Pete Berg is an American actor who has also spent the last 15 years in and out of the director’s chair. With films such as Hancock, The Kingdom and Very Bad Things on his CV, he is best known for his TV series Friday Night Lights, starring Taylor Kitsch, about a team of American Football players and their families in small town Texas.
Here he talks to View’s Matthew Turner about the inspiration for his latest film, Battleship, also starring Taylor Kitsch, why he believes in the need for product placement and why he included a real life navy veteran in a major role.
What attracted you to the film and how did it come about?
My dad was a Naval Historian and I grew up spending a lot of time in Navy Museums all over the world. Spent a lot of time as a kid studying World War II Navy history in particular, the Germans against the British over here and the Pacific side, the Americans and the Japanese.
I'd wanted to do a naval film for a long time – I grew up on boats. My dad was a big sailor. Flirted with probably five different stories, the Bismarck being one of them. John Paul Jones, the founder of the American Navy was a Scotsman. The Indianapolis, which was a Navy ship that sank between the Philippines and Hawaii. And a couple of others. They were all really expensive and most of them end with everybody getting killed.
So the idea of Battleship, I thought I could do something fun and entertaining in kind of the summer popcorn spirit and satisfy my desire to do something on the sea.
Apart from the lifelong interest, did you do any specific research?
Yeah, I spent months on Aegis class Destroyers, lived on them, learned them from top to bottom and developed a real comprehensive understanding of how these ships work.
I was surprised to discover just how much of the film was shot on actual ships – your natural inclination these days is to think they're CGI-ed. Can you explain the balance between the real thing and the effects?
Well, we had a real good relationship with both the United States Navy and the Japanese Navy, so we had access to those ships and those crew members. That being said, we couldn't fight those ships and we certainly couldn't sink those ships, so whenever we could use the real ships, we did and whenever we had to move into areas that were just impossible to film, we took advantage a great F/X house and had them design, I thought, pretty solid effects for us.
I'm embarrassed to tell you how long it took me to get that they were playing Battleships in that sequence. And I didn't even get the pegs until yesterday when somebody pointed it out to me. Can you talk about how that came about, the blending of the game elements into the film?
Yeah, there was so much kind of inherent scepticism, particularly in the States, when it came to Battleship and people were kind of scratching their heads and saying, 'This movie doesn't make any sense as a film. How does this benign game of two people randomly calling numbers – how are you ever going to turn that into a movie?' So for me, there was a little bit of a challenge involved in saying, 'You know what? I actually think we can and we can reference the board game in a way that feels fun and feels clever.'
And again, we set out to make a summer popcorn film, we didn't set out to win Academy Awards, we didn't set out to make a hard-hitting drama. I've made dramas, I'm about to go make another one – I wanted to make this film for people that wanted to have a fun time in the movie theatre. So to try and figure out fun ways of referencing the game was just part of that experience.
I imagine Hasbro must be pretty pleased?
Yeah, I mean, between Transformers, GI JOE and now Battleship, they have a pretty good thing going.
Do you have a favourite scene in the film?
You know, I'm a sentimentalist and I love the military so much – a lot of friends are in the military – and again, as fun as the movie is intended to be and the spectacle of it, that's all big, but for me, probably my favourite part of it is this little scene that we shot at a place called the Intrepid Centre with soldiers who'd all been injured in the war and these new young kids who've lost their legs or their arms or both, or they've been burned over 80% of their body. Without getting all heavy, it meant a lot to me to be able to go there and film.