'Olympus Has Fallen' director Fuqua's career on the rise

| Friday, March 22, 2013, 8:57 p.m.

Blowing up the White House is harder than it looks.

For Antoine Fuqua, Pittsburgh-born director of “Training Day” (2001) and the new action blockbuster “Olympus Has Fallen,” there were some quite significant obstacles to getting his assault-on-the-White-House action blockbuster made.

First of all, shooting at the White House — not just with film, but actual bullets — is not encouraged.

“I made the phone call,” Fuqua says. “They (the White House) didn't like that idea.”

The back-up plan was to take the production to Louisiana. The only problem was that there's no White House in Louisiana.

The location scout found a spot that might work, with some imagination. Luckily, Fuqua and his crew are in the imagination business.

“The space was just nothing — there was a just big patch of grass and a road. I looked at my production designer and said, ‘We're going to build the White House.' He said ‘Great. Let's do it.'

“We just went to work. We took this big open road and turned it into Pennsylvania Avenue. And then tore it up.”

“Olympus Has Fallen” is the story of a band of terrorists who blast their way through the White House's many layers of security, and take the president (Aaron Eckhart) hostage. A lone Secret Service agent (Gerard Butler) on the inside, and Speaker of the House Trumbull (Morgan Freeman) on the outside, have to figure out how to take it back.

Making action movies is more physically draining than other types of movie, Fuqua says.

“Choreographing battle scenes takes a lot out of you,” he says. “Imagine writing music — you have to have a feeling in your head, and understand every movement. It's a lot of physical work. You need a lot of people and have to be very patient. You also don't want anyone to get hurt.”

Still, that doesn't mean it's not fun.

“I loved attacking the White House —with the garbage trucks and everything,” Fuqua says. “The kid kind of comes out of you. Shooting some of the helicopter stuff was also fun.”

Fuqua was born in the Hill District, and grew up in Homewood. He went to West Virginia University on a basketball scholarship, where he studied electrical engineering. Growing up in Pittsburgh still has an influence on his filmmaking, he says.

“I think what comes out of Pittsburgh is that I try to ground everything,” he says. “It's a very real place, with blue-collar people. It's a tough town. It's like the Steelers — you find a way (to get it done). When I make something, it's aggressive, like that team.”

Fuqua may be a big name in Hollywood, a go-to director of action movies like “Tears of the Sun” (2003), “Shooter” (2007), and “Brooklyn's Finest” (2009), as well as Denzel Washington's Academy Award-winning performance in “Training Day.” But back in his hometown of Pittsburgh (and nowhere else), he's still in the shadow of his cousin — John “Frenchy” Fuqua, the flamboyant Steelers running back who was Terry Bradshaw's intended target for the Immaculate Reception before it bounced Franco Harris' way.

In the next few years, Antoine Fuqua is hoping to get a couple of projects off the ground that could take him well outside his comfort zone in action/thriller flicks.

There's a film about ancient China called “The Tang Dynasty,” from the writer of “Gladiator,” that he's particularly excited about. It will have some big battle scenes, but is mainly a love story, he says.

There's also “My version of a love story, taking place during World War II,” Fuqua says. “It's called ‘Letters From Paris.' ”

He's fully aware of the recent movie-production boom in Pittsburgh and hopes to helm a major production here someday.

“I would love to,” he says. “I have a movie called ‘Southpaw,' that Harvey Weinstein just bought from me, that would be perfect for Pittsburgh.”

Michael Machosky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at mmachosky@tribweb.com or 412-320-7901.

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