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National Treasure: Book of Secrets - Jon Turteltaub interview

Jon Turteltaub, director of National Treasure: Book of Secrets

Interview by Rob Carnevale

JON Turteltaub talks about some of the challenges of filming National Treasure: Book of Secrets on location at The White House and Buckingam Palace, and working with a producer of Jerry Bruckheimer’s stature…

Q: How did you persuade the authorities to let you film at places like the White House and Mount Rushmore?
Jon Turteltaub: Oddly enough, the most difficult part about shooting at these well-known attractions is to work with them so that we’re not destroying the ability of the public to enjoy these places. They were less worried about security or whether we were going to set fire to the Eiffel Tower or something like that. They just don’t want to get letters from tourists saying we ruined their vacation. That said, we were shooting at the Lincoln Memorial and trying to be very discreet by staying in our little corner and not disturbing all the families that were there to see Lincoln, but they were far more excited to see Nicolas Cage!

Q: What about when you were filming around the White House?
Jon Turteltaub: We were told it was no problem and we could shoot that morning. But after 9/11 things got a bit trickier, of course. But oddly enough, if you want to shoot on the grounds of the White House, then that belongs to the Secret Service. The sidewalk in front of the White House is a mixture of Homeland Security and the Secret Service. The street next to the sidewalk is the City of Washington DC. And the sidewalk across the street goes back to the Secret Service. So, it gets a little crazy!

We were standing in the street at one point and we were told we would have to leave. We said we had permission only to be told we had to leave because the President was coming out. The President came out, he made a speech and they made all of us walk away and we stood off to the side. We waited an hour… and Disney still said I was the one who was an hour over schedule [laughs].

Q: Did Dame Helen Mirren put a good word in regarding filming at Buckingham Palace? And how was coping with the notorious London traffic?
Jon Turteltaub: Well, she probably could have put a better word in before she made The Queen. And oddly enough the hellish traffic sort of helped us. You can’t really shoot a car chase in London. To travel the distance that they travelled in that car chase would take about three weeks in London. So, what we were able to do is close certain streets. But we could only shoot on Saturday and Sunday mornings. So we could only shoot for a few hours a day over three months. Helen could have helped [with Buckingham Palace] but we just kept her so busy with other things – like getting her wet and throwing mud on her – that I think by then she was done helping [laughs].

Q: When you asked Helen Mirren to play Nicolas Cage’s mother did you think there was any chance she’d agree?
Jon Turteltaub: I just thought that she would never want to do it because I always assume that nobody ever wants to do anything with me [laughs]. So, you rely on Nic [Cage] and Jerry [Bruckheimer] and the studio and cash to attract people. It was surprisingly easy. She was sent a script with it mentioning that she was to play Nic’s mother and she said “yes” and that was that. I couldn’t believe how quickly and easily it happened. I wish Disney had made the offer sooner. For whatever reason they waited till after she had won the Oscar – so we probably could have saved a little money there [laughs].

Q: How would you describe your working relationship with Jerry Bruckheimer?
Jon Turteltaub: You go in knowing there has been all this success and you don’t want to be the person who ruined Jerry Bruckheimer’s career. You really want to live up to his standards. The way Jerry works is that nothing is ever as good as it can be. Other producers may settle for good enough, but with Jerry it’s never good enough; it can always be better. There’s always more time. It makes some people crazy because you could save money if you stopped on the day they told you to, even if your movie isn’t finished. But what you get as well is that you know Jerry is not going to be beaten down by the studios who might say you’re out of time so it’s OK if it’s just average. He will tell his director to keep going and he will find you a way to get the time and the money.

Q: What would you like to discover from the conspiracy theory secrets that are contained within the president’s book seen in the film?
Jon Turteltaub: That Monica [Lewinsky] was not the only one… there are bound to be some phone numbers. Things like that… And Clinton probably wasn’t the only one – I’m sure that Calvin Coolidge had quite a little hottie back there in 1924.

Q: Have history teachers been in touch to say thanks for National Treasure getting kids interested in history?
Jon Turteltaub: Actually, yes. I have spoken to a lot of teachers who said watching the movie has become required material at their schools. They use the film not just as a teaching tool, but also as a way of stimulating interest in history…to say that the learning of it can be exciting. It’s a jumping off point; it’s certainly not a comprehensive history education by any means.

But in the same way that seeing an Indiana Jones movie would get you interested in Ancient Egyptian artefacts, this film got people a little more interested in history because we use in the film historical things that still exist, such as the desk in Buckingham Palace or Mount Rushmore. These aren’t ancient, lost things, these are things that are still there. So you want to bring more interest to what we see every day.

b>Read our review of Book of Secrets