Director Ric Roman Waugh is no stranger to stunts, he started out in doing stunt work, so when Gerard Butler sought him out to direct Angel Has Fallen, Waugh was on-board and happy to be flexing his stunt muscles.
Angel Has Fallen is the third film, following Olympus Has Fallen and London Has Fallen, but Waugh put his own stamp on the film, creating more of an immersive film and a film driven by the characters. There’s more heart and emotion to the characters as Banning is dealing with PTSD and addiction. Again, Waugh having worked on the documentary, That Which I Love Destroys Me, brings his experience on servicemen and PTSD into this narrative.
I caught up with Waugh to talk about bringing heart and action and drones to his action-packed, edge of the seat, heart-stopping film Angel Has Fallen.
I was curious to see where you were going to go with this and how you were going to make your mark on this.
It was really fun to come into something and put my stamp on this, and to have the confidence of Gerard and the studio behind that. It was really courageous of them to not want to build a sequel and to not to want to do a repetitive film of the first two. I took the responsibility wholeheartedly to create something fresh and to create something that was not plot-driven but character-driven. This was about the man. I also wanted to make it an entry point into the franchise, so those who haven’t seen the franchise, you don’t have to do any homework. You just grab a box of popcorn, sit in your seat and you go for the ride. You don’t miss a beat.
How did you get on board with this? I read that Gerard specifically wanted you on board for this?
Gerry, as we fondly call him, and I have been friends for a while. We’d been looking to work together, and I hadn’t heard from him in a while. I got this call out of the blue saying, “I would love for you to come in and do the third installment. I don’t want to do a sequel. I want you to come in and put your stamp on it. Really change the direction, so it feels like a pivot.”
That was music to my ears because I think the world of Gerry and he’s a tremendous actor. So much so that we’ve done another movie together. What I love about him is that he was courageous to know that what I wanted, and what he wanted, that he hopefully cracks through the veneer of this new version of heroes that were impervious to pain, impervious to flaws, they’re impervious to danger, they’re bulletproof and start making mortals again. The way we used to have heroes be all the way back to Jimmy Stewart.
These were heroes that had flaws. They were empathetic to what they were dealing with. They were struggling like us. They were human. The idea was to make a day in the life of the Secret Service, a day in the life of Mike Banning. He’s a man struggling with his own mortality the way we all do. He’s like a professional type athletic in this adrenalin type job where you do everything you can to preserve it, even to the detriment of your own home.
Also, from my documentary, That Which I Love Destroys Me, it’s about war addiction where we look at PTSD. For a guy like Mike who was in army range in special operations, and came home to society, what do you have on your resume, but how the wheel begun? He went into law enforcement like many of our military do. He’s been a career service member and it’s the only life he knows. I thought in this interesting way to show the complexity and again that these are real people and not robots. When people die, you felt it. You felt like you were part of the action.
It didn’t feel like we were watching a movie as such, it felt so immersive not just in the action, but also with the characters.
My favorite word that you just said was “Immersive.” It’s something I try to do with every movie. I try to make a movie that is infinite, and you’re actually a part of it verses a voyeur watching the screening. It’s no secret that most of my films have been a thriller. I come from the stunt world, and it was fun to flex those muscles again and to put you in the action. My whole thing was to make you experience what I did and to put you in the adrenalin rush. Put you in the action, so you felt like you were participating and immersed in it.
On that, the drone sequence was a great example of that. Where we’re on the lake, we’re under that water.
It was a daunting task. First of all, we filmed on the Queen’s Lake, in Virginia Waters, London. They were very gracious to us. We blew some things up. The thing I wanted, I feel we embraced visual effects in the movie. We’ve gotten into a dangerous place with movies now where I think filmmakers are relying on visual effects far too much. They’d rather just do things on a stage in green screen versus being out there and doing it for real. That’s the world I came from, doing it on camera.
I really wanted the mandate on the movie to be old school. That’s who I am. I wanted to put you back inside the action. The way you do that, is that you shoot the action for real. All of the explosions, the boat explosion, and Morgan Freeman, that’s all real.
We utilized VFX enhancement to create that many drones in the sky to make you feel like you were in Hitchcock’s The Birds and it’s futile to run from these things.
These drones are real-world technology. They are used on the battlefield as we speak. They can swarm in hundreds using AI and Facial recognition to seek out the enemy. They can be weaponized. It’s interesting to know this exists and to again make it immersive so you feel you’re in the attack. I think audiences are savvy enough to know what’s real.
You mention London, where else did you shoot?
A lot of it has to do with tax credits and getting the best deals. Angel Has Fallen’s budget is nowhere along the lines of a Marvel movie. You’re really looking to roll up your sleeve and stretch the dollar.
We shot in the USA, Sofia – Bulgaria and London. A lot of it was location contingent. Where can we do different things and really make them look great? It becomes this jigsaw puzzle that you’re piecing together, so it feels like one cohesive movie in one cohesive world.
Where did you shoot the finale and what were the challenges of that because that was a lot of explosions and blowing up sets?
We shot some in London, and the rest was in Bulgaria.I wanted to put you inside the firefight. And we wanted for when people died to feel for them and understand they were human beings just trying to protect. One of the themes I thought was really intriguing and appreciative of, is that the Secret Service, there are protection details all over the world who protect leaders. They have to have this mandate that they are the bulletproof vest. They have to use their bodies and their flesh and body to absorb the bullet. I wanted that sense of sacrifice and duty and honor that they would go down to the last man to protect that person. There’s the mixing of the big popcorn, end of the summer action movie, but having it with heart and integrity, so you were attached to these people.
When Nick Nolte came on, I think there was an audible gasp of joy in my screening. There was such a surprise that he was Clay.
I think that was my gasp. When we wrote the character of Clay, Matt Cook and I looked at each other and said, “There’s only one person that can play this, and it’s Nick Nolte.” He is going to rip your heart out, and you’re going to laugh two minutes later and he’s going to go right back to ripping your heart out again. When we sent it to him, we got the call four days later. I was jumping up and down. Then to meet him, and watch him work. It was more enthralling than it could ever be. He is an all-in person.
To have Morgan Freeman as well. To have two of our greatest legends running at eighty-years-old and eighty-two-years respectively, and have them show up every day, putting their passion, their experience and A-game, we hadn’t seen each other in a while, and when the cast came together, it was like a family reunion. Everybody knew, and we all put our heart into something.
My favorite thing has been seeing the fan reactions. They’re embracing it.
That character journey was something. You reeled us in.