A filmmaker who seems to offer us a vision of the end of the world – or at the least the destruction of the White House – every couple of years, German director Roland Emmerich might strike some as just another European who has managed to come good in Hollywood. But while blowing the world to smithereens could be seen as his way of saying that he doesn’t believe in politics, the truth is actually exactly the opposite. What’s more, Emmerich’s story proves to be much more interesting than many would believe…Interview by Brieux Férot.
Are you still anti-American today, even after everything the US has given you?
Let’s say the Americans are in progress. Obama really tries to make things change, but the US media spend their time making a fuss about useless stuff. The latest issue was that, instead of doing the formal salute to a soldier, Obama shook the soldier’s hand. What a big mistake! I have always been interested in history rather than politics. Men and women who do politics daily do not interest me because day-to-day politics gets on my nerves. Obama is a human being, you can see clearly that what he does is get things done step-by-step. Unfortunately people don’t have a global vision of what a public policy is. And there’s this huge social injustice: the gap within a company between the lowest paid person and the boss, goes from one to 25 on average, but in the US it goes from one to 370. It has become a land of thieves, not according to me but according to rich Americans like Bill Gates or Warren Buffet. America has issues with taxation. Republicans often say the best President they’ve had was Ronald Reagan. The truth is the tax rate at that time was higher than it is today. And it kind of explains why the economy was doing good at the time. The issue now is that Americans are not recovering from the health insurance coverage system. They want more and more money, there is no more middle-class, the country is in serious trouble. Above all, American policy is all about military expenses. So much that I think it is going to bring the economy down in the next two years.
“2025 will be the year when the economy will crash. The deficit will be so high that everything will collapse. 2025 is not that far away.”
But the US has to defend itself, because the country no longer belongs to Americans. China owns 12,000 billion dollars of US Treasury bills. Yes, they sold the deficit. 2025 will be the year when the economy will crash. There are more and more essays saying that in 2025 deficit will be so high everything will collapse. 2025 is not that far away. Meanwhile, I like seeing how the French go out in the streets. They don’t do that in the US. A few Americans went to demonstrate in front of Wall Street but they were too few, nothing changed. At some point it’s important to say, “Stop. This must end.” It’s the lobbies that control Washington and they still want to go further into the war industry. They have already killed one President, remember JFK. Everybody suspected it was a conspiracy and indeed it was. It was stated officially in a Senate Committee in 1972. The other issue nowadays is that no one has access to truth. Fox News is a problem, but for many Americans these popularity-seeking programmes are the only source of information. People are stupid. Not on the coasts which are mostly Democrats, but in the centre areas. I hope Hillary will be back in business soon.
“The day when we will have a lesbian Latin American woman as a President, we will have a true democracy. That will be Nirvana.”
You call her Hillary? I do not know her well, but I held a fundraiser for her at my Los Angeles home, twice, so I met her then. I showed Independence Day at the White House at the time when Bill Clinton was President and right after the film she told me, “Well, I believe Bill should take flying lessons.” I don’t really know if she enjoyed the film, but he sure did. I remember his deep voice saying, “It’s really a very good movie.”. Of course, you never really know these people. One day Hillary will be the first woman to be head of State. In the US, it’s more difficult for a woman to be elected than it is for a black person. The day when we will have a lesbian Latin American woman as a President, we will have a true democracy. That will be nirvana. Actually, I donate money to support gay rights in the US. It’s the last remaining combat for Civil Rights.
You donate money to support gay & lesbian rights, but you don’t openly defend their rights on screen, other than perhaps with Dolph Lundgren and Jean-Claude Van Damme in Universal Soldier. Would you do it from now on? Yes, I know, I know, but these things should not be done just for the sake of it, it has to come from the story itself. For instance, in The Kids are All Right, it works out perfectly, no need to exaggerate. I could do a bit more in my next film. I promise I will. In Independence Day II, one of the characters is with another man, and that’s it. It’s just a fact, nothing special. I’m not going into lobbying, I will defend a political cause, a social right, but not the interests of a group. Every person is entitled to the right to marry. Nevertheless, there still are governments to convince. There is still a long way to go. The Americans are lagging behind.
Do you consider yourself as a subversive film director? In 1981, when directing The Noah’s Ark Principle, I just didn’t have a clue how much a film could cost. I was only 25 at the time, wanting to shoot a movie where climate change is caused by a space station was quite crazy. And it was already kind of political, I guess, kind of anti-American you may say. Yet I managed to convince several companies to help me finance the project. Every day I would do my best to find the money – $400,000 first, then up to three million dollars. It’s the most difficult thing I’ve ever done in life so far. On the whole, I may have acted subversively, but I know that at some point in life, it’s strange but you don’t want to change the world any more, you just want to make people happy.
“I wanted to beat Mars Attacks. My movie had to be released first. I did not want the satire to be released before the disaster movie.”
About the President’s speech in Independence Day. Wasn’t that a bit too much? Americans want storytelling and patriotism, that’s what you have to do at the beginning before you can really deliver a message: “God bless America.” In Independence Day, you have three characters. A Jew, an African American and a white East Coast intellectual. They save the world together, but no one seemed to notice that. No one! Everybody was criticising me because of excessive patriotism, but I mean, come on, it’s the 4th of July, Independence Day. It’s quite normal to see national flags everywhere, isn’t it? And anyway, that’s what I wanted, that’s all. I ‘m going to tell you something I never said before: at the time, I knew Mars Attacks was being produced and I wanted to beat them. My film had to be released before theirs. I did not want the satire to be released before the disaster movie. I knew it was scheduled for release in August so I made the studios accept my whole concept: the story must be happening on Independence Day, the title is Independence Day and it must also be released on Independence day. For the speech scene, it’s simple: US Presidents are usually great orators, they know how to tell stories. Obama knows about speeches whereas the idiot before him you couldn’t understand a word he said. Hillary is talented too.
In White House Down you transform political symbols into action: the President gets into the fight with arms & fists. Yes, but there are also important speeches. I told everyone, “Guys, what does this President want? Why is he in deep trouble? He has to bring peace back.” I also told the guys from the studios, “Look at all the beauty queens. When they want to look smart, they wish for peace on earth and no more wars.” Beyond all these idealistic platitudes, there are huge military expenses. It’s a real issue which could make the system collapse. The money should go to infrastructures and education; it should help rebuild a new middle class. All the guys from the studios are liberals, so they looked down on me, but they did realise that for our story, it could work out well: the hero wants to do good, everybody is against him and there are bad guys too. In movies, everything has to be bigger than life.
When you shot Godzilla, people thought it was in response to the nuclear tests done by France at the time. It was not my intent at first, absolutely not, but I was trying to send a message, and the French were dropping bombs and it was close to Japan, so I let people believe what they wanted to believe. I am glad that the anti-nuclear movement has developed. I am also very proud of my film The Day After Tomorrow. The film was subject to criticism when released, but three years later, magazines worldwide were all about climate change and you could even find articles using photos of the film to illustrate the matter. Even better, the theory explaining that the Gulf Stream is slowing down with the risk of freezing the UK and Northern Europe, was confirmed by British scientists. They named it “The Day After Tomorrow effect”. There also was a documentary showing how my film, together with An Inconvenient Truth, had helped raise collective awareness of the issue.
There is a specific scene you wrote for your film 2012 which you never actually shot: the destruction of the Mecca’s Kaaba. Why is that? It was a bit too extreme. That being said, it makes me sad when guys say “Yeah!” when they watch. The Vatican is blown to pieces in the film, but I can’t do it for another sacred place. In the scene, a diluvian rain started and the believers kept praying until they were underwater. My associate told me that if we made a Hollywood film with too many subversive issues, it would change the whole idea, which was supposed to be focused on climate change, so we kept things smooth. As for my own concern, I have two children. I didn’t want a fatwa being issued against me. That’s how things are: you may laugh about Jesus Christ, but not about Muhammad.