Interview by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor for
August 16, 2019

The third installment in the franchise that started with 2013's Olympus Has Fallen and continued with 2016's London Has Fallen, Angel Has Fallen follows series protagonist and Secret Service superstar Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) as he is framed for an assassination attempt on U.S. President Trumbull (Morgan Freeman). Branded as a traitor by his colleagues and the court of public opinion, Banning must clear his name and expose a larger conspiracy while on the run from a ruthless former confidant (Danny Huston) and a dogged FBI agent (Jada Pinkett Smith). Along the way, he finds support in his wife Leah (Piper Perabo) and an unexpected assist from his estranged survivalist father (Nick Nolte).

The action sequences in Angel Has Fallen make a concerted effort to place technology at the fore, with highlights including a nighttime raid on a caravan of electronically disabled vehicles, a siege upon a hacked hospital, and the signature assault on Trumbull and his contingent by a swarming drone strike utilizing facial recognition.

Stepping into the role of Leah, portrayed in the first two films by Radha Mitchell, Piper Perabo is arguably Angel's unheralded MVP, humanizing Banning for viewers as their home is terrorized by the government, the media, and those responsible for the attack on the president. Throughout the story, she exhibits strength and fortitude not by uncharacteristic outbursts of physical force, but by safeguarding their baby daughter and refusing to waver under extreme pressure.

In this exclusive interview, Piper Perabo talks about switching gears for a domestic role after five seasons of action on Covert Affairs, recalls specific moments with her co-stars, and handicaps her formidable cast's chances in a bar fight. What fun is to be had on the set of an action movie like this when you're involved with the home front aspect of the story?

PIPER: I think one of the important parts about the job of playing Leah Banning is to ground the movie in real stakes, so that when Mike Banning is in jeopardy, you know who's worried about him at home. It was actually kind of nice to not have the gunplay and the explosions and the chases. I felt like after five years of Covert Affairs, I had been running with a gun for a long time. [laughs] So I was really excited to do the character part.

I think we relate to Mike's predicament more through Leah, especially when we see the government and the media coming after her...

I thought that part about the media--like when you see her after he's been arrested and the house has been ransacked and he's trying to stay in touch with her, and even when his father comes to get her--was an interesting process to go through. I like those scenes a lot because so much is at stake and you don't know where your partner is. When that much is out of control and you can't communicate with your family, that makes it really hard.

Leah teases Mike by offering to speak to President Trumbull on his behalf. [jokes] How much power does she wield over this administration?

I mean, I think she's a pretty serious person and a force to be reckoned with. That's one of the reasons why Mike's with her. And I think she is not intimidated by how much power he has, and the people he works with have. But I don't know that she would really call Trumbull. [lowers her voice] I don't know that she actually has his phone number. [laughs] I'm sure she's met him. But I think what's important about that moment is that she holds Mike Banning to a certain level, and she insists that he take care of himself in a way, and protect their family in a way, and she's demanding of him in that way that a good partner can be. And I think with someone as way out on the edge as Mike Banning is, you kind of need a partner like that, who's going to have a strong hand with you out of love--out of love and belief that he's a good person, and he's worth the promotion, he's earned it. And I think it's part of what makes them a good team.

The scene in which Leah and Mike's father meet for the first time happens under such dramatic circumstances--he comes out of nowhere and fights off home invaders, and she has no idea who he is. How was your experience of shooting that with Nick Nolte?

You know, I'm a fan of his work. And the first scene that he and I had together was when he takes out those guys that are coming into our house. And then he stands there and has this speech where he explains to me who he is, and I don't really believe him. And in the fight, he's sort of cut over his eye like a boxer. And you can see it in the film: the blood is sort of pooling at the outside corner of his eye. And something about it was so beautiful and male. And he's so focused on trying to convince her that he is who he says he is, it never seemed to bother the actor or the character. And I just think Nick is really tough--you know, even from those early scenes in North Dallas Forty, he's a toughie. I think he's the right casting for Gerry's dad.

You've joked that you'd want Nick in a bar fight with you...


...How effective would you be in this hypothetical rumble?

I think I'd be pretty useful. I mean, I try not to get too outspoken in bars because I feel like everyone's just there to have a good time and have their drink. But I'll say, if there's a cast that you want in a bar fight, you could do a lot worse than Nick, Jada, Morgan, Danny Huston, and Gerry. As far as casts go, we'd be a handful if you had to deal with us.

You got banged up quite a bit in your time on Covert Affairs. Would the moves that you learned in your fight choreography be practical in a real scrap?

They're not practical. When you're learning how to fight on camera, it's "for camera." You know, you don't want to swing a punch as wide as like an old cowboy movie, because the telegraphing is too strong. [laughs] And I think modern audiences are too sophisticated for that. And since the first Bourne, there's a handheld style of fighting with a handheld camera that I think has really changed how the hand-to-hand combat is in American films. When you see it in a wide, you have to be really careful that everything lands, but when it's really tight and handheld, that's more what a fight feels like. And so those are the sort of action sequences that I'm really interested in. But I know that how you hit someone on camera is not how you hit someone in real life! [laughs] Don't get too cocky just because you think you can do it on camera!

But maybe you could avoid the fight altogether if you look slick and proficient...

Right, maybe they'll be afraid of you and that'll be your best tool. [laughs]

At one point, the little girl who plays Leah's daughter hands you a Goldfish or Cheerio or whatever it is babies eat...

Cheerios. [laughs] I mean, I had the Cheerios in my pocket. She likes Cheerios.

...That had to be unscripted, right? How did things work out with such a young scene partner?

We got on pretty well right from the beginning. The girls are identical twins, so I had both. Obviously you can't tell in the movie which is which, but they have different personalities. And in some ways, they were a great asset because when you bring a kid that young onto set, you better be ready to go! Because they're not patient, they're not going to sit on the phone and talk to their agent, you know what I mean? If they're in a good place to work, let's do it! So it was kind of an asset to have a kid that small on set, because when she comes to set, we roll. And I love that kind of immediacy. And also, you don't know what either of them are going to do. So I also like that you have to get right to work, but you have no idea what's going to happen. That's kind of my ideal scenario for acting.

How did you feel about coming into this role mid-franchise, after Leah had already been portrayed by Radha Mitchell?

I was intimidated, because I think Radha's a really good actress, and she's been in some of my favorite films. I mean, High Art is a film that I love. And so I was intimidated, but what was kind of cool was...I like doing movies that are based on a book because I feel like you have all these secrets you kind of share [with others] because you've all read the book. And [even though this isn't based on a book], I felt that way a little about stepping into the part of Leah--like I could see what Radha and Gerry had established and what was still there to mine. And even small things that she had done, I thought, "Oh yeah, that seems to really be a nugget of something beautiful that we can open up." And so it was kind of fun!

Was your director, Ric Roman Waugh, into that kind of between-the-lines approach?

Yeah. He's a really thoughtful, smart guy. He had done this documentary about service members and PTSD that I had seen before I took the job. And he was a great resource for a lot of the kind of research that I wanted to do about wives of service members and what that lifestyle is like.

I imagine one of the fulfilling things about playing different characters is getting to research their lives. What role would you like to take on from a research perspective? What have you always wanted to study?

It's so funny, this happened years ago, but there was a TV show about the Borgias by director [Neil Jordan], who made The Crying Game. I remember hearing they were going to make a TV show about, like, the most powerful Pope in the Renaissance. And I started researching it before I even had the audition because I was so excited to learn about that period. I find research is one of my favorite parts. I think maybe I missed my calling as a research librarian. Although it is fun to research a period and then live inside it. You know, the next thing I'm doing is this show called Penny Dreadful, and the new iteration of it is 1938 Los Angeles. And so learning about this city in that moment is really fun. But if I was going to choose... [ponders] I mean, personally, right now, I'm very interested in politics and electoral politics. So maybe something about that. [Also], with the death of Justice Stevens recently and how important the Supreme Court is, I'm really interested in the Court. I would really like to learn more about that and do something set in the Supreme Court.

Make that happen...Pitch that!

[laughs] There's only a few women to play, sadly, but we're getting there!

[jokes] As someone interested in politics, what are your thoughts on the Morgan Freeman administration? He's been president since Deep Impact in 1998. Surely he must be bumping up against term limits at this point...

[laughs] Someone said to me, "How does it feel to live in a world where Morgan Freeman is president?" It's just such a relief. He's such an elegant, presidential person--so thoughtful and smart and strong. It's nice to live in a world where Morgan Freeman's the president.

Your upcoming film Spontaneous has been described as a story in which "people may explode at any moment." [pauses] I can't tell if this is a comedy or a thriller...

[laughs] I know, it's amazing! [laughs] You know, [director Brian Duffield] had written Jane Got A Gun. And so I was kind of interested in that, and when he was doing this movie, and I spoke to him on the phone before we decided to do Spontaneous, I said to him, "Can you give me the pitch? Can you give me the elevator one-liner for what this is?" And he said, "Yeah, it's kind of a John Hughes movie directed by Cronenberg." And I was like, "Cool. I get it!" And Rob Huebel, who plays my husband in it, is so funny and good. And I hadn't really played a parent in that kind of teen, coming-of-age story yet, and so to have somebody as funny as Rob (he's not playing it comedically, we're both sort of clueless parents) made it really fun, because there's a lot of times where I'm so frustrated in the teenage world.

What's the status of the Penny Dreadful spinoff you mentioned?

We haven't started filming, we're just in rehearsals. Rory Kinnear is doing it again, and my character is tightly tied to his character, which I'm really excited about.

Looking forward to seeing you in these projects! Thanks for your time this afternoon...

Thank you, I really appreciate it. Good to see you again!

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