We’re prepared for anything…Hey, it’s a movie. I’m not going to take it too seriously.”
Tatum plays a Capitol Hill cop vying for a job in the Secret Service. Before the lead agent, played by Maggie Gyllenhaal, turns him down for a job on the presidential detail, Tatum scores White House tour tickets for him and his beloved daughter (played by King).
Improbably, he bumps into the President (played by Foxx) during the West Wing tour, before (also improbably) he happens upon the bad guys planning their Presidential Mansion takeover from (also improbably) the president’s private movie theater.
Tatum leads the filmgoer on a stomach-churning wild ride through every nook and cranny of the West Wing, (improbably) crashing all the precious china before ending up in the First Family’s private quarters, where (more probably) Foxx pops a few Nicorettes from the bedside table, a la Barack Obama.
“We wanted to make sure people understood the fun of it,” Foxx told reporters. “We didn’t want to be too heavy with it. And you know, make sure our characters are defined. Me as a Presidential/intellect/military guy sort of coming together. Almost sort of having that Mel Gibson/Danny Glover type of energy.”
For his part, Foxx said he prefers his day job over the prospect of being President in real life. “You just can’t get anything done here, so I would rather be on the outside,” he said. “Besides, President Obama is doing a much better job than I would ever do. I would be taking a whole lot of vacations, and there would be a whole lot of after parties.”
“He’s just the coolest dude in the world, so we wanted to bring a little bit of that cool to the movie, but at the same time show the president vulnerable, to make it real,” Foxx added.
Tatum agreed with the assessment. “Everybody here just spins everybody else’s words, so it must be frustrating for anyone who has to work in this town,” he said. “I love D.C. It’s amazing here. But D.C. doesn’t mean to me that great things are always getting done.”
Which is (probably) why much of the film’s gripping action was filmed in Montreal.
There is (definitely) no office down at City Hall or at the National Park Service which issues permits to filmmakers interested in blowing up the Capitol, 9/11 style and running the Presidential Limousine (known fondly as “The Beast”) on a wild goose chase around the South Lawn, belly flopping all 11 tons of it in a White House swimming pool.
“We wanted to make a big movie this summer that would bring people out to have a good time,” said Emmerich, who previously made the disaster flicks “Independence Day,” “The Day After Tomorrow” and “2012.” “The screenplay sounded like a great big thrill ride.”
The terrorists are comprised of a Middle East heavy thinker and White supremacists eager for $400 million in government loot. Like Congress, even they can’t get along. Not to mention the Speaker of the House is gunning for the President’s job.
“The movie is fun but it has a theme that our country is divided,” Emmerich said. “We have to start figuring out how to make peace because someday something really, really terrible is going to happen.”
In the movie, the President makes peace deals with other countries, which angers an opposition group into launching an assault on the White House. “When you see these beauty pageants, they always say ‘What do you want the most?’ ‘World peace!’” Emmerich said. “I think they should have politicians saying ‘What do you want to do the most?’ And they should say ‘World peace!'”
Emmerich said he’s pleased with the final result. “It’s a fun movie,” he said. “Everything came together. It’s a really cool, really suspenseful story, filled with actors who are super entertaining in their parts.”
Such as Gyllenhaal, who frequently turned to a Secret Service agent for advice while making the film.
“There were times when the Secret Service guy on set would come over and say, ‘Oh no no no, she would have her gun in this pocket in this place,’ and we kinda went, ‘Well yeah, but then my suit would look bad’.”
“White House Down” opens in theaters on Friday, June 28.