It wasn’t the thrill of playing a Secret Service agent’s wife in Lionsgate’s “Angel Has Fallen” that drew actress Piper Perabo in. It wasn’t the chance to work alongside legends, like Morgan Freeman and Nick Nolte, either. And it certainly wasn’t the opportunity to add another credit to her already-solid Hollywood career.
Quite simply, the 42-year-old Perabo wanted in on the summer’s last big action movie because of another film: director Ric Roman Waugh’s 2014 documentary “That Which I Love Destroys Me.” That project followed two special operations soldiers for five years as they battled PTSD and the challenges of reintegration.
“Ric was actually the reason I wanted to do [‘Angel Has Fallen’],” Perabo told Military Families Magazine. The film “takes seriously the toll that serving has on the [military] family. Ric has an honest, empathetic take on it, and I thought it would make it interesting, a new component for an action movie.”
“Angel Has Fallen” — rated R for violence and language — hits theaters nationwide this Friday, August 23. It’s the third in the “Fallen” series and follows “Olympus Has Fallen,” 2013, and “London Has Fallen,” 2016. Scotsman Gerard Butler plays Secret Service agent Mike Banning throughout, tasked with guarding the president and preserving national security.
Perabo, who rose to fame in 2000’s “Coyote Ugly,” joins the series as Leah Banning, new mother and Mike Banning’s wife. This time, Leah’s husband is accused of an assassination attempt on the president, played by Morgan Freeman. Mike must escape his friends-turned-captors, clear his name and protect his family and country while on the run. To do so, however, will require help from some unlikely allies.
Yet the action flick isn’t solely focused on one macho character who shoots and muscles his way toward the credits. It also dives into the deep internal conflict of service, patriotism and the willingness to die in pursuit of one’s principles versus the desire to stay safe and present with loved ones — a challenge with which nearly all modern military families can relate.
Perabo replaces Radha Mitchell as Leah, who finds herself mothering a new baby and thinking about returning to paid work. Prepping for the role, she says, really helped her start to grasp the inner conflicts that military members and their spouses face.
“What I really understood is this question from Mike of ‘How do I balance this desire to serve while also being there for my family?’” Perabo said. “And Leah is thinking, ‘There’s something I want for our family — to feel safer, which means having him home more now that we have a kid — but that’s not the guy that I married.’ So those difficult questions are things I understood a lot better doing this movie.”
All in the family
Though Perabo was never a military brat, her father served in the Army’s 1st Infantry Division — nicknamed “The Big Red 1” — in the Vietnam War. Perabo’s dad was wounded but returned home alive.
Perabo grew up the oldest of three in Toms River, New Jersey — “I miss home!” she admitted. She eventually studied theater at Ohio University before being noticed at a Big Apple audition and making it big in Hollywood.
So no, Perabo doesn’t know what it’s like for the real Leah Bannings across the nation, nor does her husband — actor and director Stephen Kay — face the same sort of occupational hazards as special operations members. But her father’s wartime service was never far from her mind during “Angel Has Fallen” filming.
“This movie is about family, and not just [Mike’s] wife and child and father,” Perabo said. Indeed, Nick Nolte stars as Clay Banning, Mike’s estranged father whose Vietnam-caused post-traumatic stress disorder has long been a source of friction and miscommunication.
Despite its genre, Perabo says, “Angel Has Fallen” possesses, at its heart, “a multi-generational aspect to service that a lot of military families can relate to, I think.”
In that vein, Perabo enjoyed the various multigenerational relationships on set, including the Vietnam-era Nolte. “One thing that was so surprising about Nick is that he’s a very grounded person and was able to bring so much comedy and laughs,” she said. “I found a lot of joy watching the curmudgeon of the family [Nolte] around the serious son [Butler].”
Jada Pinkett Smith, Lance Reddick and Danny Huston round out the cast, which Perabo says was the best part of filming.
“Nick and Morgan and Jada are really fun actors and really great to work with, but Gerry [Gerard] is this gregarious, big personality, and even with really big serious scenes, he’s got that kind of personality that makes it fun,” she said.
Ultimately, however, Perabo’s goal for “Angel Has Fallen” wasn’t fun; it was empathy and understanding. Too often, she laments, people — including those in the entertainment industry — view military spouses as one-dimensional and flat, just sincere-hearted supporters with no struggles or opinions of their own.
“The hardest part of making this film was being aware of my responsibility of portraying someone who is a wife of a service member,” she said. “I really think that’s an honorable and difficult thing to do.”
“Wives of service members give a lot for their country. It’s not always showy, but I really wanted to honor them, and ‘Angel Has Fallen’ definitely aims for a discussion of that.”Read comments