Film director Ric Roman Waugh, whose new film “Angel Has Fallen” opens Aug. 23, grew up in the movie business. Extremely in the movie business.
Waugh's father was a stuntman and stunt coordinator on roughly a gazillion movies but raised his family in the small town of Agua Dulce, Calif. When Waugh was older, he headed right to Hollywood and started working as a stuntman himself in the ’80s and ’90s, before breaking into directing, first with commercials, then the 2008 film “Felon.”
But about 9 years ago, wanting a calmer life for himself and his family, Waugh pulled up stakes and headed to Austin, where he has lived ever since. It’s the first thing he mentions in our interview last week.
“All I care about is you're from Austin,” Waugh says to me. “I can't wait to get home. I've been away for so many months, I forgot what my house looked like.” He had just wrapped photography on his next project, a disaster picture called “Greenland.”
“I reached a point in my career and my life where my wife and I wanted my kids to have the life that I had growing up,” he says. “There’s an amazing sense of community here, even as the place is going through some growing pains. We're in the capital of a very politically charged state, but it doesn’t have to be a political place to live. People are very civil to each other.”
Sadly, “Angel Has Fallen,” the third film in the “Fallen” franchise, was not filmed in the state Waugh calls home. He had to go to Bulgaria and England for the latest adventure of Mike Banning, a Secret Service agent played by actor Gerard Butler.
In this flick, Banning, a former Special Forces Army Ranger, is displaying signs of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), and there's mounting evidence that his body is breaking down from, you know, being an action hero. It doesn’t help that when the president of the United States is attacked in a drone strike on Banning’s watch, he looks either criminally incompetent or criminally guilty.
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Waugh says that Butler wanted to take the franchise in a new direction, bringing the spectacle, the fun and the excitement of the first two films in the franchise and infusing something a little bit more personal.
“That was music to my ears,” he says.
Butler and Waugh decided that instead of an event driving the plot — like a takeover of the White House or a coordinated terrorist attack in London in the first two "Fallen" films, respectively — they would focus on Banning himself: who he is, who he was, how he got to be this way. It’s not quite a straight-up origin story, but it’s about as close to a character piece as an action franchise is going to get. It’s also a pretty good jumping on point: no real knowledge needed of the first two movies.
“We wanted the audience to learn who (Banning) is and what makes him tick, the hardships that he's going through, and be on that journey with him,” Waugh says.
The movie also explores an aspect of post-traumatic stress disorder not often discussed publicly: becoming a little too used to the stress of combat. In 2015, Waugh made a documentary about the condition, called “That Which I Love Destroys Me,” in which this topic arose.
“When one of the men in the movie got home,” Waugh says, “he realized he was going through something very different than his fellow soldiers. He called it 'the lack of traumatic stress.’ He was addicted to the adrenaline rush of war because that's what his brain was wired to.”
This seemed an interesting thing to apply to a character like Mike Banning, for whom retirement is a very scary place. “I thought it's a really interesting way to relate to this character," Waugh says.
As far as the action aspect goes, I have to ask: Since Waugh is a second-generation stuntman, how does he feel about the renewed push for an Academy Award for stunt work, as recently reported on by entertainment publication Vulture?
"You are now the second person who has asked," Waugh says. "I try not to get involved in all this stuff and insert my own opinion on things. But I do think that it's a pretty easy thing to say, that if every single category on a film set has an Oscar, why not have a stunt coordinator Oscar, too? Will it ever happen? I don't know."
Waugh pauses. "But when you have makeup, costume, visual effects, sound editing, and not one for something everyone sees on the screen, I think there's something wrong with that."