Gerard Butler returns as agent Mike Banning in Angel Has Fallen this weekend. This is the third entry in the “Fallen” series, which also includes Olympus Has Fallen and London Has Fallen. This time around, the series brought in some new blood in the form of Ric Roman Waugh. The stuntman-turned-director is at the helm for the action flick, which is one of the final franchise entries in a summer that has been littered with franchise entries.
Yet, Ric Roman Waugh didn’t want to just sit on his hands and deliver the same old thing this time around. The filmmaker felt the need to reinvent the series heading into its third installment by focusing on the character of Mike Banning, who isn’t invincible. He’s capable of being hurt, and he’s also on the run from his own government this time, which flips the script on the first two movies.
I was lucky enough to chat with the man behind London Has Fallen ahead of the movie’s release in theaters this weekend. We talked about his career as a stuntman, his influences as a filmmaker and where he hopes to see the franchise head in the future. Without further adieu, here’s my chat with Ric Roman Waugh.
Related: Angel Has Fallen Trailer Arrives, Gerard Butler Returns as Agent Mike Banning
I feel like you go into a movie like this, you have a certain expectation. Third movie in action franchise. It’s been a weird summer for me. This is my like bread and butter, popcorn flicks. [Angel Has Fallen] is one of my biggest surprises of the entire summer. It completely took the formula for this franchise and kind of almost threw it out the window and did something totally different. So how did you approach this coming into the third movie?
Ric Roman Waugh: First of all, thank you for your reaction. Gerard Butler and I have known each other for a while, and he called me out of the blue and said, “Look, I’d love for you to come in and put your stamp on this franchise. What I’m looking for is, I don’t want to make a sequel. I don’t want to make something that’s repetitive of the first two, or plot driven about events.” Obviously, the taking of the White House in Olympus Has Fallen, the assassination of the world leaders in London Has Fallen. This time make a character driven movie. I said, “Well, then we should make it about you. It should be about the man, Mike Banning.” Let’s make it a day in the life of the Secret Service and then let it all drive from there. He flipped over that, and there was a script that I really like. The construct of where you took a man that was on offense for the first two movies. It was a one man wrecking crew, and this time he gets framed for an assassination attempt. And we put him on defense, and I thought it was a really interesting place, structurally, that would allow the movie to breathe in a way where you could meet a bunch of different characters along the journey, get him out of the contained set piece atmosphere of the first two movies and make more of a journey of it. An exploration of character and also a journey of different types of action and different types of set pieces.
And my thing also was I feel like we’ve gotten to this dangerous place with our heroes and movies of today, where they’re impervious to pain, they’re impervious to danger. They’re completely bulletproof. They’re flawless and they don’t relate to us. We don’t know these people because they don’t exist. And I wanted to humanize Mike Banning and show you the complexities of what it would be like to be this guy. What it would be like to be a Secret Service member. So my whole thing was, let’s meet a man in crisis. Let’s meet a man who came from the Army Ranger special operations, fought in combat training. A tremendous amount of combat. Came home very much like most of our military. Where do you go from there when the only thing you really know is to carry the gun? So we picked law enforcement and he went in the Secret Service, and we meet him at a point where, very much like a professional athlete, you’re doing everything you possibly can to stay in the game. Mike Banning is addicted to the job. He’s addicted to the adrenaline rush of protecting one of the most powerful people in the world, and that’s something he’s not gonna give up easily. And he’s doing everything he can to stay relevant, even maybe to the detriment of his own health. I thought it was a very interesting way to humanize him, show a more complex way, but still blow up a tremendous amount of s***. You feel like you’re actually invested in a movie again. You’re invested in the ride that’s going on. You’re not watching something that’s just mindless. Still a big popcorn summer action movie.
Ric Roman Waugh: This time you feel like you’re emotionally connected to what’s going on.
I feel like directors can work, I mean like A-list directors can work their whole lives and not have a cast as good as you have for this. You’ve got all these great character actors like Tim Blake Nelson, and there you got Nick Nolte in there. What was that like for you as a filmmaker?
Ric Roman Waugh: We knew going in that Gerard Butler and Morgan Freeman were gonna continue their involvement, and their evolvement of character. You know where Mike Banning is now, Morgan Freeman’s character Allan Trumbull going from the Speaker of the House in the first one to the Vice President in the second. Now he’s the President of the United States. But there was room to really grow the rest of the cast. I was like, let’s go meet his dad. Let’s have a hero that is addicted to the adrenaline rush of war and doing everything he can to stay relevant and in it. And understand that maybe part of that is that his sense of abandonment he felt of a father who fought in Vietnam and ran away from the effects of war to the point that he actually ran away from his family, thinking he was helping them by not raining his dark cloud on top of them.
But unfortunately, what he did is create a sense of abandon with our hero and much to his chagrin, he realizes the minute he sees that his son has been affected by war like he is, this guy’s trying everything he can to stay in it and not get away from it. So there’s a way to really round out the cast and humanzie. Can you imagine being an FBI agent and your job is to figure out who did it and bring the guy up on charges. The weight on your shoulders. I thought, what an interesting way to show the complexity of that job. That’s why we got lucky getting Jada Pinkett Smith. She could bring real tenacity to it, but also humanizes the character and show the pressures of the job.
You come from a stunt background and it’s interesting. That’s kind of happening more. Like you see Chad Stahelski with the John Wick flicks. Not a ton of filmmakers who end up as directors come from that background. How does that influence your style as a filmmaker coming from that background?
Ric Roman Waugh: It’s interesting, because when I started directing movies, given my background, you would think, what is an ex-stuntman man gonna do but big action movies? And it’s very much the case, what I didn’t do. Between starting with Felon and on, a lot of movies I was taking on were basically the brand of filmmaking that I wanted to generate, because it’s where my heart is and where my passion is, of telling stories that could take on hot topic issues. Not give you my opinion on them, but just show you what they are so that they create debate, but entertain you at the same time. I would say I’m a big Sidney Lumet fan. When you look at Dog Day Afternoon and The Verdict and movies that, they had something to say. You definitely talked about them on the way out. But you were entertained the entire time. They weren’t message-driven to the point they’re pounding you over the head. They were all about the form of entertainment, but again, not just being mindless.
And so a lot of movies I have taken on, from Felon and Snitch and Shot Caller, and even my documentary That Which I Love Destroys Me. They’re all movies that have something to say. The documentary obviously more so than the rest. But I wanted Angel Has Fallen, I wanted my cake and eat it too. Because I felt like I could take the dramatic chops I have as the filmmaker. But this time I can actually unleash and put some muscularity back onto the action world. Call me nostalgic. Call me old school, but I didn’t want, like I was saying, to do this new version of action where the hero is impervious to pain and impervious to danger. But show you that he’s mortal and that it f****** hurts when you get hurt. People do die and that they’re not robots. And also to give the audience a sense of, not what I knew technically, about how great I can do action. But let them understand what I felt. What was it like to be in the adrenaline rush? What was my anxiety? What was the fear? What was my perspective to be in a car chase or being blown up on fire? And let you feel that as well. So hopefully you feel like you’re a participant in this movie, sitting in the chair smoking back some popcorn. Hopefully you don’t feel like you’re a voyeur watching something on the screen that feels mindless. You’re not attached. Hopefully you feel integrated into the drone attack. Hopefully you feel integrated in the semi chases and gunfights. You feel like you’re a part of it.
You started out in stunts and you worked on some really iconic stuff. You worked on They live. If I’m not mistaken you worked on Tango & Cash. You worked on Roadhouse. What was it like being involved in some of those movies that have gone on to become classics?
Ric Roman Waugh: It’s a great legacy. I love my trajectory in the business. It’s very unorthodox. It’s not your usual fair, to say the least, the way that I came up through. I was lucky to meet some great people along the way. Two of them that I’m forever Grateful for. One of them is Jerry Bruckheimer, and the other one is the late Tony Scott, who, when I was coming up through stunts and knew them and worked for them, they became great mentors because they helped me find my place in the sandbox. Where did I really belong? I never felt like I belonged in front of the camera. But I loved the filmmaker aspect of it. I love the idea of a place to tell stories. I always loved that growing up. I loved literature. I’ve read a lot of books. I love the fascination of stories. I have twin boys right now, Jackson and Brayden, and I find them engrossed in stories. And it just puts the biggest smile on my face. They love stories. They love history the way I do, and that’s the way I grew up. And I think that once you have that, that’s where I wanted to go. I wanted to be able to not mimic or emulate the legends that I’ve loved and adored, but put my own brand on it. And that’s where Tony Scott was so influential in my life because Tony did Tony Scott movies. You knew a Tony Scott movie when you saw it.
I miss him all the time.
Ric Roman Waugh: For better or for worse, hopefully you know I’m the guy behind my movies. They got a sense of brand to them. A distinct voice.
It’s funny you mention Tony Scott. He’s so singular, And I think that the stuff you talked about, like Snitch specifically is a movie that I just adore. I think it’s one of [Dwayne] Johnson’s best movies. But I think Tony Scott, like you were saying, is a guy very much who, yes, there’s action. Yes, there’s this, but there’s always something to say and there’s always something deeper. It’s funny you mentioned Tony Scott being an influence because what you said is exactly that, I feel.
Ric Roman Waugh: It’s funny you say that because I never really thought about it. But I think maybe one of the reasons that I love Tony so much is not only the man he was, but I also, because if you think about our styles are very different, right? As far as filmmakers. And they should be. We should all be individual in our voice. But I think the thing that I loved about Tony is his characters were always flawed and he dealt with the gray of society, and I think that that’s what I love. My brand is, I don’t feel like we live in a black and white world today. We especially don’t live in a black and white world. We live in a very morally gray world. And I think that’s interesting because I think when we put the protagonist and even the bad guys, the proverbial bad guys, into positions where they have to make these choices where they’re not just black and white, the twirling mustache bad guy. They have something to say, In this case, Angel Has Fallen, you think about it, it’s voicing both sides of the debate that we’ve been having for two decades about war, and how do we continue to fight wars? Do we do it through private contractors or mercenaries? There’s pros and cons of that. There’s a lot of pros to that. There’s a lot of cons to that. My job is not to give my opinion on it, and I won’t. My job is, let’s go entertain people. Give you a big kick ass ride, but let’s go say something about something. About this hot topic so we could have debates and talk about it and see what the right path forward is.
We just don’t live in a world where a trilogy is it anymore. I feel like this could serve as a completely satisfying ending, if it never went any further. But it definitely left the door, not spoil anything, cracked open a little bit It seems like you and Gerard had a pretty good relationship. Have you thought at all about what the next one might be if you were given the chance to come back? Let’s call it: Angel Has Risen.
Ric Roman Waugh: I like that title. To back up a half step, what we wanted was to create an origin story that if you knew the franchise, you would realize it’s not a sequel. It’s a new installment. A new chapter. It gives you what you loved, but in a new whole, fresh and provocative way and a much more in depth character study. But if you know nothing about this franchise, if you’re brand new to it, you don’t gotta do your homework. Just buy the ticket. Come in and grab a bag of popcorn and you’ll have a great ride, and you’ll meet these people in a very adept, complex way. And then you go back and revisit the other movies.
And so given that we built something based on character, that’s where the franchise would go. It would go in a way that would evolve these characters. I think the most natural trajectory is we introduced two fathers in this movie. It’s a very paternal type of structure. You have one biological, and you have one that is built on loyalty. The Allan Trumbull, Morgan Freeman character and the Mike Banning, Gerard Butler character, those have evolved over the franchise between the protector of the protected and personal bonds come out of that. You realize that Trumbull has been the father that has been missing in Mike’s life, but we meet Clay Banning and the first way that he and his son connect is not as father and son. They connect as warriors. They connect as two people that have been damaged by war. Be a hell of a movie to watch, finally put them together. Because in Angel, Morgan and Nick [Nolte] were never in the same scenes. But I’d love to see those three. I don’t know what the plot would be but I’d watch those three.
Angel Has Fallen hits theaters this weekend from Lionsgate.