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Director copied Washington, D.C., nerve center ‘to blow it all up’

“Olympus Has Fallen” director Antoine Fuquworks White House repliche had built Shreveport La.

“Olympus Has Fallen” director Antoine Fuqua works at the White House replica he had built in Shreveport, La.

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Updated: April 21, 2013 6:38AM

Director Antoine Fuqua laughed heartily when a cheeky reporter asked him if the president had given him free rein to go through the White House — to do research and prepare background for his film “Olympus Has Fallen” (opening Friday).

“Not hardly,” said Fuqua with a huge grin. “I don’t think he would say, ‘Oh yeah. Come on in and show me how you’re going to blow up our house!’ ”

Of course, while the White House is badly destroyed — but only through movie magic — in the new political action thriller, Fuqua did say it was the “amazing creativity of our production team and special effects people” that gave his movie the touch of reality he worked hard to achieve.

In “Olympus Has Fallen,” Gerard Butler plays Mike Banning, a veteran Secret Service agent who saves the day, rescuing the president (Aaron Eckhart) and preventing the destruction of America as we know it.

Sounds like a tall order for one guy — facing a dedicated band of committed North Korean terrorists, bent on smashing the American dream right at the heart of our national capital — doesn’t it?

“Well, that was the charm of this project. And Gerard Butler was just the right guy to not only pull it off, but to pull it off in a way that audiences would believe and accept,” Fuqua said during a chat in Chicago last week.

The director was able to assemble a top-notch cast of veteran stars to create his cast, including Oscar winners Morgan Freeman and Melissa Leo, plus Angela Bassett, Dylan McDermott and Eckhart. But “a lot of what makes this film work,” he said, “is how realistically we could re-create Washington, D.C. — the White House, the Washington Monument and Pennsylvania Avenue — and then blow it all up.

“And again, ‘realistic’ was the operative word. We had to make it make like we truly had destroyed the nerve center of the American government.”

Since the director and his team obviously couldn’t do more than some cursory exterior filming in our nation’s capital, Shreveport, La., had to fill in as the replacement.

“As we were scouting locations, I suddenly knew we had found the right place — even though it was just this big open field that was totally flat and had nothing on it,” said Fuqua, smiling as he recalled that moment. “I knew that it was perfect. Wide enough to re-create the width of Pennsylvania Avenue, and also we had the right place to construct everything we needed to re-create the White House — which we then proceeded to largely destroy.”

Was doing all that the biggest challenge of making the movie?

“Probably, but there was something else,” said Fuqua with a big wink. “You have to realize we were filming in the midst of a very hot summer in Louisiana. And man, it was hot!

“There’s a sequence where Gerard has to run — and run hard — from the Treasury Building to the White House. It was so hot, and he was sweating so hard, he literally would sweat right through his shirt. I have no idea how many shirts he had to change before we got that scene right!”

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