Revolving around a plot against the President following an attack on the Capitol, 2013’s ‘White House Down’ is an action thriller film directed by Roland Emmerich. After a group of paramilitary terrorists takes over the White House, President James Sawyer finds himself under the protection of aspiring Secret Service Agent John Cale. On his mission to safely escort Sawyer out of the building, Cale, alongside Sawyer, uncovers the bigger political picture at play.
Featuring many household names like Jamie Foxx, Channing Tatum, and Maggie Gyllenhaal, this film delivers on the action front through an entertaining cat-and-mouse chase in the White House. Due to Sawyer’s significant political position, viewers might wonder about the connection between Sawyer and real-life presidents. Therefore here’s everything we know about the same.
Is James Sawyer a Real President?
No, James Sawyer is not based on a real president. Since ‘White House Down’ is a fictional story, the characters and events explored within its narratives are also works of the screenwriter James Vanderbilt’s imagination. However, since the film’s release, Foxx’s character Sawyer has received many comparisons to President Obama, the U.S. President at the time of the film’s release in 2013. When asked about the same in an interview with ScreenSlam, Foxx said, “It’s just a movie. It’s not an actual portrayal of President Obama, but there are splashes [of resemblance between Sawyer and Obama] for fun.”
By doing so, Foxx easily avoided attempts to connect his character to the now-former President, Obama, outside of a few occasional details. He further expanded on his character and said, “In our film, what we try to do is at least tell two sides. Him [Sawyer] coming from an intellectual side, you know, wanting to do something good in his presidency, and him [Tatum’s character John Cale] coming from a military side. And then finding out that [Cale’s] daughter was caught up in this whole mess to sort of give it the heart and everything. And that’s the way we wanted the characters to play out.”
Likewise, Vanderbilt mirrored Foxx’s perception of Sawyer’s character as a man with the aim to bring effective change with his presidency. The writer and director Emmerich were very intentional about their resolution to give Sawyer a purpose the audience could connect to. While discussing the same in a conversation with Mandatory, Vanderbilt said, “He [Emmerich] wanted to make sure the President was doing something you wanted. It was sort of like, okay, I know he’s the President, but why do we care about saving him other than the fact that he’s the President?”
Therefore regardless of Sawyer or his administration’s resemblance to a previous historical or contemporary U.S. president, the filmmakers ultimately wanted to build a storyline for Sawyer that would humanize him to the audience. Over the years, Hollywood has seen numerous fictional presidents in tv shows and movies like ‘Deep Impact‘ and ‘Air Force One,’ among several others. As such, viewers might relate Sawyer to the ever-present trope of pitching presidents against a bigger villain to shine a naturally heroic light on the character.
Although Sawyer doesn’t take direct and explicit inspiration from any real-life presidents, he maintains a calm and collected air that one might expect to accompany a head of the state. All these different aspects and character traits help shape Sawyer into his presidential role without him having a firm basis in reality. Ultimately, James Sawyer is another rendition of fictionalized Hollywood presidents. Brought to life through Foxx’s skilled portrayal and backed by an entertaining and engaging script, Sawyer manages to be a relatable character whose politics and morals help solidify the audience’s connection to him. Nevertheless, he isn’t based on a real-life president.