LOS ANGELES—“Our President has arrived,” a publicist announced. The US President walked into the Oval Office and in that familiar Barack Obama voice, greeted the reporters, “How does everybody feel?” Then he invoked the popular Obama slogan, “Yes, we can!”
The President was Jamie Foxx, grinning as he sat beside Channing Tatum, in a film set that replicated the Oval Office in detail, down to the carpet. We were in Montreal, Canada, not in Washington, DC, in a huge studio where “White House Down” director Roland Emmerich and his team had built perfect replicas of various parts of America’s famous residence. Including the pool.
Three replicas of President Obama’s armored Cadillac limo, known as “The Beast,” were built for the film by a team that included an action vehicle supervisor (whose name escapes us), who told us he was in Manila a while back to make the motorcycles used for that thrilling chase scene in “The Bourne Legacy.”
The sets, vehicles and more serve the story of how a cop (Channing), who happens to be touring the White House with his young daughter (Joey King), springs into action to save her and POTUS (President of the United States) from an invading domestic terrorist group. The action-drama also stars Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jason Clarke, Richard Jenkins and James Woods.
Coincidentally, Jamie, who plays President John Sawyer, does a pretty good imitation of Obama speaking. The actor recalled one of the first public events (a preinauguration bash when Obama was first elected as president) in which he demonstrated his Obama imitation.
“HBO did a preparty before the inauguration,” Jamie, still smiling, began. “I was going to say a few words about President Obama and his speech in Chicago. I told him I was going to do an impersonation. The Secret Service and everybody wanted to know exactly what I was going to say. It was really cool.”
He joked about something he noticed about Obama at press conferences: “If he doesn’t know the answer, he will say, “Aaaaaaand…” for a long time.”
Channing now knows some trivia about the Secret Service. “I learned yesterday that the President doesn’t get to pick who’s on his personal detail be cause they shouldn’t have a personal relationship.”
He added, “During Bush’s administration, you had to wear a jacket if you were in the Oval Office. Obama has changed that. You no longer need to have a jacket on in the Oval Office.”
The two actors showed an easy camaraderie as they fielded questions. Earlier, we watched them shoot a scene in which Channing led Jamie in the hallways of the White House set. They horsed around during breaks.
Jamie volunteered that females were suddenly interested in visiting his set, all because they wanted to meet the hunky “Magic Mike” star. “When my daughter (Corrinne Bishop) found out who I was working with, she flipped all the way out. She never wants to visit the set to see me. She’s like, ‘Dad, I’m going to come visit you.’ I said, ‘Sure, you will.’ All of my female friends have been like, ‘We’re going to visit the set.’ They try to act like they don’t know who I’m working with. ‘So who is it you’re working with again?’ ‘Channing Tatum.’ ‘Yeah, yeah. Well, I’ll be there for three weeks.’
Asked if he had seen Channing’s hit film, Jamie quipped, “I enjoyed ‘Magic Mike.’ I watched it with my robe on and while drinking some wine. No, just kidding.”
Jamie believes Southern upbringing has kept Channing grounded and down-to-earth despite his rise to fame. “It’s a Southern thing for me,” said the star of “Django Unchained.” “I’m from Texas and Channing, being from the South, too… we were talking about this off-camera. I’ve been dealing with actors who were supposedly on their way up. I worked with a certain actor whose head was up in the clouds. This fame business is like a drug, so whatever personality is inside you is going to be amplified. But Channing has that Southern gentleman type quality—that’s what’s great about him. I think that’s why we click. We talked about that.”
“This guy will go a very long way because he has that humble spirit that you don’t see a lot of in this town,” Jamie continued. “He’s someone who’s just happy to be here but sometimes he plays himself a little short. He’s got the ‘it’ thing that millions of people try to find and manufacture. He has it in him. I’m happy to be working with him on this movie.”
Channing ribbed his director, who has made several blockbusters. “Roland speaks to us only in German so I’ve been studying the Rosetta Stone for a couple of weeks now. He says ‘Vow, it vas really good!’ a lot.”
He described the filmmaker as “a big kid.” He explained, “Some directors are so stressed out behind the monitors. But Roland would be sitting there, wide-eyed and really excited. It’s always a pleasure to work with somebody who really loves coming to work.”
“Roland is just a breath of fresh air,” Jamie chimed in. “It’s not heavy. He knows what he wants.”
Best acting school
When working on films with the likes of Roland and Steven Soderbergh, Channing said, “[I dig into] real experiences. Life is probably the best acting school. Look, I was a stripper, a construction worker. I worked on a boat. I grew up in Mississippi and Alabama.”
Back to Obama. Jamie was asked what having the first black president in the White House meant to him on a personal level. He replied: “What President Obama changed was the face of African-American males abroad. When I traveled to Sweden and elsewhere in Europe, the images that were being sent to those places were not always the best and not always the most positive images. I remember seeing ‘Flavor of Love’ (a reality TV dating game show that starred Flavor Flav of the rap group, Public Enemy) in Sweden and it was uncut. I was like, ‘S**t, this is horrible.’ As I was watching the show, one of the maids walked in and was looking at ‘Flavor of Love’ and then looking at me like, ‘That’s your s**t.’ I was like, this is really f**cked up.
“So what President Obama did was, he made it cool to be smart, a gentleman, to actually care about something. Since Obama became President… when we go into inner cities and talk to kids, we can actually tell them that if you do the right thing, you can become the President of the United States. It’s not a farce anymore or some type of imaginary thing.”
(E-mail the columnist at [email protected] Follow him at http://twitter.com/nepalesruben.)