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Roland Emmerich Talks Filming Stonewall, Independence Day: Resurgence

September 23, 2015 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas

Roland Emmerich spoke with about his new film Stonewall, his work on Independence Day: Resurgence and more. Check out the highlights:

On if the movie was shot in Toronto: “No, I shot it in Montreal. We wanted to and we explored Toronto and Montreal and decided for Montreal. Do you know why? Because they have an old town there with cobblestones and everything. We could not build everything, so we needed some real locations and that worked well.”

On why the movie interested him: “Well, that will be a longer answer, but it’s also a little bit complex. It’s not like all of a sudden one morning, waking up and saying, “Oh, I want to do ‘Stonewall.’” Whenever somebody asks me, “When you do a personal film?” I said, “Look, I don’t think the world needs a personal film from me.” Also, it has to then be gay, and I don’t think the world needs a gay film from me. But then, two friends of mine, one of them was also involved in “Anonymous,” producer friends, one gay, one straight, they said, “So have you ever thought about doing a movie about Stonewall?” I said, “I know about Stonewall and it would be interesting to do and somebody should make this film.” Then, I kind of got involved with the Gay and Lesbian Center in Los Angeles and I decided to do a fundraiser for the homeless youth program, because I was so appalled that kids live on the street and realized through research that the problem is still the same. Kids in the countryside come to the big city and then in one week, they sell their bodies for money, they take drugs and get robbed. I mean, it’s just pretty much in the first week, statistically. I said, “Oh my God, there is like a correlation from historical events to today. Gosh, these street kids, everybody said they fought the hardest because they had nothing to lose,” and especially the more feminine femme, they called them then flame queens or scare queens, whatever they called them. Then, we found one of these people, like in Martin Boyce, who we met, so there was always slowly becoming an idea to make a film. Then it was the question of how do we tell the story? Then I said to Robbie (writer Jon Robin Baitz), which I hired as a writer in a very early stage, I said, “Look, Robbie, it has to be somebody like me coming from the countryside, having been deep in the closet and this kid. Then I think he has to be found out and thrown out, and then he has to find a family at the most unlikely place in these other kids.” That was the birth of “Stonewall” as it is now.”

On the casting process: “I think this was just like a normal casting process, because we said to ourselves, “We have to find real, authentic people.” So for example, for Ray, I insisted he has to be Puerto Rican. At the beginning, I also insisted that Marsha Johnson should be a transgender, but they couldn’t find a transgendered… We read a lot of them, but they felt not really real because of Marsha P. Johnson, there is this documentary, where she speaks directly to the camera. They did only one interview with her, and it was before her death. Then, she was kind of murdered. Then when you look at that person, there was something rough about it, so every actor who was reading for the part had to watch this because I wanted to kind of really be very close to how she really was, and Otoja, who is straight but a theater actor, hit it the best.”

On the mix of truth and fiction: “It was born out of the fact that I didn’t find any one character, which I really thought I could portray in a movie, you know? I had, for a moment, the idea of taking Sylvia Rivera, but then I learned that she was not frequenting the Stonewall at all, and was only there that one night it happened. Also, on top of it, she said she was not really involved in the fighting, so I said, “Oh, that’s not good.” So you don’t want to blatantly put lies out there, but on the other hand, you’re not doing a documentary, either, so it’s like this fine line. I want to capture just the spirit of this time.”

On whether he did research and met with the people who are still alive: “Yeah, well, I met them. There’s the Stonewall Veteran’s Association, run by a guy called Willamson, and we talked to him a lot. He put us together with Martin Boyce, who was probably like Ray, one of the most prominent… he was a scare queen and a flame queen. He even tells you that. It was very important that Johnny (Beauchamp) could talk to him, because he knew a little bit how it felt to be on the streets. It was just kind of important, especially for actors to kind of hear the real first person account. Then, for me, naturally, with all the straight actors playing gay characters, I could give them exactly the answer they needed, how would you feel? I said, “I can tell you exactly what you feel. You’re scared sh*tless because you kind of don’t want to be found out. You’re thinking if you get found out, you will die. That’s how it feels.” ”

CS: Even as a straight person, it really makes you think as you’re watching Danny’s story unfold, because it makes you see how different people On the lead character Danny having an emotional connection to his childhood friend: “It’s also kind of interesting. That’s something which I absolutely wanted to have in the story. I had talked to one of my best friends–who’s also the boyfriend of one of my best friends – and he grew up in Kansas in a very, very small town. I actually turned to him and said, “Tell me exactly how it felt to grow up a small town.” He told me a couple of things which are in the movie. It’s so interesting, because I said, “Oh my god. I grew up in Germany in a totally different time, and it felt exactly the same. Nothing has changed.” Because when you realize all of a sudden you’re homosexual, it’s like you feel like the loneliest person on earth, because most of the time, you don’t know, “Oh, there’s another homosexual right there.” Now it’s different, but in a small town in America, it’s not different at all. It’s still like in the ‘60s, you know what I mean? You don’t want to be called “fag” by your buddies, who you’re playing football together. It’s also like kind of this moment where you’re a gay person, the first time coming to a gay club and you see men dancing with each other. That’s like, “Whoa.” That blows your mind.”

On going from Stonewall to Independence Day: Resurgence:: “Yeah, but I also needed the time and I still say this today that I don’t like sequels. I only did the “Independence Day” sequel because I felt there was a major advancement in technology, and I saw that elements of “Independence Day” surfaced a lot in Marvel movies. There’s always an alien invasion and a lot of stuff goes broke. So we were talking just with friends of mine. One of my best friends is also my visual effects supervisor. I talked to Volker and I said, “Volker, wouldn’t this be amazing if we could do another ‘Independence Day?’ I mean, the stuff you can do these days.” That started actually when I did “2012” with him and then also, I saw all of a sudden what you can do with the blue screen and how high-quality blue screen has become and in creature effects and to blow up a building. You don’t have to build a model anymore – you build a digital model. All this kind of stuff just kind of got me thinking about, “Sh*t, I should do maybe an ‘Independence Day,’” and I went to Fox and they were like super excited because I constantly said “no” to them for like 20 years. (laughs)”

On if he’s still planning to do two films: “No, that was a little bit our original idea when we had Will Smith, but then, Will Smith opted out. Maybe it was bad timing, because we gave him the script when he was just starting doing in Puerto Rico “After Earth.” He wanted to create his own science fiction franchise, also with a father-son story. Then he called us up and said, “Sorry, guys. I think I cannot do this. Also, I don’t want to do too many sequels and stuff like that,” then that was it. He had also just made a very bad experience with the third “Men in Black.””