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“Today, we celebrate our Independence Day.” Twenty-five years ago, those words electrified audiences, who braved long lines and sold-out crowds to see the most anticipated movie of 1996.
Independence Day, which opened over the July Fourth weekend, turned Will Smith into a global star, birthed one of the most famous speeches in cinema history, and changed movie marketing with an explosive Super Bowl ad remembered decades later.
It also established filmmaker Roland Emmerich as a master of destruction who would go on to helm films such as The Day After Tomorrow, 2012 and the upcoming Moonfall (the German filmmaker’s latest disaster pic, due out in February 2022.).
Before ID4, Emmerich and writer Dean Devlin were best known for Stargate (1994). In 1995, the duo emerged from a Mexican screenwriting binge with storyboards and an alien invasion script that sparked a bidding war among every studio in Hollywood.
That was only the beginning of their journey. The two went to battle with 20th Century Fox to cast Smith, whom the studio feared couldn’t sell the movie overseas. They had to reshoot the ending with just weeks to spare. And they fought to blow up the White House in a TV ad, something that was controversial, to say the least.
Independence Day went on to earn a massive $817.4 million globally, making it the second-highest-grossing film ever at that time. Here, the key players — including Bill Pullman, Jeff Goldblum, Vivica A. Fox, Randy Quaid and Margaret Colin recount how it all happened.
“PACK YOUR STUFF. WE ARE WRITING.”
Emmerich and Devlin recall the origins of Independence Day slightly differently.
ROLAND EMMERICH, director I went for a meeting at Warner Bros. They wanted to make a movie about a prison escape starring Harrison Ford. They said the budget was about $70 million. When I came out of the meeting I said, “Oh my God. A prison escape movie, $70 million? I could finally do the alien invasion movie I’ve always wanted for that.” I went into Book Soup and bought War of the Worlds. I read it, and I felt it was dated. I went to Dean and said, “I think I know our next movie.”
DEAN DEVLIN, writer-producer We were doing a [Stargate] press junket and a reporter asked, “Do you really believe that aliens built the pyramids?” We said no, and Roland interrupted me and said, “Yeah, but wouldn’t it be the most exciting day ever if we woke up and there were 14-mile-wide spaceships covering the sky?” He leaned over to me and said, “I think I have our next movie.”
EMMERICH I heard through the grapevine that Tim Burton was shooting a movie (Mars Attacks) very close to what I wanted to do. I called up Lorenzo [Di Bonaventura, then an executive at Warner Bros.]. I said, “When is that movie coming out?” He said, “Well, it’s slated for August .” So I immediately looked at my calendar and I said, “Dean, pack your stuff. We are writing.”
DEVLIN We rented a house in Mexico. We would talk about all the scenes and would do these 3×5 cards for every scene.
EMMERICH We watched all these ’70s disaster movies. We pretty much wrote a disaster movie.
DEVLIN I would go off in one room to write it on my little laptop and Roland would storyboard the scene in the other room. By the time we finished the script, we literally had the entire movie storyboarded.
EMMERICH We wrote that script in three and a half weeks. It was never changed. Not one word. We sent it to our agent, Michael Wimer, who immediately said, “Let’s auction it.” Our budget was $69.5 million.
DEVLIN Back in those days there were nine studios. All of them were bidding on the script.
EMMERICH Universal and 20th Century Fox fought over it. [Fox eventually won.] I had final cut.
“WE DON’T LIKE WILL SMITH”
Emmerich and Devlin negotiate a deal that grants them enormous creative control on the film — except when it comes to casting.
DEVLIN We had in our deal that we would agree to continue to work on the script, but in the event of a disagreement, the existing script would stand.
EMMERICH I told the studio, “There is this Tim Burton movie. It is a comedy. The comedy cannot come out first. So we have to tie in Independence Day.” At one point Bill Mechanic, who took over the studio, came to me and said, “We tested the title. It’s not working really well. We want to open this movie on Memorial Day.” I said, “Tough luck. It stays Independence Day. It will be released on Independence Day.”
DEVLIN The one character we had in our mind from day one was Jeff Goldblum. As we were working on the script, I would do my Jeff Goldblum imitation. Then we were basing his father [Judd Hirsch’s Julius] off of my grandfather, who was also named Julius.
EMMERICH Ethan Hawke was on our list too, but I thought at that time he was too young. It was pretty clear it had to be Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum. That was the combo we thought. The studio said, “No, we don’t like Will Smith. He’s unproven. He doesn’t work in international [markets].”
DEVLIN They said, “You cast a Black guy in this part, you’re going to kill foreign [box office].” Our argument was, “Well, the movie is about space aliens. It’s going to do fine foreign.” It was a big war, and Roland really stood up for [Smith] — and we ultimately won that war.
EMMERICH It was pretty shortly before the shoot and we still hadn’t locked in Will and Jeff. I put my foot down. “Universal people are calling every day, so give me these two actors or I move over there.” I don’t think it would have been a possibility [to actually move studios], but it was a great threat.
VIVICA A. FOX, Jasmine Dubrow I was working on Young and the Restless. Around town, all the African American actresses were auditioning for Will Smith’s Independence Day. I called my agent and said, “Hey, how come I didn’t get to audition?” I had done an episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air as Jazzy Jeff’s sister. We had great chemistry. She was like, “Honey, you are just on a soap opera right now. You don’t have a big enough name.” Two weeks later I got a call from my agent. “Guess who called looking for you? The folks from Independence Day.”
DEVLIN I knew Kevin [Spacey] since high school. We had just seen The Usual Suspects, an early cut. The original idea was to portray the president as a villain, and it was going to be a twist that he’s heroic when he gets in the plane [at the end of the movie]. That’s why we were pushing for Kevin Spacey. At one point we said, “We can get Kevin for $200K right now. In a year from now he’s going to win an Oscar and he’s going to [cost] $2 million.” The studio executive said, “Kevin Spacey will never win an Oscar in my lifetime.”
BILL PULLMAN, President Thomas Whitmore I’d heard it was a science-fiction movie. There were some rumblings about the part of the president. I remember thinking, “That sounds like the heavy lifting.” I had no idea whether the movie would come together or what kind of response it would get.
DEVLIN Once the decision came to go with Bill Pullman, it changed the whole character. I like it much better — making [the president] a guy who is trying to do well but [also] trying to compromise.
LISA JAKUB, Alicia Casse (daughter of Randy Quaid’s Russell Casse) I remember being in my dining room and auditioning for an alien movie and having my mom play a boy asking me if I wanted to die a virgin, and thinking I had an incredibly strange job.
FOX I had to audition six times to get the part. I go into the audition with this tight, white patent leather jumpsuit on with heels and makeup to show them I had a good little body. When we finished, [the casting director] said, “The character is a stripper. I see you’ve got a nice little body here in that white jumpsuit, but that’s [just] what she does for a living. She’s a mom.” She said, “I want you to go and watch Speed and look at the way Sandra Bullock is dressed, and how she carries herself.” I watched Speed. I went and got a cute little dress with ruffles, some combat boots and some ankle socks. As soon as I walked in, she goes, “You did your homework. Good girl.”
“ALL OF THEM WERE OUT THERE, IN THE BURNING HEAT.”
The production films in Utah, The Howard Hughes Spruce Goose Dome in Long Beach and in New York.
EMMERICH On the border of Utah and Nevada — the salt flats — there is a little town called Wendover. They have a couple of casinos there, which in summer nobody goes to because it’s too hot. Cheap hotel rooms. So we stayed there for three weeks.
FOX Me and Margaret [Colin] spent a lot of time in Wendover. We used to be in the jacuzzi hanging out, having margaritas when we weren’t working.
RANDY QUAID, Russell Casse I won a lot of money at the casino in Utah where we shot a lot of the film.
DEVILN The first thing we shot was the ending scene. We were out on the salt flats of Utah in 123-degree heat. They had a tent set up off-camera for everybody to gather in the shade. Roland does the first rehearsal and he sends everybody to the tent and the stand-ins come out. All of a sudden, Will Smith walks back out and excuses the stand-in. The other actors see him doing that and one by one, they came out of the tent. All of them were there, in the burning heat. It was a silent statement about the way this project was going to go. Will started it. This is not going to be a show of egos.
MARGARET COLIN, press secretary Constance Spano There was no endlessly waiting around for the fanciest person to come [to set]. You got to rehearse and be with each other and have relationships and get to know each other through the roles.
PULLMAN We were in base camp waiting for a shot when they announced the verdict to the O.J. Simpson trial on the radio. It was right then they knocked on the door. “Let’s go to set.” People were walking in small groups and no one was talking. Everyone is processing quietly and we got on the set. And it’s still quiet. We are waiting for Roland. And then Will said, “Woah, standing out here with a lot of angry white folks!” (Laughs.) Everybody burst into laughter. He just totally took the tension right out of the room.
JEFF GOLDBLUM, David Levinson We did the scene where we had cigars, and I’m not such a cigar smoker; it makes me a little groggy. So after many takes of that, we had a very nice assistant director who would be standing by. A couple of minutes before the take, he would get that thing going. Even getting it going is enough smoke that it would make me dizzy. He would put in his mouth, get it going, and before we called action, he’d give it to me and I’d start smoking it.
DEVLIN Whenever they would improv, I would sometimes come in and suggest a word to throw in. We already had so many Easter eggs. So I just ran in and said, “We’ll probably cut it later, but you got to give me the ‘must go faster’ line from Jurassic Park.”
GOLDBLUM I was loath to appropriate from some other character [Goldblum’s Dr. Ian Malcolm], and I hoped Mr. Spielberg wouldn’t be unhappy that we’d used it. I think it all worked out.
EMMERICH At one point Will says to me, “How do I know how to steer this UFO?” So we made a sticker. “Forward, backward, sideways.” He then immediately said, “Oh, I know what I do.” He does forward, but it’s the backward, so he bangs into something. And then Jeff Goldblum’s reaction is priceless. He turns the sticker around and goes forward. He says, “You go that way.”
GOLDBLUM I remember improvising the fat lady singing. “The fat lady. You’re obsessed with the fat lady.” Something like that. We improvised, we were fooling around, having a good time.
DAVID BRENNER, editor I just felt free to put in stuff I thought was fun and cool. Even if it sometimes was going to make a scene longer, you want to get this stuff in because you are not sure at the end how much comedy plays.
DEVLIN “I could’ve been at a barbeque” wasn’t scripted. I actually shot some of that on second unit. I said to Will, “Don’t even look at the text. Let’s just do a bunch of takes, and whatever comes to your mind, just do it.” We did like nine takes, and each one he did a different line. Roland picked the best lines from three or four takes and combined them. The one line that was written was, “That’s what I call a close encounter.” But all the lines leading up to it, that was Will.
COLIN It was hard work. It was long hours. I was scared. I didn’t want to blow it. Mae [Whitman, who played President Whitmore’s young daughter] used to tease me a lot. She would huddle up next to me, scene after scene. I’d say, “Look I’m not the nanny! I’m the press secretary!” And she goes, “Well, you’re my nanny.” So she just made me laugh all throughout.
GOLDBLUM I love Brent Spiner [Dr. Brakish Okun]. He’s released an album of songs, and the two of us would sing to relax ourselves with jazz standards before a scene. Harry Connick Jr. [Captain Jimmy Wilder] was fantastic. We became pals, which I was thrilled about. He came over to my house one day and we played piano together.
JAKUB I would fly in for a few days of shooting and then I’d go home and then a few weeks later I would fly in again for a few more days, and then I’d go home. So it was more challenging to get that chance to bond with my co-workers the way I had on other shoots. But I did get to bond with Andrew Keegan, who was the, “You don’t want to die a virgin” guy. He and I had worked together a few other times, so let’s just say Independence Day was not the first time we had made out. It was fun to actually get paid for something we were going to do anyway.
FOX The dog [owned by Fox’s character, Jasmine] was a humper. They would yell cut, and I guess me in those pants and everything, he would just jump on me. OK. Good thing I like dogs. Then I remember Ross [Bagley, Fox’s onscreen son] — it was hot. We were in the desert filming, driving in the truck and a couple times, he was tired. When he got tired, he would start crying. I remember one time, I was like, “Kid, can you please just cry when they yell cut?” We didn’t want to show him crying when you are having your heroic moment.
COLIN The White House set was stunning. It was intimidating. You could be in awe of the set. You could also look at the detail. Then Bill would come in with all of his authority as President.
FOX This was my first big film. I didn’t know what “checking the gate” was. 25 years ago, Roland had a strong German accent. I thought he was saying, “chicken in the gate.” Finally, I worked up the courage to go, “You guys, what does ‘chicken in the gate’ mean?” “No, he’s saying ‘checking the gate.’ That means we’re moving on, you did good.”
DEVLIN There was one moment with Robert Loggia [General William Grey]. When we did the scene on the airplane with Area 51, and they didn’t understand the scene. They were having a lot of problems. Roland asked me to talk to the actors. I realized they didn’t understand this was a comedy scene. I said, “Oh, play this for comedy.” I walked off and Robert went into a panic. He ran over to Roland and said, “Am I in the wrong movie? Am I Leslie Nielsen? Is this whole thing a comedy?” Then Roland is mad at me because whatever I said freaked out the actors.
PULLMAN I have a brother who is two years older than I am. Somewhere along the line, we decided the only actor who was worth talking about was Robert Loggia. And then I was on the set, and there is Robert Loggia! Wow. I said, “I never have done this, but if I can get the phone over here, could we call my brother?” I really hate that stuff. Every part of me cringes when I get asked to do that, people I don’t know and they are on the phone. I just don’t know what came out of me. He was so graceful and I never asked anybody ever again to do anything like it.
“OH MY GOD! I NEVER REWROTE THE SPEECH!”
Bill Pullman delivers one of movie history’s most iconic speeches, but the man who wrote it didn’t think it’d work.
DEAN DEVLIN The president’s speech — Roland said, “Just write something for now. It’ll be a temp, and we’ll work on that later.” I vomited out a speech. I don’t know if Roland even read it. I never reread it.
PULLMAN We shot it really late in the night. Maybe 2 a.m. I remember how good it felt to have a certain fatigue in it. The extras were tired. The ADs are tired. That fatigue can spread. And then I just thought, “This is good. It really feels like we need to get everybody roused up a little bit, and get ready for the fight.”
DEVLIN I was in the production office and they told me that they were about to start shooting the president’s speech. I literally panicked. “Oh my God! I never rewrote the speech!”
PULLMAN I had a collection of CDs called 100 Great Speeches. The one that really shook me was Robert Kennedy’s speech, which he gave after he found out Martin Luther King was dead. It was extemporaneous. I think he had heard just minutes before. What composure.
DEVLIN I come running down to the set to work on the speech. As I got there, Bill Pullman was rehearsing and all the extras freaked out when he did the speech. It was like, “Oh my God, this is great.”
PULLMAN There was a little hitch in the beginning of [Robert F. Kennedy’s] speech. Something like, “Can you lower those signs.” Some little moment he was dealing with, just trying to get people’s attention. I told Dean and Roland, “We should have trouble with the mic working.” Something like that. A little feedback, just trying those things that happen that you have to forbear before you start.
DEVLIN We were in the middle of a war with the studio over the title, because the studio wanted to name the film Doomsday. So I ran in and said, “Change the last line to, “Today, we celebrate our Independence Day.” That’s the only change to the speech that happened.
BRENNER I put that together and Dean and Roland were like, “This isn’t changing.” Some scenes you want to use temp music to help you communicate the emotion, and that was one of them. It was a piece from Apollo 13. It started with this trumpet and it was echoey. It had this military drum and it just rose. It was kind of our idea for how the music should be at the end.
PULLMAN A day or two later, Dean came to the trailer with a VHS and he played me the speech. “I want you to see it because we’re going to take this to Fox,” because we are trying to make a case for the title of the film.
“HOW ARE WE EVER GOING TO DO THIS?”
As Emmerich commands the live-action shoot, the director has multiple teams working in tandem to film miniatures and other effects. It’s a grueling, nine-month schedule for those teams.
VOLKER ENGEL, visual effects supervisor There was a little Italian restaurant we went to have lunch sometime, close to the Howard Hughes hangar where we shot all the studio work. Our discussions would sound something like this: “So, wait a minute. Are we blowing up the Capitol next week? Or is it the White House next week?” Finally, you realize how the heads turn from the other tables around you.
BRENNER There was no pre-vis [animation that shows how visual effects will look] at the time. We were putting in cards from the script. That’s what we were using to tell the story. That and sound. I showed Roland the first cut and we came across the destruction sequence where the aliens attack. After we showed the whole thing, Roland collapsed. He fell onto the ground and was like, “Oh my God. How are we ever going to do this?” Because he was seeing these visual effects shots that just didn’t exist.
ENGEL The Statue of Liberty was one of these very analog gags that we did. We had the idea of just backing up our lighting truck with all of our lighting equipment so it would then block out the sun for the Statue of Liberty, which was a miniature that was five feet tall.
GOLDBLUM Roland was so full of enthusiasm and confidence. I remember one day on a soundstage and him talking to somebody who was part of a unit shooting model shots, and I remember being impressed by, “Wow, he’s got to be a big field general to manage this whole thing.”
ENGEL We knew early on we would have to build a miniature of the White House. It was 15 feet wide and five feet high. We had to build it this big because to make a pyro gag look good, it had to be to a certain scale. We were lucky to have the late Joe Viskocil, who had already blown up the Death Star and worked on Terminator 1 and 2 doing all the pyrotechnical work. I realized how important the shot was when they put up rafters for journalists, a big press event to blow up the White House.
“YOU CAN’T ACTUALLY BLOW UP THE WHITE HOUSE.”
A key marketing decision sets the fate of the movie.
DEVLIN One of the things we had very early on was the idea of blowing up the White House in a TV ad.
EMMERICH It was very controversial. I had this idea that the ad is: the second of July, you see the shadows; third of July, you have the fire coming through; Fourth of July, the White House explodes. It was such a simple concept, and Fox hated it.
DEVLIN “You can’t actually blow up the White House in a TV spot.” Roland said, “Why?” And [Fox] said, “Well, because what happened in Oklahoma [City, where on April 19, 1995, anti-government extremists detonated a bomb in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, killing over 150]. It could be seen as insensitive.” And I said, “Yeah, but that wasn’t done by space aliens.”
EMMERICH I said, “We’ll test it: once with the White House, and once without.” [Fox exec] liked it so much when they saw the test result, they decided — in a very smart and clever move — that they would put this as the first commercial on the Super Bowl.
GOLDBLUM I’m a Steelers fan. I think I was watching it at a party at Jon Lovitz’s house. It was a raucous party. I remember thinking, “That’s my movie. I’m in that. Wow, how about that!” I don’t think I was privy to anything they were thinking of or were going to do. That was kind of thrilling.
EMMERICH We were an unknown film up to that point. From that moment, everybody talked about us.
“FOX FREAKED OUT”
With the release date approaching, Emmerich and his team learn from test screenings that the final battle has a big problem.
EMMERICH Peter Chernin was still the head of the studio, and they were not happy with the length of the movie. And so I was sitting one day with him in the editing room and I’m saying, “Peter. You tell me what to cut.” He had no idea how to cut anything out of this movie. We went through the whole movie. I said, “What about this?” [He said], “No. It’s good, it’s good. We need it.”
BRENNER We went on a plane with the Fox execs to this little theater in Arizona to show it to a secret audience. The projection was so bad that in the first shot, which starts on the plaque [on the Moon] and tilts up to the spaceship, you couldn’t see the spaceship. It was so dark. There was so much they couldn’t see, but the audience still loved the movie because of the story.
EMMERICH When we tested it, it tested through the roof. People said, “The only thing we don’t like was this crazy guy [Quaid’s Russell Casse] flies in his crop duster with a bomb roped to his plane. That’s unrealistic.”
DEVLIN In the original version, Randy Quaid shows up in his biplane, and he’s taped a bomb to the wing. And we meant it to be a Dr. Strangelove moment, where he flies into [the spaceship] with his biplane and the missile and he saves the day. We were watching it with the audience, and when he showed up with that plane, there was a big laugh. Roland turned to me and said, “That’s not a good laugh.”
EMMERICH In our original script, [Casse] was in an F-16. It was actually a guy who was the model for the Brent Spiner character, Brackish Okun, a guy called Jeff Okun [visual effects supervisor on Stargate] — he read the script and said, “Randy Quaid should use his crop duster, fly up there.” We said, “Good idea!” and changed it.
DEVLIN We wanted to reshoot it. The studio couldn’t understand why we would want to reshoot it. We were testing in the low 90s. We said, “We know it’s not the right laugh.” And so it was a one-day reshoot. We talked them into spending the money. And we ended up with a 98.
EMMERICH At the end we just had to pull out our old script. It was two or three scenes we had to do, and 16 shots we had to exchange. It was two weeks in front of the release. Fox freaked out.
BRENNER We added a story to him where he ends up being recruited as a pilot so he comes back, and they also upped his story about the alcoholic father who is searching for redemption.
QUAID I sat in my trailer for six hours waiting to get into the cockpit to say a bunch of nonsensical lines to a piece of tape.
JAKUB We all came back to Utah after we wrapped. I had already gone on to do another show. I was playing Joan of Arc. So they had cut all of my hair. We were all rushing around to try to find a wig for me. I just remember hoping that this new ending was impactful and dramatic enough that nobody was going to notice I was wearing a really terrible wig.
ENGEL When Randy Quaid flies his jet fighter into the big city destroyer, there was an Easter egg in there, when the tip of his plane he touches this laser cannon that came out of the alien city destroyer. We were looking for a good-looking pyro element and we actually used our Empire State Building, which we had blown up from top to bottom in another shot before, so we turned that on its head and layered that over this canon and reused it. This time, from bottom to top.
DEVLIN The last test screening we did was in Las Vegas and the audience didn’t know what movie they were coming to see. Roland and I are sitting in the back of the theater and the film starts. As soon as the audience sees Independence Day, they went insane. The movie hadn’t started yet, and the audience is freaking out, like we are in a rock concert.
BRENNER The camera pans up. We see the spaceship. And then something is wrong. The roar is coming in the wrong place. And then the white flash happens and it’s out of sync. Roland looks at me, and then the whole movie goes schooooo. And something broke. They had to turn on the lights.
DEVLIN And the lights come up and it takes us 10 minutes to fix the film, and the cheering never stopped throughout the entire 10-minute break. When the film started up again I turned to Roland and said, “We’ve got lightning in a bottle.”
EMMERICH We finished and shipped the movie [to theaters] four or five days before it got released, which at that time was a real risk. Because you had to send it all [in the] mail.
“FOX SENT HIM HOME.”
Select members of the team are sent on a lengthy press tour around the globe to promote the movie.
COLIN When I realized how massive it was going to be, it was a little overwhelming. I realized I had to hire a publicist and get in the game because all of the boys had a publicist.
DEVLIN In those days you didn’t do day-and-date. You opened in whatever country on whatever day was the best day. So for three months we were touring the world, opening it in France and Germany and Mexico. Will came with us to every territory, and he did every local news show, every local radio show, every single company. That man worked so hard, and by the end of that, he was an international star.
EMMERICH [Randy Quaid] was a pleasure to work with. [Quaid’s wife] was not on the set, so she only called him. So he was super great to work with when we were shooting, but when it came to ADR and all these things, you always had to deal first with [Quaid’s wife] to get to Randy. That was the only way to do it. Then when it came to travel, she behaved so badly that Fox sent him home.
DEVLIN That whole thing I find sad. I don’t know what was going on. She was causing a lot of problems and he loved her very much and the studio said, “We can’t have this.” It’s heartbreaking because I loved working with Randy Quaid. It was a great experience. He was so nice to me and so nice to the production. That whole thing is just kind of tragic.
[Editor’s note: In an email, Quaid denies these accounts and incorrectly writes that there was no press tour.]
QUAID There was no press tour. Independence Day didn’t need a press tour. Didn’t happen, but nice try.
[Editor’s note: After this story was published, Quaid further denied that his wife interfered in any way with his personal or professional obligations and denied that Fox sent him home from the press tour. Quaid said his agent at the time handled his work on Independence Day and his wife was not involved. Quaid also stated he was filming a Warner Bros. project in Las Vegas during the time the Independence Day press tour would have occurred and was never involved with one.]
“THE PRESIDENT WOULD LIKE TO SCREEN THE MOVIE.”
Emmerich, Devlin and Pullman receive a surprising invitation.
DEVLIN We were in the middle of doing a press junket in New York for the movie. The phone is ringing in my room. I pick it up and they said, “Could you hold for the White House.” I said, “What?” And they said, “The president would like to screen the movie tonight.”
EMMERICH All of a sudden we are standing in the middle of the White House, and Bill Clinton is chatting us up. They have the worst screening room there ever. It’s a former bowling alley, a little postmark of a screen.
DEVLIN In the front row is Hillary and Bill. And Bill has the largest tub of popcorn I’ve ever seen.
PULLMAN All three of us were in the back row, standing up, because we were too nervous to even take a seat.
DEVLIN Clinton waves to Roland to come sit down next to him.
PULLMAN Roland was so decisive. “I am German, I can’t go.” I thought, “That’s weak! You are the director.” And Dean, he wrote the speech! He said, “No, no, I’m too nervous.” By default, I said, “OK, I’ll serve the cause.”
EMMERICH Bill had to sit next to the president, right in front between [the Clintons]. Sandwiched in.
PULLMAN It was a little nerve-racking.
DEVLIN Remember in Amadeus at the end of the opera, it’s silent until the king claps his hands and then everybody claps? It was like that for every joke of the movie. No one wanted to laugh at a joke until they heard Bill laugh.
EMMERICH The first big destruction scene starts with blowing up the White House. In test screenings, a lot of people left right after, and then they immediately came running back. They didn’t pee earlier because they were so into the movie.
DEVLIN When we got to the moment the White House blows up, Roland and I are looking at each other going, “We’re in the White House watching it blow up.” It was bizarre.
EMMERICH Then, who runs out? Bill Clinton! One minute later, he comes back shaking his hands dry. Dean and I looked at each other and nearly started laughing.
PULLMAN At the very end, Hillary leaned over and say, “You really were great, and if we ever need to step away for a weekend we know who to call.” Bill wanted to give me a tour. So we ducked out after the movie. It was just me and him walking around, talking about, “This is the desk from 1812 where they signed such and such.” I thought, “I’m glad it was me that went to watch the movie in front.”
“THE LINE IS FIVE BLOCKS LONG.”
The film opens on July 2, 1996, for Tuesday previews, where it earns a staggering $11 million that night alone, on its way to $817.4 million globally.
FOX We are at the premiere, and afterward we are sitting at a restaurant eating and it’s great. Everybody loves the movie. And Roland leans over the table and he goes, “Did you know your first day of filming that if you weren’t good, we were going to fire you?” and I go, “What!?” He goes, “Yeah, the main reason we found out about you was [producer] Bill Fay’s wife, who was at home watching soap operas.” And I came up on The Young and the Restless.
QUAID I kept driving around the block and every time I turned a corner there would be more people. Then I turned another corner and there were still more people. People everywhere. Double lines. It was exhilarating to make something everybody wanted to see.
DEVLIN I think the record for a Tuesday preview was $5 million. [Fox exec] Tom Sherak would always do this thing in his office where he would bring everybody in who worked on the movie. And they would wait to hear how much money was coming in. All of a sudden Tom goes, “Quiet, quiet, quiet!” We all get quiet. He picks up the phone and he goes, “Uh-huh, uh-huh,” and he goes, (sounding dejected), “Oh, oh, oh. OK.” And he puts the phone down and looks at me and goes, “4.5.” We’re all disappointed because we all wanted to hit the five. And then he goes, “In the East Coast alone!” And then we just lost it. We were going to shatter the record. About 20 minutes later, Rupert Murdoch and his then-wife come into this room. He’s in a tuxedo and she’s in a ball gown, and they’ve walked out of some charity event to come to the room because they’ve heard about the numbers and Murdoch says, “Who produced this movie?” I nervously raised my hand. He came over and he kissed me. And then he walked away.
EMMERICH I do this in every movie, if I can. I always go far, far away from America. I rented a house in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico — the old part of town, on the coast. I was totally alone there. I got these calls. It was amazing. It was really amazing.
DEVLIN I’ll never forget that in Westwood, our movie was opening on the same day as a film across the street, a Jon Turteltaub movie [Phenomenon]. I look at the line, and the line is five blocks long. You had to have been in this line a long time. I look at the front of the line and the fourth or fifth person in line is Jon Turteltaub.
FOX I was in Toronto filming Booty Call at that time. [My co-stars and I] tried to go. Jamie [Foxx], Tommy Davidson, Tamela [Jones] and I tried to see it, and the movie was sold out around the clock in Toronto.
COLIN I remember seeing Jack Nicholson in Times Square watching it. He sat two rows ahead of me and he had a lot of the row to himself. Of course, I’m staring at him. It’s freakin’ Jack Nicholson! The lines that stuck out as being hokey he enjoyed, and the other stuff, it was head thrown back laughing and smacking his legs. He was fully committed to the adventure.
DEVLIN Shortly after the movie came out, Spielberg called us on the phone just to say how much he liked the movie and how he was so interested in how we combined genres. And he goes “I loved all of your references, especially to all of my movies.” He also said, “I Just want you to be prepared. Right now, everybody is celebrating your movie. But a year from now they are only going to focus on how much money it made. And they are going to somehow think the movie was not as good because it made so much money. But just know you made a great movie.” I used to always throw a giant party every year at [the Sundance FIlm Festival], and the very next year we threw our annual party and people were looking at us like we’re the Man, we’re the enemy — we did a commercial movie! (Laughs.)
EMMERICH Spielberg invited us to the Jurassic Park 2 set, and the first line he says to Dean and me is, “You guys reinvented the blockbuster. After this movie, nobody can do a normal blockbuster anymore.”
Sept. 3, 5:23 p.m. A previous version of this story misstated that Randy Quaid’s wife was his girlfriend at the time of Independence Day. This story has also been updated to reflect further denials from Quaid regarding the press tour for the film.
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