Gerard Butler reveals a whole new side to one of his signature roles — secret service agent Mike Banning — in Angel Has Fallen, the sequel to Olympus Has Fallen and London Has Fallen, in which the fate of the nation rests on the very man accused of attempting to assassinate the president of the United States.
Banning has long been one of the stalwart heroes-in-the-shadows on whom national security depends on day in and day out, but is the always-ready warrior starting to lose it? Haunted by a lifetime soaked in adrenaline, danger and more than a few insane snafus, Mike feels his usually knifelike edge slipping. The uncertain becomes the unthinkable as he wakes up to his worst possible nightmare: the president has fallen and Banning stands accused of conspiring to kill his friend, mentor and the man he’s sworn to protect. Now the expert hunter has become the hunted, spurring Butler’s deepest, darkest take yet on the loose-cannon action hero.
On the run and with no one but his family on his side, Banning may not be able to pull himself back from the brink. But he will put his patriotism above his own as he stops at absolutely nothing to save the country that he’s alleged to have betrayed.
As Banning manoeuvres to evade his savvy colleagues, every quality that made him the top agent on the presidential detail is put to the test: his high-level combat skills, his ability to out-think the most twisted minds and his willingness to put himself at extreme risk to pull others from harm — only that might just be the easy part, for Banning now faces a situation for which he has zero preparation. Forced into the cold, isolated from his family, in dire physical and mental peril, the only way he can go forward is to take an unwanted turn into his past.
Still from the film
The third instalment in the Fallen series stands on its own as a psychologically tense, kinetic thriller that never lets off the accelerator from its opening killer-drone attack. It also adds a revealing new chapter to the legend of Mike Banning as the hazards of his work collide into his private life, pushing him to explore how he became the man he is now.
“I was really excited to come back to the Fallen series,” says Butler. “I was especially excited to do something fresh with the character and take things in a different direction. Mike Banning is known for his badassery, but also his humanity — and now we get to see a lot more of where he comes from. What’s great is that while this movie gets much more personal, there’s also more action than ever, so the ride is heightened on all levels. There’s brutal, crazy, epic combat, but in the same breath, there’s real drama and I think it’s also the funniest of the films.”
Adds director Ric Roman Waugh: “I never thought of Angel as a sequel. I see it as a fresh, cool instalment of the franchise that can stand alone while bringing everything fans love about Mike Banning. What Gerry and I really wanted to do was to put you inside Banning’s head as he goes from offence to defence, from proud warrior to fugitive, so that you get to see and feel everything he’s going through. For fans, it’s a chance to see what makes Banning tick and for new audiences, I hope it’s a discovery of a really relatable character surviving in an extraordinary situation. So, you still get a tremendous amount of action but with a whole new and fresh point of view.”
Reteaming with Butler in Angel Has Fallen is Morgan Freeman, this time as president Trumbull (he’s moved up, having been speaker of the house and vice president in the earlier films), whose life is on the line along with his trust in Banning. Joining the series is a roster including, Jada Pinkett Smith as FBI Agent Thompson, Lance Reddick as secret service director Gentry, Tim Blake Nelson as vice president Kirby, Piper Perabo as Banning’s wife Leah and in a surprise turn, Nick Nolte as Banning’s estranged father, a reclusive Vietnam vet who becomes his unlikely partner on the lam.
Butler notes it has always been Banning’s everyday authenticity and down-to-earth humour that stands out against today’s line-up of fantastical superheroes, but in this film, he is stripped down to his most human yet.
“I think part of Banning’s appeal has been that he’s such a real-life guy. He’s someone trying to be a family man while dealing with the heavy emotional toll his work takes on him. People can really relate to that, but on the other hand, he’s one of the toughest dudes you could ever hope to meet. He will never quit. That’s how he sees himself-but that image is put to the test in this film in ways he’d rather it wasn’t.”
Still from the film
Raising the bar
The first time Butler met with Waugh, the ideas started flowing freely and that process did not stop until the final print was locked. “Ric’s intelligence and psychological approach to the story were phenomenal,” Butler says. “Also, moviemaking is in his DNA. He’s been a stuntman and a cameraman, but he also knows special effects and design, and he brings high enthusiasm for it all. The best part about Ric is that he pushes everyone around him, in part because he never stops being excited about what he’s doing. We made an interesting team for Angel Has Fallen because he brought so much fresh perspective to the series from his experiences while I was always thinking about those elements of the franchise that I know fans really love. I think we found a great balance.”
Waugh jumped right away at the idea of exploring Mike Banning not just in jeopardy but in a chaotic state of mind. He knew from making That Which I Love Destroys Me that a man like Banning would, like so many real-life warriors in the military and law enforcement worlds, have to pay the piper for the mental, physical and spiritual toll of his work.
Early on, Waugh met with a man who is in many ways the real-life version of Mike Banning: the film’s security advisor, Mickey Nelson, a 28-year veteran of the secret service who served under four presidents, most recently president Obama. Nelson confirmed that secret service agents wrestle the intoxicating effects of adrenaline. “Mickey talked openly about the rush you get from protecting the most important person in the country and about getting to a point where you crave that intense vigilance all the time,” says Waugh. “That’s exactly what Mike is thinking about as he faces a desk job. It brings up this huge question for him: do I keep trying to be the person I was in my youth or do I find a way to embrace who I’ve become? It’s something a lot of people go through in all walks of life.”
He and Butler inspired each other. “There was instant chemistry with us,” says Waugh. “Our collaboration just seemed to catch fire early on and we had such absolute trust in each other that it made things exciting every day.” The bond was so tight that Waugh and Butler are currently shooting the disaster epic Greenland together.
Waugh continues: “What makes Gerry so perfect for Banning is that while he brings all the off-the-charts charisma and muscularity you want in an action hero, he is also a very gifted actor who’s not afraid to examine the complexities of life and the human condition and bring those traits, even flaws, into his characters to make them feel grounded and real. That allows you to get close to him in a way that’s different in this film, while you’re still getting that action rush.”
Butler loved Waugh’s approach to the action. “Ric’s style is all about putting you smack in the middle of the chaos,” Butler explains. “He sucks you in with a gritty realism-so that even in the most insane scenarios, you feel you are right there in the moment with Banning.”