Angel Has Fallen – The Perfect Collaboration Between Screenwriter, Director and Actor

“I never thought of Angel has Fallen as a sequel. I see it as a fresh, cool installment of the franchise that can stand alone while bringing everything fans love about Mike Banning, says writer-director Ric Roman Waugh of the third installment in the Fallen series, a psychologically tense, kinetic thriller that never lets off the accelerator from its opening killer-drone attack.

“I was really excited to come back to the Fallen series,” says Gerard Butler, who reveals a whole new side to one of his signature roles–Secret Service agent Mike Banning– in this explosive, rip-roaring thriller in which the fate of the nation rests on the very man accused of attempting to assassinate the President of the United States.

“I was especially excited to do something fresh with the character and take things in a different direction, says Butler. “Mike Banning is known for his badassery, but also his humanity—and now we get to see a lot more of where he comes from. What’s great is that while this movie gets much more personal, there’s also more action than ever, so the ride is heightened on all levels. There’s brutal, crazy, epic combat—but in the same breath, there’s real drama and I think it’s also the funniest of the films.”

“What Gerry and I really wanted to do was to put you inside Banning’s head as he goes from offense to defense, from proud warrior to fugitive, so that you get to see and feel everything he’s going through. For fans, it’s a chance to see what makes Banning tick, and for new audiences, I hope it’s a discovery of a really relatable character surviving in an extraordinary situation. So, you still get a tremendous amount of action but with a whole new and fresh point of view.”

“I want it to be an origin story for the people that knew the franchise and then be an entry point. 

When there is an assassination attempt on U.S. President Allan Trumbull (Morgan Freeman), his trusted confidant, Secret Service Agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler), is wrongfully accused and taken into custody. After escaping from capture, he becomes a man on the run and must evade his own agency and outsmart the FBI in order to find the real threat to the President. Desperate to uncover the truth, Banning turns to unlikely allies to help clear his name, keep his family from harm and save the country from imminent danger.

Ric Roman Waugh directed from a screenplay he crafted with Robert Mark Kamen and Matt Cook & Ric Roman Waugh, from story by Creighton Rothenberger & Katrin Benedikt, and based on characters created by Creighton Rothenberger & Katrin Benedikt.

Read interview with Rick Roman Waugh

Butler notes it has always been Banning’s everyday authenticity and down-to-earth humor that stands out against today’s line-up of fantastical superheroes, but in this film, he is stripped down to his most human yet.

“I think part of Banning’s appeal has been that he’s such a real-life guy. He’s someone trying to be a family man while dealing with the heavy emotional toll his work takes on him. People can really relate to that, but on the other hand, he’s one of the toughest dudes you could ever hope to meet. He will never quit. That’s how he sees himself—but that image is put to the test in this film in ways he’d rather it wasn’t.”

For the first time in Angel Has Fallen, Banning is no longer sure if he can trust his own agency. He can’t sleep, he can’t get through the day without pain killers and even his doctor can see that he’s heading at 100 mph for a brick wall. Then, the bottom drops out.

For Gerard Butler, this was exactly the way he wanted to see Banning—not idealized but rather as a portrait of a more life-sized man, a hardboiled warrior facing down his own doubts. It’s also exactly where he wanted to see the franchise go next – inviting audiences into a ride as psychologically volatile as it is filled with wall-to-wall stunts and battles.

“I felt like it was really time for people to get to know more of Banning and who he is,” Butler says. “He might be a trained killer, but there’s always been an “everyman” aspect to Mike. So, in this film, even though there’s a huge external struggle, we get to know a lot more about his internal struggles with his father, his wife and his own future – struggles we all have. It makes the stakes of the action that much higher because we’re so inside his world.”

Knowing he wanted both more grit and more emotional depth, Butler searched for a director who could thread that needle. He found what he was searching for in Ric Roman Waugh, a former stunt performer seen in a long roster of 80s action classics, who came to the fore as a director with his taut, tense trilogy of prison thrillers: Felon, Snitch and Shot-Caller, Waugh had also directed That Which I Love Destroys Me, a documentary about Iraq war veterans dealing with traumatic stress disorders and the psychic wounds of war, which sealed the deal.

Ric Roman Waugh

“Gerry and I have known each other for a number of years, have been trying to work together. I got this call from him and he said, “Look, I don’t know if you’re interested in franchises, but I’d love for you to come in on the third installment of this Fallen franchise, but to really put your stamp on it.” He pitched me a storyline that I thought was really cool. The idea was to take the big exciting spectacle and action-packed ride of the first two movies, which were basically event-based movies, right?  It felt like it was exactly the film that I had been looking for, which is to flex my stunt background and bring back the action spectacle that I’m known for in my earlier part of the career and do the dramatic work as well, same time, and give you controversial subject matters and hot topics and complexity of character.”

The first time Butler met with Waugh, the ideas started flowing freely and that process did not stop until the final print was locked. “Ric’s intelligence and psychological approach to the story were phenomenal,” Butler says. “Also, moviemaking is in his DNA. He’s been a stunt man and a cameraman, but he also knows special effects and design, and he brings high enthusiasm for it all. The best part about Ric is that he pushes everyone around him, in part because he never stops being excited about what he’s doing. We made an interesting team for Angel Has Fallen because he brought so much fresh perspective to the series from his experiences while I was always thinking about those elements of the franchise that I know fans really love. I think we found a great balance.”

Waugh jumped right away at the idea of exploring Mike Banning not just in jeopardy but in a chaotic state of mind. He knew from making That Which I Love Destroys Me that a man like Banning would, like so many real-life warriors in the military and law enforcement worlds, have to pay the piper for the mental, physical and spiritual toll of his work.

“What I learned making the doc is that there are a lot of modern-day warriors who have a different kind of PTSD,” explains the director. “It’s not the classic shellshock where they are running away from war. Instead, they’ve become addicted to war, to the intensity of it, and that makes it harder for them to return to society and everyday life. We made the documentary about members of the military, but after it premiered, I started hearing from all kinds of other people, from first responders and law enforcement and more, talking about how they were going through the same thing. So, I felt from the beginning that this would be a very authentic and interesting journey to take with Mike Banning. He is, as he’s told in the film, a lion, but there are consequences to always being a lion.”

Early on, Waugh met with a man who is in many ways the real-life version of Mike Banning: the film’s security advisor, Mickey Nelson, a 28-year veteran of the Secret Service who served under four presidents, most recently President Obama. Nelson confirmed that Secret Service agents wrestle the intoxicating effects of adrenaline. “Mickey talked openly about the rush you get from protecting the most important person in the country—and he also talked about getting to a point where you crave that intense vigilance all the time,” says Waugh. “That’s exactly what Mike is thinking about as he faces a desk job. It brings  up this huge question for him: do I keep trying to be the person I was in my youth or do I find a way to embrace who I’ve become? It’s something a lot of people go through in all walks of life.”

While Waugh did not want to skirt the complexities Banning faces, he also brought deeply-felt respect for the job. “One of the things that was also important to me coming into this was really trying to show what it’s like to be part of the Secret Service. So, that informed a lot of the filmmaking because I wanted to be in Mike’s head the whole way, the way he is always trailing the president, always watching for that threat in the hidden corner and always feeling that sense of duty and honor.”

He and Butler inspired each other. “There was instant chemistry with us,” says Waugh. “Our collaboration just seemed to catch fire early on and we had such absolute trust in each other that it made things exciting every day.” (The bond was so tight that Waugh and Butler are currently shooting the disaster epic Greenland together.)

Waugh continues: “What makes Gerry so perfect for Banning is that while he brings all the off-the-charts charisma and muscularity you want in an action hero, he is also a very gifted actor who’s not afraid to examine the complexities of life and the human condition and bring those traits, even flaws, into his characters to make them feel grounded and real. That allows you to get close to him in a way that’s different in this film, while you’re still getting that action rush.”

Butler loved Waugh’s approach to the action. “Ric’s style is all about putting you smack in the middle of the chaos,” Butler explains. “He sucks you in with a gritty realism—so that even in the most insane scenarios, you feel you are right there in the moment with Banning.”

As visceral as the action and design are, Waugh and Butler, hope it all serves to open up a window into Banning’s soul that resonates beyond the thrills.

Sums up Waugh: “I’m a big fan of what this franchise has already done so it’s been a huge honor to be part of taking it somewhere new, to give it a new depth for the fans and a new spin so that folks coming to the franchise for the first time can jump right into it. We put in all the fun and thrills you’d expect from a Mike Banning story, but I hope you also take away something more.”

The Creative Team

Filmmaker Ric Roman Waugh began his career as a stuntman, the son of legendary stunt coordinator Fred Waugh. Jerry Bruckheimer and the late Tony Scott were early champions and mentors who helped guide him to his work as a writer/director. He wrote and directed the prison dramas Felon and Shot Caller, the thriller Snitch, and is currently in production on Greenland with Gerard Butler, the story of a family’s fight for survival in the face of a cataclysmic natural disaster.

Screenwriter Robert Mark Kamen officially became a screenwriter with the sale of his first (unproduced) screenplay, Crossings, in 1979. His first produced screenplay was Taps, followed by Split Image, The Karate Kid, A Walk In The Clouds, The Power Of One, and Lethal Weapon 3. For the past 25 years Robert has collaborated extensively with Luc Besson, writing fifteen more produced features including: Kiss Of The Dragon, The Transporter 1,2,And 3, Colombiana, Bandidas, Unleashed, Taken 1,2,3, and The Warriors Gate. In 1979 with the proceeds from his first screenplay sale Robert bought (what was he thinking?) 300 acres of raw, undeveloped land in the hills above Sonoma California, a place he had never been before. With the proceeds from his second screenplay, he planted a 50 acre organic vineyard in 1981 (again, what was he thinking). Since 1999 Robert has produced critically acclaimed Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah wines from the vineyard he lives on, where continues to write full time.

Robert Mark Kamen
Image result for Matt Cook screenwriter

Matt Cook is a screenwriter, director, and producer of various studio and independent films and television. His work includes The Duel, Triple Nine, Patriots Day, Angel Has Fallen and the soon to be released film, The Informer. Both The Duel (previously known as By Way of Helena, 2010) and Triple Nine (2012) made the top 10 of The Black List. Cook is currently developing/writing several projects, including The Perfect Horse (Taylor Sheridan directing), American Hero (Alex Gibney directing), Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War (Pete Berg directing) as a mini-series at HBO. Cook served two combat tours in Iraq with the 1st Battalion, 187th Airborne Infantry (Rakkasans) and has written several articles for Texas Monthly about his experiences. He also served as a correspondent in Afghanistan in 2012.

Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt’s first produced screenplay, Olympus Has Fallen, was followed by the sequel London Has Fallen. The writing team followed this up by penning The Expendables 3, and are working on Manhunt, the English-language remake of Takashi Miike’s Shield Of Straw for Solstice Studios, the sci-fi space adventure Solara for director Renny Harlin’s Extraordinary Entertainment, the action-thriller The Sentence for Voltage Pictures, and the action-horror TV series The Drowning for Radar Pictures.

Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt

Rothenberger is a graduate of the English Honors program at the University of Pennsylvania. He is a 2002 recipient of an Academy Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting, awarded by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), for his Korean War epic, The Chosin.

Benedikt, born in Reykjavík, Iceland, graduated from the Honors College at the University of Pittsburgh with a Bachelor of Arts in Politics and Philosophy. The writing duo first met in a screenwriting class in Philadelphia before making the move to Los Angeles in 2007 to pursue their film careers.