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“You can always fail up in politics — and in Hollywood,” said Aaron Eckhart, who has played his share of political figures in movies, including a lobbyist, a district attorney and now, president of the United States in Antoine Fuqua’s latest film, “Olympus Has Fallen.”
Eckhart was being modest. His character, President Benjamin Asher, is modeled after John F. Kennedy and appears on screen for the first time boxing with Secret Service agent/buddy Mike Banning, played by Gerard Butler.
Eckhart spends the next two hours enduring personal tragedy, an invasion of the White House by North Korean terrorists, a missing son, assorted punches and kicks to the head, bullet wounds, Cabinet members getting tortured, the threat of nuclear Armageddon and being zip-tied for half the movie in the White House Situation Room.
At least he knows how to take, and throw, a punch. “I box for sport, yeah, and to keep in shape, for sure, I rope every day. It’s important to me. It comes in handy in the movies,” he said. He added that when his character is “getting the crap beat out of him,” the audience has already seen Asher’s physicality and knows “he can take care of himself.”
Perhaps Eckhart’s most iconic role, at least for Washingtonians, was as gimcrack lobbyist Nick Naylor, the self-described “merchant of death” for Big Tobacco in Jason Reitman’s pitch-black 2005 comedy “Thank You for Smoking.”
In “Olympus Has Fallen,” he gets the chance to give the Oval Office a spin.Deconstructing the White House
“Olympus Has Fallen” opens Friday, and as part of the movie’s publicity tour, the director and some of its stars cruised into Washington to spread the good word about the action thriller.
For those shut out of White House tours thanks to the sequester cuts, watching the movie is a good way to get an inner glimpse of the executive mansion. Fuqua and his production team constructed a nice-looking model for the movie. Filming in Washington was confined to only a few establishment shots, for obvious reasons.
“We needed a city where you could blow stuff up,” Fuqua said. They found it in Shreveport, La., where, after huddling with former Secret Service agent Joe Bannon, consultant Darrell Connerton and production designer Derek Hill, they built their own White House and Jackson Square area.
Fuqua, whose 2001 crooked cop flick “Training Day” won Denzel Washington an Oscar for his portrayal of dirty narc Alonzo Harris, knows how to blow stuff up. And no film since 1996’s “Independence Day” has done so much damage to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.