Combining skills as a director, writer, actor and producer, Peter Berg made his feature debut with ”Very Bad Things” (1998), a cult flick starring Cameron Diaz, before going on to helm the actioner ”The Rundown” (2003) and the critically acclaimed football movie ”Friday Night Lights” (2004), which spawned a critically successful TV show. On TV, Berg created the ABC drama ”Wonderland” (2003) and wrote for, and directed on, Chicago Hope (1994). As an actor, he appeared in ”The Last Seduction” (1994), ”Collateral” (2004), ”Cop Land” (1997),” The Great White Hype” (1996) and a string of others. He also enjoyed a recurring role on the ABC show ”Alias” (2001). He directed Will Smith in ”Hancock” (2008) and takes on the directors role on ”Battleship” (2012), the blockbusting action picture starring Taylor Kitsch, Alexander Skarsgård, Rihanna and Liam Neeson, which is about to be released on DVD and Blu-ray.
From where does your interest in the US Navy and warships stem?
My father was a Marine in the United States Marine Corps and served in the Korean War. He had a great love of war and history, particularly Naval war history, and when I was a kid he would lecture [to] me and read me stories. At High School I wrote papers on the Pacific campaign that predicated the Battle Of Midway, which is the turning point of the American-Japanese side of WWII. So maybe the Navy is always something that I have been interested in. I flirted with doing a movie about John Paul Jones and also the whaling ship, Essex, which is what Herman Melville based Moby Dick on, which is a true story of a whaling ship out of Martha’s Vineyard.
When specifically did Battleship come to you?
Battleship came to me in a quiet moment when I was in the early stages of Hancock. I was thinking about future projects. You have to be forward looking and I thought about Transformers and how successful that had been and I thought, ‘I want to get into that business.’ Battleship seemed the opportunity to take my love of naval warfare and naval history and go meet the modern Navy. I have a very good relationship with the Navy based upon a movie called Lone Survivor (2013) that I am going to do next. I went to the Navy and they took me to Pearl Harbor and they wanted me to see their new destroyers. The destroyers are what you see more of in the film than battleships. They are brand new and very expensive, costing a couple of billion dollars each and their capabilities are ferocious. The weapons systems on them are so sophisticated and the first time I went there I took my son, which was a fun thing to do. We were on board this brand new ship at Pearl Harbor and seeing the nuclear missiles and torpedoes on them, and the different types of weapons systems they have just blew my mind.
Have we ever seen this much naval hardware on screen before?
Never. Ever. The thing is these ships in the movie had never been filmed. They are called Aegis Class Destroyers. Aegis is the Greek word that means shield and they are called that because they have got this radar system where they can see everything 400 km away; everything in the air, on land, under water, and they sit there in these rooms that look like something out of Star Trek! The more I learned about these ships the more I am like, ‘Wow! Incredible. You have never seen anything like them!’ So we started filming them and I would show parts of the movie to people who knew there were going to be alien ships in the film and my friends would go, ‘Are they the alien ships?’ They had never seen warships like this, especially the Japanese ships because they are much cleaner. They really do look like giant monsters themselves.
You went out filming with the world’s navies during RIMPAC [Rim of the Pacific Exercise, the world’s largest international maritime exercise]. How was that?
We had cameras out there for a month filming all the actual ships. I only went there for a week, but we had crews embedded on the ships for a full month. They came off a little crazy, but they knew what they were getting into! We filmed crews on these ships, boats, and then we had helicopters doing a lot of aerial work.
Do you know how many ships took part?
There were 30 from all over the world; South Korean, Australian, English, American, a Singapore ship, ships from Japan. It was an awesome sight.
How much of that filming made it into the movie?
That gave us a lot, but that was before we started shooting the film. We did what I call a ‘land grab’. We took whatever we could. Then during editing of the film we knew that we might need a shot of a real destroyer making a hard left turn and then stopping because that fits into what we need — so we went out with just one destroyer and had it do exactly what we wanted it to do. Then we built computer CGI destroyers that we could destroy and do whatever we liked with. It is a combination of what we had filmed at RIMPAC and that. The Navy was a partner of ours in the film so we could take these Navy ships out and if we wanted them to fire certain weapons for us, they would fire them. Just getting them to manoeuvre the way we wanted them to was very helpful.
Why did you cast Rihanna in the movie?
There are a lot of women in the Navy and some very attractive women in the Navy, some of whom are in the film as extras, really feminine and beautiful women who are also confident and strong and able to exist in a masculine world without giving up there femininity. I met dozens and dozens of women like that and I wanted to put a female sailor in the movie. I had this idea that she could handle machine guns, fire nuclear missiles, fire torpedoes and radar controlled Gatling guns; someone who was more than willing to get their hands dirty. I wanted to write a tough, visceral female character. We couldn’t go with Michelle Rodriguez who is ideal for those parts but that kind of energy was right and I think that Rihanna had always struck me as being urban and scrappy and tough, but also very beautiful. I had had a very good experience with Tim McGraw, the country singer, who was in a movie I did called Friday Night Lights and he was also in The Kingdom (2007) and he was great. Musicians like Tim or Rihanna, they are performers and entertainers and actors. These people are inherently good at performing, or can be. I love the idea of taking people like that. I was a fan of Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson and David Bowie when he did acting, even Mick Jagger with his crazy film performances, which I love.
What was your thinking behind the creation of the aliens in the movie?
My idea was I liked the idea of creating a very credible situation, in the vein of a District Nine (2009) or in a Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979), a believable science-fiction component where we had made contact and something comes and visits this planet for a specific reason, in this case a planet that has a similar relationship to their sun as we have with ours. These are called Goldilocks planets. NASA has a satellite that had already found two Goldilocks planets. One is just eight million light years away which is not a lot. It is a solar system with a sun that has a similar frequency to ours, and this is fact. They have identified this specific planet that is in a similar position in relation to their sun as we are to ours. These planets could have life and we do send signals up and have been for 15 years now. Stephen Hawkins came out in this documentary a while ago and said it is a mistake to be sending these signals up. If someone finds them and if they do come, the theory that they will be friendly is probably not accurate. They will probably be looking for resources and they are going to want them. They are going to want what we want. Just in the way we covet oil and diamonds. We harvest resources. I liked the idea of something from a planet, a small group, a recon group looking for a small planet that has resources.
How about their design?
The actual design of the alien ships came from water bugs — those mosquito-like creatures that are in the water. They kind of have legs that come out and they look pretty mean. They jump on the water. That was the initial inspiration that I sat down with the designers from Industrial Light & Magic, which is George Lucas’s company that did Iron Man (2008, 2010) and Transformers (1986, 2007, 02009, 2011). They are fantastic designers. The key philosophy of Battleship, as far as the aliens go, was that there were not thousands of alien ships invading Earth. There were only a few and one of them is in trouble. One of them breaks so the aliens are in trouble and they need to get a signal out and getting that signal out is the threat in the film. If we allow them to get the signal out we know that there will be an invasion and if there is an invasion we may win, we may lose but it will be a bad fight, a very, very bad fight. We don’t want that fight.
Do you believe in aliens?
I had an experience with night vision goggles. Go out to a dark place in the country, a desert preferably, and look up at the sky with night vision goggles and look at how many stars you will see; millions and millions. That will amaze you. The first time I did this I was like, ‘Is this real?’ You look at all these dots and it looks like that, those black dots in the ceiling. You can’t believe how many. The amount of shooting stars – they are shooting constantly. Go to a high-powered telescope in an conservatory. Go and do it. The amount of stars out there, and each one of those stars is a solar system. Each solar system is full of planets. There is no way, no way there’s not other life out there. So, yes I do.
“Battleship” is on DVD and Blu-ray August 9
To win 1 of 5 copies of “Battleship” on Blu-ray, out August 9 from Sony Universal Home Entertainment, email us your name, address and the answer to this question “Which Australian rock stars provide one of their songs to ‘Battleship’?’ (Entries Close August 8)
Peter Berg (Hancock) produces and directs ”Battleship”, an epic-scaled action-adventure that unfolds across the seas, in the skies and over land as our planet fights for survival against a superior force. Inspired by Hasbro’s classic naval combat game, Battleship stars Taylor Kitsch as Lt. Alex Hopper, a Naval officer assigned to the USS John Paul Jones; Brooklyn Decker as Sam Shane, a physical therapist and Hopper’s fiancee; Alexander Skarsgard as Hopper’s older brother, Stone, Commanding Officer of the USS Sampson; Rihanna as Petty Officer Raikes, Hopper’s crewmate and a weapons specialist on the USS John Paul Jones; and international superstar Liam Neeson as Hopper and Stone’s superior (and Sam’s father), Admiral Shane.
“Battleship” is on DVD and Blu-ray August 9