How do you follow up Olympus Has Fallen, one of the biggest surprise hits of 2013?
By reuniting the principal cast and key members of the creative team for London Has Fallen, a new adventure that relocates the action from the U.S. to abroad – where the character of heroic Secret Service Agent Mike Banning (again played by actor and producer Gerard Butler) no longer has the advantage of knowing the territory.
London Has Fallen picks up the characters a couple of years after Olympus Has Fallen had left off. U.S. President Benjamin Asher is in his second term, and Mike remains the Agent assigned to protect him.
Producer Les Weldon comments that the loyalty between the two lead characters is an essential component that has been established because of “the chemistry between Aaron and Gerry.
In the first film, audiences only got a taste of it. In London Has Fallen, they had been through a lot before but now are going through an extreme situation together and we see more of their interactions: moments of weakness and fragility, and how they have to support each other to push through and survive. We are very confident in the type of action that we can deliver, but there has to be heart; the audience should be able to make a connection with the characters, based on what’s put forth by the actors beginning with Gerry and Aaron.
“To make the sequel, we had to take a step back because we didn’t want to just do the same thing again. The idea was to open it up, since the first movie was focused in and around the White House. We wanted to increase the scope of a second movie to make it a bigger experience for the audience.”
The screenwriting team of Creighton Rothenberger & Katrin Benedikt, who had written the original screenplay for Olympus Has Fallen, conceived a new story and first worked on the script, with writers Christian Gudegast and Chad St. John then working on the script.
Weldon remarks, “We all felt there should be a progression of the main characters; in a lot of sequels, with the characters in the first film established they then carry on to the second one and nothing changes. We’ve seized the opportunity to expand their stories: the Bannings are starting a family, Trumbull is now the Vice President, and Asher has this bond with Banning based on what they went through in the first movie.
“Bringing Banning and Asher together for a journey was what we knew the audience would be excited to see. This concept opened up our story’s parameters – literally. Our director Babak Najafi worked closely with every actor to improve their character’s arc, which invites the audience to identify with them. The core of London Has Fallen is the characters, especially the ones moviegoers loved and wanted to see again.”
Butler’s producing partner Alan Siegel concurs, noting that “Gerry created such a great movie hero with his performance as Mike Banning that people were eager to see him again, in another harrowing situation. Banning is cool, he’s smart, he has a great sense of humour – and he values his wife and his President. He and the President have a close relationship, one that is symbiotic.
“Gerry has natural presence, but the best thing about him is his work ethic. I have never met anyone work so hard for not his ego but rather for what is best for the movie. That’s why he has become a producer and that’s how we’ve managed to produce seven movies together. He will make an amazing director one day because he is so attentive to detail.”
Aaron Eckhart, who reprises his role as Asher, states, “All the action and the attitude that people loved in Olympus Has Fallen comes through again. Audiences expect as much from Gerry [as Banning], and he’s really into it!
“Because the new movie is set in Europe, Babak Najafi was an excellent choice to direct. He had great ideas for what he wanted this movie to be.”
Angela Bassett, encoring as Secret Service Director Lynne Jacobs, found Najafi “to have an understanding of the importance of gathering a great team around the director. There is a lot of mayhem in this movie, but Babak never loses sight of the humanity of the individuals and the families that matter to them.”
Bassett also feels that “what really resonated with moviegoers and made the first film a huge success was the ideal of good overcoming evil, of one man saving the day. We wanted to recapture that. The stakes are even higher in London Has Fallen.
“Banning and Lynne remain not only colleagues but also confidants. They talk, they share, and she understands him more than most people. He is able to open up to her.”Reteamed with the lead actors, Bassett praises “Gerard’s everyman quality. You want to see him win. Gerard has a great, very wry sense of humor and he brings that into the make-up of the Banning character. He is the guy all guys want to be, and of course the girls like him rather a lot too. As the President, Aaron complements Gerard because he has a cowboy quality, strong and masculine; you know that if called upon, he will hold his own. Maybe it has something to do with that jawline and the cleft in his chin…
“Morgan Freeman’s authority and gravitas add weight to the issues he addresses, but he also has a sense of humor. He is an absolute natural to play Trumbull, now as a Vice President.”
Freeman clarifies, “Since Olympus Has Fallen, when Trumbull was Speaker of the House, the Vice President has died. So it’s a move up to Vice President for him, and when the stuff hits the fan in London, it’s Trumbull who has to make the key decisions.”
The legendary actor reconnected with colleagues from the first movie. He says, “Gerard is so engaging, and a real tough guy – which is what a film like this really thrives on. I hadn’t met Jackie Earle Haley [who plays Deputy Chief Mason] before, but I have seen so much of his work it was almost like I knew him. When you get good actors together, we sit down and discuss how we want the scene to move along. With Babak Najafi, we were able to have a lot of input. He’s quick and decisive, which means he knows what he wants and he knows when he has got it.”
Another returning actor whose character sees a change of situation in the new movie is Radha Mitchell as Leah Banning, Mike Banning’s wife. Mitchell reveals, “I was very excited when I read the script because Leah is pregnant in the story. The couple now has the opportunity to imagine how they are going to be as parents, and that is how the story begins; they are nesting and getting excited about the new arrival. Then Banning gets the call asking him to accompany the President to London.
“The real-life people who have these jobs, guarding the President and being in these high-stress situations, are risking their lives for their country. It’s interesting to consider who these people are when they are at home, and what their domestic situation is. That’s what we get to explore in the scenes between Banning and Leah. Banning has a lot of stress, but Leah carries the burden as well. You can see there is a team effort behind the hero.”