National Treasure 2
National Treasure 2
Below: First official photo: "National Treasure 2."
"National Treasure 2" is the follow up to the box-office hit “National Treasure." In "National Treasure 2," treasure hunter Ben Gates (Oscar winner Nicolas Cage, "Leaving Las Vegas") once again sets out on an exhilarating, action-packed new global quest to unearth hidden history and treasures. When a missing page from the diary of John Wilkes Booth surfaces, Ben’s great-great grandfather is suddenly implicated as a key conspirator in Abraham Lincoln’s death. Determined to prove his ancestor’s innocence, Ben follows an international chain of clues that takes him on a chase from Paris to London and ultimately back to America. This journey leads Ben and his crew not only to surprising revelations – but to the trail of the world’s most treasured secrets. Last year's Best Actress Oscar winner Helen Mirren, (), costars in "National Treasure 2."
STARRING: Nicolas Cage, Helen Mirren, Ed Harris, Justin Bartha, Diane Kruger, Jon Voight, Harvey Keitel, Alicia Coppola, Joel Gretsch
DIRECTOR: Jon Turteltaub
STUDIO: Walt Disney Pictures
RATING: PG (For language and violence)
"National Treasure 2"
Behind The Scenes
It’s always nice to know when hard work is appreciated, and audiences around the world were definitely sending a message to producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Jon Turteltaub when “National Treasure” grossed more than $347 million worldwide upon its release in 2004. In fact, despite its fervent plunge into American history, the movie made almost exactly the same amount of money overseas as it did stateside. “I’m always surprised when an audience likes what we do,” readily admits Bruckheimer. “You know, we make these movies in a kind of vacuum, we have nobody telling us what’s right and wrong. It all comes from instinct and surrounding ourselves with talented people. It takes just as much hard work on a picture that doesn’t work for an audience as one that does, so you’re always pleasantly surprised when they’re excited by a movie.
“I like adventure films that take you to other places, and where you can learn things on the way, and that’s what ‘National Treasure’ was,” continues the producer. “It was suspenseful, humorous, had engaging characters and maybe best of all, used American history as a jumping-off point for a very entertaining film. Audiences love to be entertained, but they also love to learn something.
“I also love history, and learning about it myself,” adds Bruckheimer. “But you know, just laying a bunch of historical facts on the screen is going to bore an audience half to death, including me,” adds Bruckheimer. “So what we had to do to make ‘National Treasure’ a real adventure was to find facts that audiences might not know much about, make it exciting to discover, and put the characters in jeopardy. And unfortunately for Ben, Abigail and Riley, they got into a lot of jeopardy! When the first film opened, some people said that it was a wonderful American movie, but nobody outside of the U.S. would see it. As it turned out, our foreign box office was the same as our domestic box office, so it just goes to show that people all over the world responded to the same thing about ‘National Treasure.’ If you make a fun movie, they will all come.”
Like Bruckheimer’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” trilogy, “National Treasure” maintained an across-the-demographic-board appeal to a wide range of moviegoers, from kids to older adults, a rare and true “family film” in the sense that three generations could watch it together with an equal sense of fun and entertainment…as opposed to a film for kids, which parents and/or grandparents have to endure rather than truly enjoy.
Clearly, based upon the public’s enthusiastic response to the first film, audiences wanted more of the same. And Bruckheimer, as is his tradition, would give them not only more, but better. Once again, Bruckheimer partnered with director Jon Turteltaub, a filmmaker who brings a rare gift to contemporary filmmaking: a genuinely charming, unpretentious, light touch, in which he seamlessly weaves action and adventure with romance and humor in ways which deftly recall such early elegant ‘60s entertainments as “Charade” and “Topkapi,” albeit laced with 21st century technology and sensibilities. “What we want to stress in the ‘National Treasure’ movies is that it’s fun and, in ways that sneak up on you, educational as well,” notes Bruckheimer. Jon is very smart about keeping action very suspenseful, yet having the humor undercut the suspense. He’s a master of walking that line.”
The first "National Treasure" film was developed by Jon Turteltaub after hearing the story idea from Oren Aviv (now President of Walt Disney Studios Motion Picture Production) and Charles Segars, who shared story credit with writer Jim Kouf on the first film. Aviv and Segars served as Executive Producers of "National Treasure" and "National Treasure: Book of Secrets." To develop and write the screenplay for “National Treasure: Book of Secrets,” the filmmakers turned to the same tag-team of noted scribes which had worked their magic with the first film: the story was provided by Gregory Poirier, The Wibberleys and the team of Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio of “Pirates of the Caribbean,” “Shrek” and “Aladdin” fame; and then written by Marianne and Cormac Wibberley. Throughout production, both teams would continue the give-and-take process, constantly seeking to improve upon what was already on paper, in an innovative, almost collective fashion which also included contributions from the cast in a true collaboration.
All of the filmmakers were also intrigued by the idea of widening the scope of the second film beyond the borders of the United States, and into the world beyond. “There are two main reasons why we have international locations in ‘Book of Secrets,’” says Turteltaub. “The first is that it opens up the sequel to bigger and broader horizons. The second is that we wanted to see Ben Gates outside the United States, and see how the histories of France and England connected with that of America.”
“We sat down with Ted and Terry and hashed the story out over a three week period of really heavy story meetings,” recalls Cormac Wibberley,” and after Jerry, Jon and Oren approved the idea, Marianne and I just jumped into the script from there.” While the first film had centered on the Declaration of Independence and Revolutionary War period of American history, the nexus of “National Treasure: Book of Secrets” was to be one of the key events of the 19th century: the Civil War and the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln by John Wilkes Booth. “Jerry, Chad Oman and Mike Stenson sent us research on the missing pages of the Booth diary,” says Wibberley. “They wanted to do a story about families and conflict. The launching point was the idea that Ben and Abigail are at odds, and so are Patrick and his ex-wife Emily. But everyone has to eventually find a way to work together to find the treasure.”
“As with all Bruckheimer films,” says Cormac, “you have to start with the solid facts, and we incorporated a lot of those into the script: the assassination of Lincoln, the missing pages of the Booth diary, the Resolute desks, the historical searches for the so-called ‘Seven Cities of Gold,’ the creation of the Statue of Liberty, the cellars beneath Mount Vernon, the caves inside of Mount Rushmore. Adds Marianne Wibberley, “The Book of Secrets in the title could refer to two things: the lost pages of the Booth diary, or the President’s Book that Ben, Abigail and Riley are seeking. And although there’s no proof that the Book of Secrets actually exists, it’s one of those urban legends that refuses to die.”
“There’s a lot more based on historical fact in ‘Book of Secrets’ than in the first film,” notes executive producer Chad Oman. “You can almost pick any subject from the movie, Google it, and you’ll find lots of information. There are a few things that we have fun with using artistic license. What we learned from the first film was that you can teach kids and grownups as well little bits of history that they didn’t know, and spark an interest. And we wanted to take that further in the second movie.”
Jon Turteltaub was also excited by the possibilities of where they could take the second film. “The story begins with the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. We found out that when John Wilkes Booth was hunted down and killed, he had a diary on him which kept a log of everything that had happened…but it had several pages torn out that were never seen again. And we thought, well, that’s a good mystery. What was on those pages? What was missing? What was someone trying to hide? That’s the jumping-off point for the movie.” What follows is a twisting, winding road filled with clues, ciphers, puzzles which need to be solved by Ben, Abigail, Riley, Patrick, and, ultimately, Emily. “What’s interesting about ‘National Treasure’ versus a lot of other big adventure films,” adds Turteltaub, “is that the plot needs to be complicated enough to be up to the level of the puzzle-solving wits of the lead characters. That’s the fun of it, that’s the journey. And the audience wants to go on that journey with you. If it’s too simple, then there’s no fun in that.”
Adds Bruckheimer, “What’s exciting about the ‘National Treasure’ movies is that you have to think to stay with it, and follow the clues. I think that aspect really added to the success of the first film, and with the terrific cast, wonderful director, fabulous writers and the rest of our phenomenal troops on the second, we can expect not only more of the same, but even better and bigger. Jon Turteltaub is a brilliant director who was known more for his comedies than for adventure films, so he really cut his teeth with the first film. He said ‘Whoa, this is kind of fun…maybe we should up the ante on the second one,’ and he certainly did.
“What’s key in making a sequel is getting the same talent behind the camera as in front of the camera,” continues Bruckheimer. “We got Jon Turteltaub and the same writers back to attempt to make an even better film than the first. Then you’ve got to get the same actors in front of the camera, and that’s key as well. We did it on the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ movies, and we’ve done it again on ‘National Treasure,’ on which both Nicolas Cage and Jon Voight are in sequels for the first time in their careers. Then we’ve added some exciting new elements, including Helen Mirren and Ed Harris. Ted and Terry, and the Wibberleys, did a brilliant job in creating this movie’s characters.”
Cage and Company Re-Assemble, With Distinguished Additions
Throughout his distinguished career, filled with one smash hit after another, Nicolas Cage has never starred in a sequel…until “National Treasure: Book of Secrets.” But Cage had such a good time on their first sojourn, that he was happy to take a second plunge as Ben Gates. “I’ve sort of steered clear of sequels in the past, because I haven’t really liked the idea of repeating myself. But in this case, I felt that each episode would be a whole new adventure with new possibilities because of the nature of the character of Ben Gates, who’s sort of an historical detective.
“We had a very good time working on the first one,” Cage confirms. “Martin Sheen once said to me that all that really matters is whether or not you like the people you’re working with, and do you like the place in which you’re working. I tend to agree with that.”
Ben Gates was a character who Cage came to not only enjoy playing, but also to some degree personally identify with, in the first film. “Like Ben, I genuinely do like being around historical places, places where events have transpired, that have relevance and weight. It’s almost like you feel you can time travel, and absorb vibrations of the past. I think I have that in common with Ben Gates, who seems to be very interested in older things, with a past and a dignity of time attached to them.”
Cage enjoys the dichotomy that lies at the heart of Benjamin Gates. “Ben is an extreme square in that he doesn’t smoke or drink, and sees things very clearly in terms of what is right and what isn’t right. The paradox is that he’s a criminal of sorts, but in a good way. He will go the extra step, take the chance, and steal the Declaration of Independence if need be, or kidnap the President of the United States if need be, to get done what he feels is right. And I think that’s where the humor is in the movie. He’s up for breaking into The White House and Buckingham Palace, and rifling through Queen Elizabeth’s desk. I think Ben gets a little adrenaline off of that. And at the same time, he’s sort of this modern day knight, if you will. There is a time to break the law, and he’s doing it, but making that decision on his own.”
In “National Treasure,” Cage and the filmmakers created an entirely new brand of movie hero in Ben Gates, a man who prefers to rely more on brains than brawn. “Ben is a kind of semi-nerd but also cool and noble,” explains screenwriter Marianne Wibberley. “How did it happen that such an old-fashioned dorky sort of guy became such a hero, and so iconic? Kids come up to us and say that they love Ben Gates because he’s so smart. The truth is that Nic is the one who really made that character what he is.”
In fact, the Bruckheimer/Cage connection is one of filmdom’s most successful collaborations, with “National Treasure: Book of Secrets” the fifth such pairing between producer and star following “The Rock,” “Con Air,” “Gone in 60 Seconds” and the first “National Treasure” movie. “Nic is one of our most brilliant actors,” says Bruckheimer, “an Academy Award winner who can do anything. He can break your heart or make you laugh, depending on his role. He’s such a gifted actor, and we’re lucky to have this great partnership that keeps drawing him back into our productions.”
It also didn’t hurt matters that Cage and director Jon Turteltaub have a friendship that dates back to their time as classmates at high school in Los Angeles, in which they were both friendly and competitive. “Socially, we were kind of on opposite ends of the tracks,” Turteltaub recalls. “I was kind of the comfortable, funny kid who liked to be in musicals. Nic was a tough, smart, brooding, suspicious guy who had this air of rebel about him. We ended up teasing each other mercilessly in a really warm way. Nic is one of the most interesting people I’ve ever known, the most courageous, the most bold, the least ashamed. You put that in combination with someone who is not egomaniacal, who is a gentleman, a very kind and soft-spoken person. He rebels and takes chances with his work and in his life, but never at the expense of another person, and that’s a really special quality.”
“We were friendly, but there was always this little competitive tension there,” confirms Cage about his high school years with Turteltaub. “And working together on ‘National Treasure,’ Jon and I have become closer friends than we were in high school. By now there’s a genuine bond, and I look forward to working with him more and more.”
Jon Voight was also willingly lured into acting in his first sequel with “National Treasure: Book of Secrets.” Indeed, the role of Patrick in “Book of Secrets” is considerably expanded from the first film, making the character fully involved in the adventure, and even romance, of the main plotline. “Patrick is still a hard-working teacher,” Voight explains, “but after finding the Templar Treasure, maybe he has better shirts. His relationship with Ben is now solid, and they’ve enjoyed a bit of celebrity, and their lecture schedule is full. But when Mitch Wilkinson brings forth the lost page from the Booth diary which seems to implicate Patrick’s great-grandfather Thomas Gates, it threatens the whole family legacy, which kicks off the adventure.”
Also returning to the roost were Diane Kruger and Justin Bartha, who, as Abigail Chase and Riley Poole, discovered the Templar Treasure with Ben Gates in the first film. “I think the first film was successful because it took history that everyone has heard of, and put it in a brand new light of adventure and treasure hunting,” says the German-born Kruger. It was a surprise to me how successful ‘National Treasure’ was in Europe and the rest of the world because of its American theme, but I guess treasure hunting goes a long way. I was excited by the idea that the second film opened up to locations in London and Paris, because everyone in the world can feel even more involved in the story.
“At the end of the first film, we left Ben and Abigail off falling in love and becoming a couple, and this one starts with them breaking up,” continues Kruger. Abigail is a curator, so she considers facts to be more important than assumptions, and I think that’s one of the issues she has with Ben. She’s more rational and realistic, and a little reluctant to give in and go on a new treasure hunt.”
Adds Justin Bartha, “I think people really gravitated to ‘National Treasure’ once they met the characters, who are personable and compelling. In the first film, Ben and Riley were kind of forced to work together, and didn’t get along all the time. Yet, there was an odd chemistry between the two of them. Riley isn’t good at things that Ben is good at, and Ben isn’t good at things that Riley is good at. The central theme of ‘Book of Secrets’ is family, and these two guys really need each other.”
In the first film, Riley Poole was decidedly a somewhat scruffy soul, in need of a shave and a decent haircut. In “Book of Secrets,” he’s more polished. “Yeah, that’s what a few million dollars does to a guy,” smiles Bartha. “My idea was that after finding the Templar Treasure, Riley spent most of his money on clothes. He got a bit of a makeover, but since he spent a lot of cash, made some bad investments, and had a run-in with the tax department, he kind of transforms back into the guy we originally met in the first movie.”
Also returning to “National Treasure: Book of Secrets” as FBI Special Agent Sadusky was Harvey Keitel, who was to take more opportunity to explore the character of a tough, relentless G-man who has loyalties both to the law, and Freemasonry.
And then there were the two distinguished newcomers to the “National Treasure: Book of Secrets” cast. The filmmakers had their fingers (and toes) crossed when they decided to pursue Dame Helen Mirren, one of the world’s most celebrated and distinguished performers (and a very recent Academy Award winner as Best Actress for her title role as Elizabeth II in “The Queen”) for the role of Emily Appleton. “We had been thinking about approaching Helen for quite a while, just based on her incredible work,” notes executive producer Mike Stenson. “We had wanted to work with Helen for a long time, but wanted to make sure that when we got our only shot, we had a fully realized part for her in the ‘Book of Secrets’ script. By the time that happened, it was literally a week after she won the Academy Award for ‘The Queen,’ so we were submitting the material to her at the worst possible time in terms of either her having the time to read the script, or making a deal. But in fact, Helen couldn’t have had less attitude about just having won an Oscar.”
Says Mirren, “I loved the first ‘National Treasure.’ I thought it was smart, very entertaining, and led people into history in a very lively way, and that’s always a good thing. Personally, I love historical documentaries because they always push me back into history, and I thought this was a very fun way of doing that.”
Mirren found the idea of portraying Ben Gates’ mother, Dr. Emily Appleton, more than engaging because of the character’s intelligence and strength. “Emily is a very high level expert in deciphering ancient languages, which really fits into the DNA of that particular family, as both Patrick and Ben are adventuresome types who are obsessed with history. But Emily has resisted the whole concept of treasure hunting, feeling that it’s a waste of time, energy and money. She’s hasn’t seen Patrick in the 32 years since they were divorced, and they fall straight into an argument the minute they have a reunion, as if it all stopped just 30 seconds before.”
Also joining the assemblage was four time Academy Award nominee Ed Harris as Mitch Wilkinson, as devoted to his family’s history as Ben is to his, although it puts them on an inexorable collision course. Harris had good reasons to come aboard, as he already had previous professional associations with several of the film’s key filmmakers and actors. “I watched the first film with my wife and daughter, and had a really good time,” says the actor. “I had known Jon Turteltaub from the Sundance Film Festival, having both served as advisors in the festival’s Film Lab, and I liked him a lot. I’ve always been a fan of Nic’s, and worked with him on “The Rock,” which of course was produced by Jerry. And Diane Kruger and I worked together on “Copying Beethoven” a couple of years ago in Hungary. It seemed like a fun job, and an interesting character.
“Mitch is a kind of black market antiquities dealer who has some experience as a mercenary,” Harris continues. “He’s a pretty tough guy who knows how to take care of himself. During the Civil War, Mitch’s family, the Wilkinsons, were staunch Confederates who got involved with the missing pages of the Booth diary. Mitch is very knowledgeable about history, like Ben, and has a need to make his mark on history. And if he can find this particular treasure they’re seeking, I think it not only will fill him with pride, but Mitch will also feel that he will give his family a legacy which won’t be forgotten. It’s a bit of a cat and mouse thing all the way along with Ben and Mitch, but there’s also a certain amount of respect that my character has for Gates because Mitch knows that Ben is very smart and can figure out all these puzzles and decipher codes. Mitch has to keep Ben alive, so that kind of tension remains between the two characters all throughout the piece. They actually need each other. In some sense, they’re two sides of the same coin.”
Also joining the cast was noted actor Bruce Greenwood, who has essayed a wide range roles in films and television, including Touchstone Pictures’ and Jerry Bruckheimer’s production of “Déjà Vu.” In “National Treasure: Book of Secrets,” he portrays the President of the United States, who becomes deeply involved—though not necessarily in a willing fashion—with Ben Gates’ pursuit of the Book of Secrets and the treasure to which clues within might lead. “In this movie, it’s not just the mystery that’s being solved,” notes Greenwood. “It’s also those tidbits of real information about the story of America. It leads to flights of fancy based on these little tidbits, which I think is a lot of fun. We establish that this President I portray has a background and particular interest in historical architecture, which Ben knows and then takes advantage of.”
Past Meets Present: The Filming of “National Treasure: Book of Secrets”
With all of the variables of motion picture production, one thing was absolutely certain to the filmmakers of “National Treasure: Book of Secrets”…it was to be a huge undertaking, with major filming in five U.S. states followed by two of Europe’s greatest capitals, and including some of those three nations’ most profound and iconic—and therefore, difficult to access—locations. That was set a series of challenges for all involved which merely meant that higher peaks needed to be climbed and then conquered.
“We never have a dull moment, that’s for sure,” laughs Barry Waldman, the film’s executive producer/unit production manager, whose long history working with Jerry Bruckheimer extends to such previous forays as the first “National Treasure,” “Bad Boys” and “Bad Boys II,” “Pearl Harbor,” “Gone in 60 Seconds,” “Kangaroo Jack,” “Armageddon,” “The Rock” and “Déjà Vu.” “We don’t set any boundaries for ourselves,” he continues. “Jerry is a great visionary, and between him and Jon Turteltaub we really strive to do things that have not been done before. From our standpoint, our job is to turn those script pages into reality, and it makes you set your goals really high. On Jerry Bruckheimer films, we don’t take ‘no’ for an answer.”
The first of the four months of “National Treasure: Book of Secrets” filming began in March 2007 in Los Angeles, beginning with the interior and exterior of a South Pasadena house which doubled as Patrick Gates’ Washington, D.C. area residence for both the first and second “National Treasure” films.
That relatively small scale was soon to increase with production designer Dominic Watkins’ impressive exterior re-creation of Washington on the night of April 14th, 1865…the fateful evening in which Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. “That was a great deal of work,” says supervising art director Drew Boughton of the task facing his, as well as Fainche MacCarthy’s set decoration departments, to convert “New York Street” on the Universal Studios backlot into an authentic replica of the nation’s capitol more than 140 years ago. “At that time, Washington was a relatively young city, and it still had something of the feeling of a Western town. We brought in dirt to cover the streets, actual gas lighting, horses, carriages as well as period signage and decorations for the buildings.”
With the addition of Judianna Makovsky’s detailed and authentic costumes for actors and some 300 background players, the atmospheric set truly took on a life of its own, with soldiers in Union uniforms, civilians waving sparklers in celebration of war’s end, a plethora of top hats and bonnets, gas lamps imparting their magical glow to the darkened streets, and fireworks illuminating all from high above.
On Universal Studios soundstages, Watkins, Boughton, MacCarthy and their attendant departments then created a tavern in which John Wilkes Booth and co-conspirator Michael McLaughlen approach Ben Gates’ great-great grandfather Thomas and his son Charles: an establishment redolent of period atmosphere, right down to the yellowing newspaper clippings pasted to the wall behind the bar, framed portraits of former U.S. presidents and vintage prints, liquor bottles and weaponry mounted on the walls. Again, flickering candle and gaslight reminded all of a world before electricity was harnessed and over-illuminated everything in its wake, where there were still shadows and mystery.
In fact, so immersed was the “National Treasure: Book of Secrets” company in history, that each day’s company call sheet carried a special “This Day in History” feature, listing three important events which took place through the centuries. “By the end of this movie,” quipped one burly crew member, “I can quit movies and become a history teacher.”
On another Universal soundstage, Watkins created a nearly perfect replica of the West Wing of The White House, including the Oval Office. It’s here where we see one of the two so-called “Resolute Desks,” key elements of the film and the story which hold crucial clues for Ben Gates in his search for treasure and, even more importantly, vindication for his ancestor Thomas Gates. Recalls Jon Turteltaub, “While we were developing the story, we came across the amazing tale of a British ship called the Resolute, which while searching for the English explorer Sir John Franklin became stuck in the Arctic ice. Later, it was found by an American fishing ship, and the U.S. government bought the ship, refitted it and presented it to Queen Victoria in 1856.
“After 20 years of distinguished service,” Turteltaub continues, “the ship was decommissioned and Queen Victoria then had two desks made from its keel as a token of peace, one slightly different from the other. One she kept for herself in Buckingham Palace, and the other she presented to President Rutherford B. Hayes, and was then used by every U.S. president except Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. There’s a famous photo of little John-John Kennedy playing under the desk while his father works in the Oval Office.”
For “National Treasure: Book of Secrets,” a company specializing in replicating antiques was commissioned to create both versions of the Resolute Desk, virtually indistinguishable from the real desks.
Shooting then shifted to the famed 1926 Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills, “portraying” Ben and Abigail’s post-Templar Treasure house, from which he’s departing after their breakup.
On to the Nation’s Capitol: Filming in Washington, D.C.
Heading to the nation’s capitol in late March ’07, Bruckheimer, Turteltaub and company sought to take advantage of an even wider range of Washington locations than it had for the first “National Treasure,” including some of the most iconic locales in a deeply iconic city. A scene between Nicolas Cage and Harvey Keitel shot at the reflecting pool in front of the Capitol Building, filmed on the first day of D.C. shooting—drew hundreds of onlookers. Another scene featuring Cage, Jon Voight, Diane Kruger and Justin Bartha, shot just across the street from The White House near Lafayette Park, came with its own draconian rules.
“We wanted to shoot in front of The White House,” recalls Turteltaub. “The street is run by the City of Washington, D.C., the sidewalk is run by the Parks Department and The White House by the Secret Service. Standing on the sidewalk? No! Working in the street? No problem. In the middle of filming the scene, the Secret Service came out and said ‘Sorry, but you’ll all have to leave for an hour.’ Why? ‘Because President Bush is coming outside to make an address to the press corps, and you have to go to the other side of Lafayette Park.’
“So we all left, went to the other side of Lafayette Park, waited until the President finished his responsibilities, came back and finished our scene. But in fact, everyone in Washington was amazingly cooperative in helping us get what we needed.”
Meanwhile, Mother Nature was cooperating by putting the famed cherry blossoms into full bloom during the film’s shoot. “There is very little wrong with Washington to begin with,” adds Turteltaub, “and we got lucky. When the cherry blossoms are in bloom, the city takes on a whole other character, with beautiful, sparkly, white and pink flowers.” The director was sure to take excellent advantage of the blossoms as a backdrop, and the enormous crowds that descended upon the city at the same time were more than delighted to discover that in addition to some of the world’s greatest sights, they could also watch a major movie being made.
“There are two major points you have to deal with in shooting such important locations in Washington,” continues Turteltaub. “One is, of course, security; and secondly is that by shooting a film in such places, we weren’t ruining the experience for anyone else who was there. We always had to find a way to do what we needed to do while still allowing the tourists, educators and kids to enjoy themselves. The thing that the authorities don’t quite understand, though, is that when all the tourists, educators and kids show up, they seem far more interested in seeing Nic Cage than they are in seeing the Lincoln Memorial! So actually, I think we made the day a little more interesting for many of these people, except the ones who were visiting from Hollywood!”
The majority of filming in Washington actually took place inside of the Library of Congress’ Jefferson Building, a stunning Victorian construct which first opened its doors to the public on November 1st, 1897, and found itself as a primary location for “National Treasure: Book of Secrets” 110 years later.
Most of the filming took place inside of the magnificent Main Reading Room, from the floor to its 160 foot high domed ceiling, where a gigantic helium lighting balloon was devised to rise all the way up to the cupola, thereby giving Turteltaub the light necessary for filming during the all-night shooting (the days were retained for the benefit of the public).
“As far as I’m concerned,” states Turteltaub,” “maybe the most London and the Library of Congress. Americans don’t know how extraordinary this building is. You walk in there and realize that this is a true, extraordinary treasure, dedicated to education, knowledge and history. It’s a statement that enlightenment, education, justice and fair government is the center of what we aspire to. It seems to say that without a library, without knowledge, we’re useless.
“That nobility, that majesty is something that ‘National Treasure: Book of Secrets’ is trying to maintain, that there’s something grand out there that we need to honor, and within it and underneath it, in the details, are the human lives that built it, and that’s where all of the flaws, great achievement and mysteries lie.”
With the permission of the Library authorities, production designer Dominic Watkins designed and had built a special addition…the President’s Library, in which Ben, Abigail and Riley search for the Book of Secrets itself. “We were allowed to build a set within the building, on the balconies above the Main Reading Room,” notes supervising art director Drew Boughton. “Essentially, we created another section of the library. We made our own bookshelves, and brought in all of our books. It was very challenging, because when working with a national monument there are, of course, a lot of rules and restrictions, and we took great care to observe them all.”
Scenes inside of the Jefferson Building were also shot in the very aptly named Great Hall, with its gleaming marble floor, 75-foot-high ceiling and two grand staircases. More prosaically, the extraordinary buildings in the world are St. Peter’s in Rome, St. Paul’s in e company was also permitted to shoot in the very bowels of the building, through tunnels, hallways and the Rube Goldberg-esque machinery which carries the books from the stacks beneath to the Main Reading Room above.
Another D.C. area which played itself was the beautiful campus of the University of Maryland in College Park. In the film, Dr. Emily Appleton, portrayed by Helen Mirren, is the head of the university’s Linguistics Department (although Mirren shot all of her scenes in interior sets in Los Angeles), and the company utilized both the school’s McKeldin Library for interiors recreating The White House Press Secretary’s office, and its impressive quad just outside of Holzapfel Hall as locations. One sudden and unexpected problem arose when a sudden and unexpected early April snowstorm dumped a couple of inches of pure white onto that very quad overnight…and so, while shooting commenced inside of the library, the film’s greens crew hurriedly dispensed with the accumulated flakes, leaving the grass as green as a sweet spring day…but the lightly costumed Cage, Voight, Kruger and Bartha doing their utmost to make it seem as if the biting 40 degree Fahrenheit chill had no effect on their performances!
Considering the first film’s examination of the remarkable history of Freemasonry and its connection to America’s Founding Fathers, it was poetic justice that an important scene—Ben and Patrick Gates’ lecture on the Civil War and their first encounter with Mitch Wilkinson—was filmed at the George Washington Masonic Memorial in Alexandria, Virginia. George Washington actually belonged to the Alexandria Lodge, and the current Memorial, inspired by the classical architecture of Greece and Rome, was opened by President Herbert Hoover in 1932. “Masonic lore and the Knights Templar were the backdrop of the first movie,” notes executive producer Mike Stenson, “so we were always on the lookout for any kind of Masonic influences in the Civil War period, and we found several.” The connection with George Washington was to run even deeper with what might have been the film’s most extraordinary location in the Washington area…the President’s home of Mount Vernon, on the Potomac River in Virginia.
Jerry Bruckheimer is justifiably famous for shooting in difficult-to-access locations, but the rare sites secured for “National Treasure: Book of Secrets” really tipped the scales. Operated by a remarkable organization called The Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association of the Union (which rescued the house and its glorious grounds from deterioration in 1858 and now preserves it in splendid condition, as well as brand new, state-of-the-art museums in a gleaming visitor’s center), George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens permitted the “National Treasure: Book of Secrets” company to film just off of the front portico of the house for two full nights in mid-April.
Washington’s home, first built in 1752, was later expanded and remodeled several times by America’s first President, resulting in a masterpiece of dignified architecture and restrained beauty. The lawn in front of the mansion, which sweeps down toward the Potomac, served as the location for an elegant birthday party for the film’s President, portrayed by Bruce Greenwood…a party crashed by Ben Gates, a man on a definite mission. In addition to a large celebratory sign on the lawn, the film’s art department also created a party tent with elegant appointments and flower arrangements within. “We wanted the same kind of Tiffany blue tent that was used by Jacqueline Kennedy when she threw a birthday party for JFK at Mount Vernon,” notes set decorator Fainche MacCarthy. “For the China and stemware, we used some of the same Washington catering companies that work on major political events and parties.”
“We wanted to film at Mount Vernon for the first movie, and couldn’t figure out why,” recalls Jon Turteltaub. “For this one, we knew why. Mount Vernon is an iconic landmark in American history, and house is stunning. By today’s standards, it’s probably smaller than half the houses in Beverly Hills, but it’s a lot more beautiful.”
“We actually very much admired the first ‘National Treasure’ film,” says James C. Rees, Executive Director of Mount Vernon, “and people we talked to said that it brought history alive to them. It also had millions of viewers, and that’s important to us, because we don’t just want to appeal to the million of people who come to Mount Vernon…we want to reach out to all those people who might not have a chance to come to Mount Vernon, and we think ‘Book of Secrets’ will do that.”
The company of the film seemed genuinely awestruck to be literally working in the shadow of George and Martha Washington’s beautiful domicile, so much that even the chilly rain which pelted cast, crew and background players couldn’t dampen their spirits. “It was about 28 degrees in the middle of the night, with lots of background players in spaghetti strap gowns,” recalls Bruce Greenwood. “They were the real heroes those nights!”
More National Treasures in South Dakota
After filming more cool nights on the Potomac River, a mere stone’s throw from Mount Vernon (for scenes requiring both boats and helicopters)—and a final, ferociously windy and rainy night filming the exterior of the Library of Congress’s Jefferson Building—the “Book of Secrets” company boarded a charter flight and headed westward for South Dakota, on locations which would be a startling contrast to the urban beauties of Washington, D.C. Just as the work in the capitol was a plunge into the nation’s past, South Dakota took the company back even further…to its pre-contact, Native roots, which figures prominently in the story of the film, and imbues the very landscapes on which the shooting took place with a spiritual element which defies simple description.
Mount Rushmore National Memorial is a world-famous, truly monumental sculpture of four Presidential figures—Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson and Theodore Roosevelt—carved by the almost supernaturally driven John Gutzon de la Mothe Borglum into the gigantic granite face of a looming mountain in the Black Hills of South Dakota. From the commencement of drilling in 1927, until his death in 1941, Gutzon Borglum and his team of 400 daredevil artists created a work which surpassed even the Great Sphinx of Giza in scale and ambition.
The National Memorial is a work of unquestioned greatness, but that’s only part of the story. Mount Rushmore is just one peak in the Black Hills, sacred to the Lakota and other American Indian people for thousands of years. To the Lakota, the Black Hills are “Paha Sapa,” their axis mundi, the center of the world. For many native people over the years, the sculptures on Mount Rushmore have represented not a triumph of democracy, but a painful reminder of the absorption of their lands by the United States after gold was discovered in the Black Hills. Now, in an attempt to reconcile the two great cultures, the National Parks Service appointed Gerard Baker as the first American Indian Superintendent of Mount Rushmore National Memorial. “What my position represents in my mind is the opportunity to tell both sides of the story,” says Superintendent Baker, a Mandan-Hidatsa who proudly lives in both the traditional and modern worlds. “Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt all did good things for this country in the first 150 years of its history. But there were also some very negative Indian policies as well, and we’re taking the challenge of telling that story too. Not to put the blame on anybody, but to get the story out for future generations, so they’ll understand that happened so that the same mistakes won’t be repeated. We now can start the healing process, through education and cultural programs.”
Like James Rees of Mount Vernon, Superintendent Baker welcomed the presence of “National Treasure: Book of Secrets.” “It brings in awareness,” he states, “not only to the world public who will see the movie, but also to the actors and crew from the film. We were approached by the filmmakers in a very knowledgeable and respectful way. They understood that they were asking to film in a sacred area.”
In fact, by request of the production, Superintendent Baker and his associate and friend Ranger Darrell Martin, Assistant Chief of Interpretation at Mount Rushmore National Memorial, performed a traditional Indian blessing ceremony for all assembled—including stars Nicolas Cage, Jon Voight, Diane Kruger and Justin Bartha—before the camera first rolled at Mount Rushmore on the morning of April 20th. Martin, a member of the Gros Ventre Tribe of Montana noted for his kindness and vast historical knowledge, would tragically and suddenly pass away the following week, leaving a gaping hole in the hearts of his colleagues in the National Park Service and the members of the “Book of Secrets” company who had befriended him in that short span of time.
Remarkably, “National Treasure: Book of Secrets” was to be the first major non-fiction feature film to shoot an important sequence at Mount Rushmore since Alfred Hitchcock brought Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint and the “North By Northwest” production crew to the Black Hills for just two days in September 1958. Using nearby Rapid City as a base of operations, the company filmed on a wide range of locations, with a full week’s work not only at Mount Rushmore, but also in the nearby Black Hills location of Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park. For one sequence, which matches the filming in Sylvan Lake, stunt coordinator George Marshall Ruge put stunt doubles on a 150 foot cliff in the Black Hills for aerial shots. “They had to climb the peak, so it took us about three hours to get all six doubles up there, and rigged them with safety wires. The only way up was straight up, and the only way down was straight down.”
Looking back, the cast and crew of “National Treasure: Book of Secrets” were deeply affected by their experiences working in South Dakota, although filming there had only lasted for two weeks. “The Black Hills were unique to me,” recalls Nicolas Cage. “They were very, very special because it’s Native American sacred ground. I found it uniquely beautiful, and still something of a secret. I don’t think people realize how beautiful that is in our own back yard. And it definitely inspired the performances, being in those places. It gave us all a little boost.”
“Never having been to Mount Rushmore, it was really exciting to be there and experience something I had only seen in photos and in films,” says Jerry Bruckheimer. “That’s one of the real joys of moviemaking.”
Adds Jon Turteltaub, “With all of the amazing places we went, the least likely suspect became our favorite. We all fell in love with South Dakota. It’s spectacularly beautiful, the people were gentle and embracing, and there’s an enormous amount of culture there. The past is very present in South Dakota, and by going there and shooting at Mount Rushmore we started to feel much more about what the stone was before it was carved into American faces. What meaning does this landscape have to people? And we tried, as best we could in small ways, to start letting that seep into the storytelling and the moviemaking.”
“I loved South Dakota,” adds Helen Mirren. “I loved the people, the landscape and the wildlife. It’s a really extraordinary part of the world. When we were there, we were looking at each other saying, ‘Do you realize how lucky we are? Isn’t this the best job in the world, to be here in this incredible landscape shooting a fun film?’
Back to Los Angeles and What Hollywood Does Best
After the company’s sojourns to the East Coast and South Dakota, it was time to return to Los Angeles for the Hollywood magicians to weave their sorcery, devising hugely scaled sets and devices for the film’s complex, climactic action-adventure sequences. “We built these enormous sets in Los Angeles, upping our ante by making this picture bigger and more exciting than the first one,” notes Jerry Bruckheimer. “Every time you walked onto one of these sets, you realized the artistry of the technicians in Hollywood, and this art that they’ve passed down since the beginning of film.”
Starting the second phase of its L.A. shoot, the company initially converted several “practical” locations into appropriate environments for the story, including the conversion of the bowels of downtown L.A.’s famed Biltmore Hotel into security areas beneath Buckingham Palace, and the vintage 1940 design of the F.E. Weymouth Treatment Plant of the Metropolitan Water District System in La Verne, California, into a high-tech conservation lab where Ben, Abigail and Riley examine the lost page from the Booth diary.
Also filmed during this stage of production was a sequence taking place on the White House lawn during the annual Easter Egg Roll. Hordes of children in holiday dress, replete with baskets and bunny ears, assembled on a large grassy area at the Huntington Hartford Gardens in San Marino, California, which was backed by a 24 foot tall by 180 foot wide blue screen which would be transformed in the post-production process by visual effects supervisors Nathan McGuinness and Mitchell S. Drain by the President’s domicile. “In the old days this would have been done with a traditional matte painting on glass with a locked-off camera,” notes Drain. “Today, we have the technology to allow us to move the camera around and match those movements in the computer, so that we get a fully three-dimensional perspective of The White House.” Not that any of the kids working that day minded that the President’s residence wasn’t actually there…they were more interested in getting Nicolas Cage’s autograph at the end of the work day, and he was only too happy to oblige them.
“National Treasure: Book of Secrets” required McGuinness, Drain and their huge team of artists, programmers and technicians to call upon the full range of present technology to create numerous images, including digital enhancements, model work and other magic. “The lion’s share of the visual effects work is set extension,” notes Drain. “We’re also re-arranging some landscapes, such as giving off the illusion that there’s a lake behind Mount Rushmore. If we do our job well, people who see the movie will be scratching their heads when they go to South Dakota and find out that it isn’t actually there!”
On Stage 2 of The Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, production designer Dominic Watkins and his team constructed not only a faithful recreation of the wine cellar beneath Mount Vernon, but more fancifully, imagined secret catacombs and tunnels that spiral off from that, replete with fabricated but absolutely convincing twisted branches and cobwebs to give them the real patina of age. “The people at Mount Vernon allowed us to take photographs of the wine cellar, and I think we did a pretty good job of reproducing the character of that beautiful place,” notes supervising art director Drew Boughton. We then imagined that George Washington might have had a secret escape route to save his family if they came under attack during the Revolutionary War, so we designed and created tunnels with the technology of the late 18th century. It was a lot of fun thinking up what that might be, and what mechanics might be involved.”
It was also on Disney’s Stage 2 where the first of a series of cavern sets was designed and constructed. This entranceway, and the adjoining cavern called “the map room” by Dominic Watkins, reveals the wonders of a pre-Columbian civilization of great sophistication, filled with complex mechanisms which present one perilous challenge after another to the film’s treasure hunters. The beautiful and intricate designs in the caverns represent an intentional pastiche of well known pre-contact cultures. “We were looking for a civilization that conceivably could have been even more advanced than the ancient Egyptians at about the same time period,” notes Drew Boughton, “which could have migrated from Central to North America. For much of the design, we settled on the Olmec culture, which predated the Mayans.”
A large stone wheel which allows entry into the cavern is designed and constructed with a period counterweight system turning an axle, allowing the door to roll back and forth. “We based this on various examples of ancient engineering,” says Boughton, “some as old as 3000 years, with the use of wood beams, lifts and winches.” The intricate glyph designs were hand fashioned by several talented art department sculptors from Styrofoam, which was then sprayed with concrete and suitably aged.
Stage 12 at Universal Studios—the humongous space which housed the massive Singapore set for “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End”—was called into service yet again, this time to contain two separate cavern sets for “Book of Secrets.” The smaller of the two was the Balance Chamber, which contains a platform pivoted in a central point and supported by vines on four ends…kind of a seesaw from hell, on which, according to Jerry Bruckheimer, “the characters have to position themselves on the platform so it doesn’t tip over, each character having to counterweigh the other. It’s a very exciting action sequence in which they could all die if they don’t work as a team.”
The balance platform was a collaboration of Dominic Watkins’ art department and Academy Award-winning special effects supervisor John Frazier’s department. The acknowledged master of motion bases (also known as gimbals) developed especially for film, Frazier’s previous collaborations with Jerry Bruckheimer included “Pearl Harbor” and “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End,” for which he designed and constructed the motion bases for the full-sized replicas of both the Black Pearl and the Flying Dutchman in the climactic Maelstrom sea battle…the most elaborate and complex such gimbals ever developed.
Keeping the action flowing in the U.S. portion of the “Book of Secrets” shoot was George Marshall Ruge, who had already devoted his skills and energies to two of the most successful trilogies of all time, “The Lord of the Rings” and “Pirates of the Caribbean,” as well as the first “National Treasure.” The balance platform sequence was just one of the king-size action tasks facing Ruge, and one which really called into play not only his facility with stunts, but his background in choreography as well. “The balance platform was, I think, pretty unique and different,” explains Ruge. “What I liked about it was that there was a whole chess game of players, and it forces all of the characters to bond together, whether they want to or not, to get off the slab. The physicality of working on that set, which can move in any direction possible, and choreographing that event with the actors safely, was a bit of a challenge.
“We didn’t have a lot of rehearsal time, because the sets were still being built and painted,” continues Ruge, “so once we got in there we got a couple of days to really work things out and get our sea legs. But once everybody was on it, it came together fairly quickly. Working out the logistics of the beats was the most difficult process, but it worked out remarkably well. The operator of the beam did a great job, because when you have human beings on that thing, the movements have to be exact.
The larger set occupying Stage 12 was the grandest cavern of all, Dominic Watkins’ piece de resistance, built inside of a 140,000 gallon pit with four submergible pumps. The set included six ports which spewed 1100 gallons of water per minute onto all of the film’s stars participating in the climactic sequences. “These are the biggest sets I’ve ever been on,” says Helen Mirren, “and it’s sensational. The attention to detail, and accuracy of the art department is fantastic.”
“These are the best sets I’ve ever been on, let alone shot on,” affirms Jon Turteltaub. “They’re extraordinarily huge, they’re beautiful, they’re practical, you can go anywhere on them and shoot. From artist rendering to miniature models to framework to final sets, it was amazing to see Dom Watkins’ work happen so quickly. I still don’t know why it takes a year and a half to put an on ramp on the freeway when we were able to build an entire underground city in about eight weeks.
“Also, people think that special effects are just laser guns and spaceships, but John Frazier and Jim Schwalm are the guys doing the actual physical effects on set…making things explode, making it rain, making sure it’s dusty when you look at an old book. What a fantastic job these guys did, making you believe that you are in a remarkable cave with an undiscovered piece of Native American history that you can believe is actually there.”
Another mammoth set that heavily relied on practical water effects was the so-called “sparkling cavern,” constructed at a height of 40 feet around truss and grid framing above the tank at Falls Lake on the Universal Studios backlot. The set, also imbued with numerous pre-Columbian design elements, contained three massive waterfalls, and took nine weeks to build (although months to plan). An elaborate pumping system was devised to bring the needed water up from the tank, and then back again. “In the world of special effects, nobody ever wants to do the same thing twice,” says Frazier. “We needed to create the illusion that the water in the ‘sparkling cavern’ set was pooling down into a pit 100 feet deep, which we actually built at a depth of four feet. The water pouring down from the three spouts is supposed to look absolutely solid, and there’s not enough water in the California Aqueduct to do this job. So what we did was to create the illusion of that much water. We actually made the water hollow, had spinning heads which churned up the water, and fogged up the spouts. It’s just a simple trick, but even with that we still needed to pump 45,000 gallons of water per minute.”
Another set at Falls Lake was what was referred to as the “stone room”—or more forbiddingly, the “drowning room”—an oblong construction which, when surrounded with a sturdy metal frame, was then lowered into and raised from the tank by a 100-foot-tall crane, to promote the effect of the room filling with water. The entire tank was tented in to prevent natural light from permeating the set, as it’s meant to be deep below the earth’s surface. For a solid week at the end of the U.S. portion of “Book of Secrets” filming, Nicolas Cage, Jon Voight, Helen Mirren, Ed Harris, Diane Kruger and Justin Bartha were all drenched to the bone day in and out while filming the stone room sequence.
“Some of the action scenes are more fun than others,” admits Diane Kruger. “It sounds like a great idea to set an entire scene in a drowning room with water up to your ears, and it’s sort of fun for a day…but then you’re over it after a week. “We almost drowned in the drowning room,” recalls Justin Bartha, “and some of us were getting sick because we were working in the water all day and, sometimes, all night. It was actually pretty harrowing, but nothing we couldn’t handle.”
“I like the physical stuff,” admits Jon Voight. “In the role of Patrick Gates, I try to diminish my physicality, playing a fellow who’s been a schoolteacher all his life and is addiction to books and learning. But being a Gates, there’s the soul of an adventurer in him too, and I’ve had fun with the derring-do.”
London and Paris: Palaces, Car Chases and Spilled Beer
“In the first film,” says Jerry Bruckheimer, “the clues were all around us. But in this movie, the clues are all around the world.”
The internationalization of “National Treasure” came to fruition as the company departed U.S. shores and headed for a month of filming in and around London, with a sidebar trip to Paris, expanding the geographic horizons of the story as well as exploring the intersecting warp and weave of American, British and French history.
Two major sequences were set for filming in Great Britain: Ben, Abigail and Riley’s incursion into the sanctum sanctorum of Buckingham Palace so that Gates can examine the Queen’s version of the Resolute Desk for clues; and what might be the biggest and most elaborate car chase scene ever shot on the streets of London.
Bruckheimer and Turteltaub began with the “easier” scene first, and with the real Buckingham Palace obviously off-limits for reasons of privacy and security, the filmmakers secured the next best thing: Lancaster House, a truly resplendent palace in its own right, literally a stone’s throw from its more famous neighbor, and just next door to St James Palace, which houses Prince Charles and his sons. Lancaster House was commissioned in 1825 by the Duke of York, and when the Duke passed on, the lease was purchased by the Marquess of Stafford, whose family occupied the house from 1829 until 1913. It was then bought by Lord Leverhulme, a Lancastrian, and its name changed its current appellation. Lancaster House is now operated by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, and is utilized for elegant functions, and the occasional film.
The mansion, built of Bath stone in the Corinthian style, is relatively austere on the outside, but the interior—where the “Book of Secrets” company filmed—is quite ornate and decorative, mainly in Louis XIV style with a marvelous collection of paintings and objets d’art. A corner room on the second floor was converted by Dominic Watkins, UK supervising art director Gary Freeman, set decorator Fainche MacCarthy and propmasters Ritchie Kremer (U.S.) and David Balfour (U.K.) into Queen Elizabeth II’s study with appropriate furnishings, decorations and props.
However, scenes with Nicolas Cage, Ed Harris, Diane Kruger and Justin Bartha outside the gates of Buckingham Palace were actually permitted by the authorities, and shot by Turteltaub on a brilliant Friday morning in early August. “The way we look at it,” says Turteltaub, “you just have to keep asking and keep pushing to get on these locations. And when it’s done, you end up with beautiful representations of all these great places the world has to offer. There’s no point in faking it when the real thing looks so good.
The majority of the London shoot, however, was devoted to a rip-roaring, gut-clenching, street-clearing car chase scene across a great swath of the city, which presented a kaleidoscope of hurdles for the company to overcome, creatively and technically. “We knew how logistically challenging it would be to film in London,” notes executive producer/unit production manager Barry Waldman, “and at one point even considered other countries in Europe which we could double for London and make it a little easier. But this is a movie in which Jerry Bruckheimer and Jon Turteltaub mandated that we would shoot only on actual locations. It just takes time to prepare, and the challenges are enormous. We decided to film the car chase mostly on weekends so that it would have the least amount of impact to the public. But we have two full film units shooting the chase simultaneously, which is a big undertaking for the London police.
“I have to say that the authorities have been great,” continues Waldman. “We were respectful of their boundaries, but we’re filmmakers, so we get paid to push the boundaries. Jerry and Jon are filmmakers who like to do ‘firsts,’ and that’s what we attempted to do in London.”
“I hadn’t seen a London car chase in a movie for a long time,” says Turteltaub. “It’s always fun to watch a car scene set in an interesting place, and it’s not just the cars, it’s where the cars are driving, and who’s driving them. We thought it would be cool to see Nic as Ben Gates driving a car where the steering wheel’s on the opposite side of what he’s used to, and being chased by vehicles which are part of the London cityscape. We didn’t intend for the scene to be the car chase to end all car chases—it’s not a movie about cars—but we hope it’s exciting and humorous.”
The primary vehicles involved in the chase are a brand-new Mercedes-Benz 280C “C-Class” (which hadn’t been on the market as of yet when the sequence was shot), a Land Rover, a Fuller’s London Pride beer truck, a London taxicab, a distinctive red double-decker bus, several London police cars and others caught in the mayhem.
Consider the possibilities.
The filmmakers certainly did, carefully planning, writing and pre-visualizing the sequence, and then turning it over to a crack team headed by U.K. stunt coordinator Steve Dent and a cadre of fantastic stunt drivers to actually pull it off, with two full shooting units all over the streets of London. “We believe it’s the biggest chase and largest number of stunt people called into London for years,” says Dent. The preparation of the car chase was meticulous, from conception to execution. “We rehearsed everything as much as we possibly could,” notes Dent, “working off of the pre-visualizations that were sent to us from the States. Rehearsals are important, especially when you shoot in a city like London, because you’ve got a certain amount of time to lock off traffic, and on a lot of streets you can’t lock off at all, so everyone has to know exactly where they’re starting and finishing.”
There was very little faking the high speeds at which the vehicles were driven. “Very fast driving through cars and pedestrians,” says Dent. “One slip, and that’s it, it’s all over. Because of the rain we’d been having, a lot of the surfaces were very slippery.”
A highlight of the chase sequence, simultaneously harrowing and hilarious, is when a Fuller’s London Pride beer truck loses its precious cargo of some 160 kegs. “It was very spectacular to watch all of those kegs drop off the truck and explode through shop windows and phone boxes,” says Dent. The authentic looking kegs were actually fabricated by the U.K. prop department from a foam and fiberglass mixture, lightweight and filled with a beer-like substance. An air-release mechanism developed by U.K. special effects coordinator Neil Corbould appropriately called a “Harvey Wallbanger” then fired the beer kegs from the cab.
The car chase scene took advantage of some remarkable locations, including Cleveland Row, just next door to St. James Palace; Bank junction, one of the busiest in London, and shut down for a day of filming; and the narrow, picturesque Birchin and Finch Lanes in “The City,” the old financial district, both re-decorated with signage and faux storefronts by the British art department, only to be plunged into chaos by the fast-moving vehicles roaring down the alleyways; and Southwark Bridge, spanning the Thames, where the chase finally comes to an unexpected conclusion.
The filmmakers not only relied on the expertise of the stunt team, but also on such new technologies as the “Top Rig,” a contraption actually mounted on the roof of the Mercedes-Benz C-Class vehicle which allowed famed British driver Ben Collins the ability to do the actual driving, while Turteltaub and cinematographer John Schwartzman shot Nicolas Cage, Diane Kruger and Justin Bartha inside of the vehicle performing dialogue.
Nonetheless, Cage did a surprising amount of actual driving during the sequence. “I like to drive, but driving on the other side is complicated,” says the actor. “It’s definitely not something I recommend without spending some time first getting comfortable with.” Adds Justin Bartha, “Nic’s driving is pretty fantastic. He’s done a few car movies, and he knows his stuff.” Diane Kruger found the car chase sequence “not scary, but fun, sort of like going on an amusement park ride.”
Bruckheimer, Turteltaub and company also shot parts of the chase on the historic grounds of the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich, with several of its grand and baroque buildings doubling for similar edifices in London, with the judicious addition of the distinctive Underground signs, red phone boxes and other art department “improvements.”
Further enhancing the international expansion of “National Treasure,” the company took a brief respite from the car chase by boarding the high-speed Eurostar and zooming to Paris for some key sequences with Nicolas Cage and Justin Bartha filmed on the Pont du Bir-Hakeim and nearby Pont du Grenelle, two bridges which straddle the Seine nearly in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower.
“It’s hard to make an ugly movie in Paris,” laughs Jon Turteltaub. “On our first morning there, our cinematographer John Schwartzman came to me while I was looking for the right shot and said ‘Jon, don’t worry, there is no bad shot here.’ There’s something about Paris that brings out the artist in you, that makes you want to live up to the French aesthetic. Bir-Hakeim is not one of the most famous bridges in Paris, but it is if you’re a film fan, because Marlon Brando stands on that bridge in the opening scene of “Last Tango in Paris.”
For the key Paris scene, Ben and Riley, on the trail of clues, fly a miniature, remote-control helicopter equipped with a video camera mount all around the scaled-down replica of the Statue of Liberty which is mounted upon the tiny Allee des Cygnes (“Walkway of the Swans”). This version, intended as a design study of the larger and better known monument, was inaugurated at the site in 1889, three years after its more famous cousin was erected in New York City. It was a gift of the French community living in the United States to celebrate the centennial of the French Revolution, and the book which the statue holds in its left hand is inscribed with dates which simultaneously recognize American Independence Day and Bastille Day. In reality, as in the film, the statue is a reminder of the close historical ties between the United States and France, closely intertwined from the nation’s birth pangs.
For their brief time in Paris, the U.S. and British crew who made the trip reveled in their too brief memories. “Little things are different,” notes Turteltaub, “like going to crew lunch and seeing everything beautifully laid out on tables, including bottles of wine. And you sit there thinking, wow, Parisians really have it made. We had a great time.”
Returning to London for three final days of principal photography, a sequence intended to be filmed in the Georgetown district of Washington, D.C., but delayed due to a combination of Easter and bad weather, wound up being shot in the tony Primrose Hill district of London, an almost perfect match with similarly charming old architecture.
Closing the Book
With 97 days of filming over a four month period covering a wide geographic area behind them, the company had some time to reflect on the experience…although for Jerry Bruckheimer and Jon Turteltaub, much of the work was ahead of them in a punishing post-production period, in they would oversee the editing, final sound, extensive visual effects and musical score by Trevor Rabin, who composed the alternately stirring and propulsive music for the first film.
“Getting to work with Jon Voight, Diane Kruger and Justin Bartha again was definitely like going back down memory lane and seeing old friends,” notes Nicolas Cage. “Except, there’s more of an ease to it this time. We all know each other’s quirks and rhythms, and we know when things are going to get hot or not, or silly or not. It’s just easy. Ed Harris gives so much reality to the characters he plays, that he’ll make anything work. And Helen Mirren, of course, so hot off of her success with “The Queen,” and you couldn’t work with a more down to earth, humble person considering the brilliance that she puts into her performances.”
“Jon is original, brilliant and romantic, and that’s why the film has all of those elements,” notes Jon Voight. “He has a great sense of story, great joie de vivre, who never says a discouraging word. He’s always up and playful. He’s really funny in terms of his take on life, and there’s humor about all of our characters too. You don’t find too many pictures nowadays with charm, but that’s what Jon brings to the movie.”
“If possible, it was more fun the second time around,” says Diane Kruger. “There’s a lot less searching around to get the right tone. Everybody seemed to be on the same wavelength. Jon is a very thorough director who knows what he’s doing, and he’s also fun to hang out with.” Confirms Justin Bartha, “I don’t think anyone else can direct these films except Jon. The guy is so smart and so talented, with such a grip on everything at play, I’ve never really met a director like him.”
The company was particularly glad to welcome Helen Mirren to their family, particularly since she displayed nothing but unending enthusiasm and excitement for the project, and tore into the adventure and romance of the piece with the same fervor with which she approaches the classical roles which have made her one of the world’s most honored performers.
“You know, I won an Oscar as “The Queen,” so I expected to be treated with respect when I came on the set of ‘Book of Secrets,’” says Mirren jokingly. “Instead, they hung me from wires, made me swing across abysses, covered me with dirt, dunked me in filthy, dirty water…and I had the best time of my life!
“Everyone was so nice to me, and I think a bit of fresh blood is always a good thing, you you’ve spent hours and hours with each other. A new face on the block is always kind of fun. I have to say that Nicolas is totally divine, and right from the moment I met him, he was incredibly welcoming. Jon kept us laughing all of the time with his wit and enormous energy, which is what you need to put this kind of material on the screen. And he has the ability to think on his feet, which is a really difficult thing to do when you have such a technically heavy film with huge sets and an enormous crew. The ability that Jon has to be light with the material is really quite a magician’s trick.”
For Turteltaub and many others in the cast and crew, working on a Jerry Bruckheimer movie was a gratifying repeat experience. “Jerry is brilliant and is extremely focused on very specific things,” says the director. “He’s the biggest advocate of artistic creativity that I’ve ever worked with. Jerry loves bringing in talented people. He doesn’t chase box office stars, he chases talent, and wants you to bring out the best in those people. And boy, he has a better sense of ‘the audience’ than anyone else, ever. They’re not the judging panel for the Oscars, they’re just people going to the movies, and he wants you to give them a great night out.”
Adds Nicolas Cage, of his fifth go-round with the producer, “Working with Jerry, it’s miraculous how it all happens. He creates a spontaneous environment in which you can’t help but search into the deepest part of your creative energy to find a solution to every issue. It’s like jazz. Everyone starts coming up with ideas at the spur of the moment that are very fresh and electric. On Jerry’s movies, you’re on a high wire without a net, and every time something good comes out of it. What’s what keeps me coming back, and I’d like to think that’s what keeps Jerry coming back to me.”
“Jerry is the producer of our day,” adds Jon Voight, who has worked with Bruckheimer on three previous projects. “He’s like the movie moguls of the past, but he’s a very down-to-earth, good man. Jerry is very hands-on in some ways, but on the other hand, he lets the creative process happen. His attitude is go in, do it, and let’s have some fun.”
Affirms Justin Bartha, “Jerry has such an eye and ear for quality in his films. He knows exactly what he wants, what the audience wants, and if you do not get that, then he will shoot until you do. That’s why, when you look at his track record, it’s pretty much flawless…because he has his finger on the pulse of what’s entertaining, and what an audience wants to see.” Adds Diane Kruger, “’Book of Secrets’ is the kind of movie that Jerry does best. It feels like we’re surrounded by a group of filmmakers who work all of the time, and know exactly what they’re doing. You feel safe with them.”
“As an actor on a Jerry Bruckheimer film, you feel very well taken care of in every way,” says Helen Mirren. “You’re treated with respect, and your life is made as comfortable as it can possibly can. There’s a high level of professionalism on the set from everybody. And then you walk onto a stage with huge sets that are fantastic to work with. Inside of every actor is a little child’s heart that finds these things incredibly exciting.”
Would Dame Helen want to do another “National Treasure” film? “Definitely,” she responds with a laugh. “Sign me up!”
“It’s always about the characters,” concludes Jerry Bruckheimer. “Since we have a very exciting plot, and you’ve already fallen in love with the characters from the first movie, now we’re bringing them back in a much more adventurous situation. What’s wonderful about this movie is that it’s for everybody. It’s intelligent, but your kid can still understand what’s going on, and it’s one of those pictures that, at Christmastime, the whole family can go to after dinner, buy their popcorn, sit there for a couple of hours and be really entertained.
“And when they walk out, they’ll ask questions about the story, and about the history that the story is based on. I think we’re teaching them something, and at the same time taking them on a ride that’s fun and challenging.”