MONTREAL – “Independence Day” director Roland Emmerich is once again wreaking havoc on the president’s pad, and this time he has Channing Tatum along for the ride.
In the upcoming “White House Down,” Tatum plays a secret service rookie named John Cale (no relation to the famed musician, we assume), who is working under a soon-to-be-retired veteran named Walker (James Woods) in order to protect U.S. president Sawyer (Jamie Foxx).
When terrorists attack the White House, and his daughter (Joey King) is caught in the crossfire, Tatum and Foxx team up to escape the assault. Basically, it’s the second film to be released this year that could be dubbed “Die Hard in the White House,” hitting theaters just a few months after the similarly-themed “Olympus Has Fallen,” starring Gerard Butler and Morgan Freeman.
I visited the “WHD” set along with some fellow journalists late last year and Tatum took some time out from filming a dialogue scene to answer questions about the film, his recent career upswing and his future aspirations behind the camera.
With “Fallen” in production across town, the creation of “WHD” moved incredibly fast, especially for blockbuster standards. Between the sale of the script by James Vaderbilt (“Zodiac,” “Amazing Spider-Man”) and its June release date was only 14 months.
The fast pace was more akin to an indie film, and Tatum was understandably wearied. “It’s intense,” he told us. “We’re shooting 6-days weeks, sometimes 13-14 hour days”
However, Tatum was more than up to the challenge, doing some tricky schedule shuffling in order to play the ole. The studio obliged as well. “Sony moved heaven and Earth to make it,” Tatum revealed.
The actor formed an easy rapport with his Oscar-winning co-star Foxx, who often claimed he was getting too old for action films. Tatum disagreed, saying that Foxx “was more than keeping up.”
Many of the film’s stunts were performed by Tatum and his castmates, and the “G.I. Joe” star obviously relished the challenges. “I’ll do it all if they let me,” he boasted. “I can do it pretty aptly.”
“Sets are generally so-so-so-safe,” Tatum continued, “but there’s always a certain amount of danger. Fights are probably the most dangerous, because one little slip-up, you get hit in the nose and it’s a few days of downtime.”
Go to page 2 to read Tatum’s take on working with Emmerich, and the actor’s future production plans.
Director Emmerich (“2012,” “The Day After Tomorrow”) has certainly made his fair share of intense, stunt-heavy films, but his presence on-set is more casual than one might expect. Emmerich’s simultaneous attention to detail and laid-back shooting style is suited for the fantasy material, according to Tatum. “He uses that feeling of fun,” Tatum said of the director. “You see some directors who are stressed out [on the set], but he’s just having fun”
Tatum was attracted to the material because of all the “bells and whistles” that come with a fun, diverting action movie with an inherently far-fetched premise. The actor seemed to approach the material like a kid with a new toy, summing up his enthusiasm thusly: “I get to set the White House on fire.”
He added that it’s the type of escapist film where “someone’s standing this far away from you with a machine gun and somehow they don’t hit you. It’s just fun.”
“We’re not curing cancer here,” Tatum laughed. “It’s exactly what I figure movies should be.”
Emmerich’s German accent provided Tatum with plenty of comedy fodder. “I gotta figure out what ‘dwou ow’ means,” he joked. “I gotta figure out his accent.”
For his part, Emmerich compared Tatum to both Steve McQueen and James Dean. Tatum laughed at the compliment. “I wonder if that means something different in German,” he joked.
Jokes are a big part of Tatum’s presence on set. During his interview, he even jokingly asked the crew to keep it down while shooting the day’s key scene.
Despite some light politics in the film, Tatum said that they tried to keep things “non-offensive, because if it falls way liberal or way conservative, it alienates people. Just being aware of that is a bit of a responsibility.”
After scoring a hat trick of hits in 2012 (“The Vow,” “21 Jump Street” and “Magic Mike”), and appearing in the more recent “G.I. Joe: Retaliation,” Tatum is turning into a superstar almost visibly. At one point during his own interview, “WHD” co-star James Woods pointed to Tatum on a monitor and mouthed the words “big star.”
“I don’t think anyone can plan for three movies to go well, you can barley plan for one to go well,” Tatum told us, somewhat sheepishly. “We work just as hard on every single movie, and you never know. You can’t know which ones are gonna work.”
“If it doesn’t have a good marketing strategy, and no one sees it, then it doesn’t matter how good the movie is,” he opined. “And you can have a crappy movie that has a fantastic marketing strategy and everyone goes. There are so many things…that aren’t controllable on the set. It’s an honest to God miracle when one of them works out and I had a miracle of a hat trick this year.”
His recent successful run in front of the camera has got Tatum thinking about spending more time behind it.
“I really started to enjoy making movies even more and more when I started to get into the producing side,” he revealed, citing his 22andOut Productions partners. “We want to direct”
“Since the beginning, it’s [been the goal to] be more involved. I’ll always be an actor for hire, but I want to grow more of the filmmaking side.”
As for the type of films Tatum is interested in making, his answer was simple. “Anything with a good story,” he admitted. “If more romance movies had action and more action movies had love and more thrillers had drama and story…if they all had more of an even mix, I think moves would be getting better. It’s so stark now — horror movies just have horror in [them], action movies just have action. If we can level it out a little more, I think it would be better. I want to do it all.”
For now, however, he’ll just have to be content being a box office superstar who gets to blow up the White House with an Oscar winning actor at his side.
“White House Down” opens June 28.