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Director Emmerich brings 'White House Down' with terrorism plot

Director Roland Emmerich walks the red carpet as he arrives for the premiere of his new film "White House Down" in Washington June 21, 2013.
Director Roland Emmerich walks the red carpet as he arrives for the premiere of his new film "White House Down" in Washington June 21, 2013.

By Sandra Maler

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Film director Roland Emmerich has made obliterating the White House a trademark in his apocalyptic blockbusters and true to form, he ravages it in spectacular fashion with a terrorist attack in "White House Down," opening in theaters on Friday.

"White House Down," starring Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx and Maggie Gyllenhaal, is Emmerich's first foray into terrorism.

"It's about the division in America, it's about lobbyism and about how some people feel entitled to do certain things and totally believe in them patriotically," Emmerich told Reuters.

Emmerich, 57, has actually made his career destroying the White House.

In his 1996 film, "Independence Day," the building was annihilated by an alien laser beam, then buried in snow in 2004's "The Day After Tomorrow," and swept away by an aircraft carrier riding a tidal wave in last year's "2012."

"Whenever something big happens in America, the White House is involved. Because of that there is a lot of White House in my movies because I always try to do a relatively international plot. I'm not the only one. The White House gets attacked a lot! But I probably hold the record," the director said.

In "White House Down," Emmerich dedicated the best part of two hours to destroying the presidential building as an aspiring Secret Service agent, played by Tatum, finds himself protecting the president, played by Foxx, during a terrorist attack.

Emmerich teamed up with screenwriter James Vanderbilt, who wrote 2012's box-office reboot "The Amazing Spider-Man," to develop a script exploring the threat of terrorism.

"Any point of view when taken to an extreme can turn into a bad thing, no matter how rational it is to begin with," Vanderbilt told Reuters.

Asked if being a European gave him a slightly different perspective as a filmmaker, the German-born director said: "I'm maybe a little bit more courageous than an American. I realized that when 'Independence Day' writer Dean Devlin asked me 'So what do we blow up in Washington? The Capitol?' And I said 'No, No. The White House.' And he said 'Oh!'."

SPOTLIGHT ON TATUM

"White House Down," produced by Sony Corp's Columbia Pictures for an estimated $150 million according to IMDB.com, shines a spotlight on Tatum, who is rising fast into the Hollywood's upper echelons.

Tatum, 33, voted 'Sexiest Man Alive' by People magazine last year after starring as a stripper in "Magic Mike," performed most of his many stunts himself in the action-packed movie.

Emmerich said he was so eager to have Tatum in his movie, that he brought filming forward by 10 weeks to accommodate the actor's busy schedule.

"When I met him, I couldn't believe how smart and intelligent he is, and grounded in reality, humble and how cool and everything," Emmerich said. "And I realized: I have a real problem if he says 'no'."

Foxx, 45, who plays fictional President James Sawyer, said the role was a welcome change from his last one in Quentin Tarantino's spaghetti Western about slave revenge "Django Unchained."

"I was doing 'Django' a year ago. I was a slave, so playing the president is much better," Foxx joked with reporters at a premiere screening in Washington, attended by an audience of journalists, politicians and former White House staff members.

"Remember, this is fiction. I'm here to make sure this doesn't happen," Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano quipped on the red carpet in Georgetown.

(Reporting by Sandra Maler; Editing by Piya Sinha-Roy and Christopher Wilson)

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