Who wouldn’t be curious to catch a first look at the next big film by Independence Day’s director? A long line of fans queued outside the Regal Union Square theater in New York City to get a sneak peek at Columbia Pictures’ upcoming summer release White House Down, for that very reason and more. Not only would they be treated to an in-person visit from star Jamie Foxx and director Roland Emmerich — as well as a live video feed of star Channing Tatum in London — but they’d also be one of the first audiences to see the film’s trailer, along with an eight-minute reel of footage.
As press and fans filed into the theater to the tune of thrumming music, a simple black backdrop was seen on screen bearing #WhiteHouseDown in stark white lettering (yet another reminder of the role social media has taken in building buzz for impending blockbusters). Good Morning America’s Sam Champion greeted the cheering crowd and introduced Foxx and Emmerich — as they waited for the cameras and feeds to synch, Foxx warmed up the room asking, “Where y’all from?” and exclaimed among boisterously shouted responses, “New York! Y’all are so hyped all the time!”
Emmerich admitted to having “sleepless nights” when it came to casting his leads. “It’s really important, especially in these films,” he said, “I had to find two people who had great chemistry.” He believes Foxx and Tatum — who he said palled around on set throughout the shoot — are a winning combination, explaining, “They like each other so much, you can feel it on screen.”
Once the London feed was switched on, English television presenter Alex Zane introduced Tatum, who was caught in the middle of a rowdy tete-a-tete with the crowd. “We’re obviously having a lot of fun here!” he shouted, “People are drinking wine!” The cameras cut to a shot of the audience cheering and holding up glasses of wine as Tatum laughed.
Emmerich discussed the premise of his film, which centers on Washington D.C. police officer John Cale (Tatum), who adores his daughter Emily (Joey King). Emily is a huge fan of President James Sawyer (Foxx), and — in order to patch their somewhat estranged relationship — Cale attempts to interview for a job with Sawyer’s secret service. On the day of his interview, a plot to destroy the White House is set into action, throwing Sawyer and Cale together in an attempt to survive the attack. “It was a great script,” Emmerich explained, of his reasons behind choosing to direct the film written by “Zodiac” and “The Amazing Spider-Man” screenwriter Jamie Vanderbilt. “It told a very personal story.” At the same time, Emmerich’s interest was piqued by the fact that it’s not a film about foreign terrorists — it’s about America being attacked by people from the inside. Emmerich referred to the film as “a coup d’état thriller.”
The lights dimmed and the audience cheered as they were treated to a first glimpse at the trailer — which you can now see linked below. Shots of the United States Capitol being blown up are intercut with a quote from Abraham Lincoln, and we see people screaming and running along the surrounding streets of Washington D.C., helicopters swooping perilously close to the throngs. Shots of Cale and Sawyer fleeing in the bowels of the White House are intercut with glimpses of nefarious-looking men wielding guns and the silhouette of a man in a chair surrounded by a row of screens. The tagline — “Our Deepest Secrets Will Become Our Greatest Threat” — is strewn across the screen as Cale and Sawyer’s car hops a row of shrubbery and plunges into a pool, before we cut to them jumping through a house as it’s riddled with bullets.
After the screening, Zane asked Tatum what it was like to play a parent for the first time. “Scary, because I’m about to be a dad!” said the actor whose wife, Jenna Dewan, is currently pregnant with their first child. “It gave me a nine-year look into the future of what that’s gonna be,” he said. He called his petite co-star King “an unbelievably crazy little monster” and said it was a joy to work with her.
When asked about their favorite part of working on the project, Tatum joked, “Listening to Roland’s accent every day” and gently teased the director’s pronunciation of “Lincoln.” On a more serious note, Tatum added, “I’ve always loved Roland’s movies,” and went on to specify about White House Down, “It’s not an alien movie! It’s not Independence Day 2!” He also called Foxx “a mentor, big brother, and one of the most unbelievable, talented individuals I’ve been able to work with.”
Foxx was drawn to “the overall scale of it” and admitted, “I’m like a kid when it comes to this whole thing.” He also had some fitting advice for his co-star. “I told Channing when he saves the world his whole life’s gonna change.
Foxx told an amusing story about seeing playback on a slow-motion action sequence for the first time (complete with hand motions and full acting out of Tatum’s facial expressions) and admitted, “Coming from Django [Unchained] where I was a slave to now playing the president in the same year, that was dope.” The audience applauded this sentiment, and he went on to specify, “I’m not playing President Obama” but promised “Obama type-things” hitting the point home by speaking like the President, complete with Obama-esque inflection.
Emmerich preceded the eight-minute footage reel by explaining that some of the action shots were still in pre-vis, since he’s in the midst of working on post-production. The footage shown emphasized all the Emmerich blockbuster checklist items that audiences have come to covet: explosions, America in peril, slow-motion sequences and an emphasis on humor. In the footage, we see Maggie Gyllenhaal as one of Sawyer’s secret service agents, intercut with Cale and his daughter having an icy conversation in a car. She insists on calling her father by his first name, even after he wins her over with passes to a White House tour and tells her he’s interviewing for a job as one of the President’s secret service agents. After a disastrous interview with Gyllenhaal — who spews not-so-favorable reviews from Cale’s Capitol police bosses — he takes the tour with Emily. The best moment of the day’s footage comes when the tour guide leads the group into, “The big famous part in the middle that got blown up in Independence Day.” That’s a direct quote — the audience went wild.
We’re given glimpses of men in what look like janitor uniforms preparing a bomb detonated by a watch, and — as the explosion commences and all hell breaks loose — Cale’s daughter is taken hostage and Sawyer is pulled aside by one of the baddies. Cale rescues Sawyer and they make their way up an elevator shaft to an emergency phone in Sawyer’s bedroom closet (where he changes from his stuffy dress shoes into a pair of fly sneakers, naturally). They fight their way out of the room (Foxx kicks a man who attempts to grab his feet, screaming, “Get your hands off my Jordans!”), and we hear Gyllenhaal tell him via phone, “Help is not coming.” The two decide to join together to rescue Cale’s daughter and take down the bad guys, leading to a particularly hilarious scene involving the duo in a speeding car wherein Sawyer wields a rocket launcher to blow up a fence, then hits Cale in the face with it as he’s attempting to drive.
Between the adrenaline-pumping glimpses of action and the very clear camaraderie of the film’s two stars, it seems that White House Down is on track to make a killing this summer. It also seems, at least from these glimpses, that Emmerich is back to his winning Independence Day formula. The director closed by admitting that there are a fair share of explosions and mass destruction in the film, but “it’s not only about that, it’s more about the characters and their chemistry.” He told the audience he test screened the film for a select group last week in Los Angeles and it was “the loudest screening I’ve had since Independence Day.” Clearly, Emmerich has a lot riding on this one — it remains to be seen if the film holds up to the fun first glimpses so reminiscent of his biggest success.
White House Down hits theaters June 28, 2013.
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