Peter Berg discusses bringing "Battleship" to film

LOS ANGELES Thu May 17, 2012 4:37pm EDT

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Peter Berg parlayed successful acting work on TV shows like medical drama "Chicago Hope" to an even greater directing career of movies such as "Friday Night Lights," which later became a TV series, and the Will Smith action flick "Hancock."

On Friday, Berg's latest film, alien-invasion actioner "Battleship," steams into theaters. It takes its title from the Hasbro board game in which two players engage in a guessing game to see who can sink the other's naval ships.

The film uses the board game as a jumping off point to tell of two brothers (Taylor Kitsch and Alexander Skarsgard), both Navy officers, whose ships must battle aliens invading Earth.

Berg spoke with Reuters about the film, his own memories playing the board game and why he cast pop star Rihanna in her first acting major movie role as a petty officer.

Q: Were you given any particular instructions from Hasbro when trying to adapt the board game to the big screen?

A: "'Battleship' was a great creative exercise. I was under no mandate to do anything but make an entertaining and compelling film. That being said, it was a lot of fun for me and the writers to come up with creative ways of referencing the game. One of my favorite sequences is almost a literal reference to the actual game of 'Battleship' where we see some low tech attempts to locate the enemy."

Q: Another reference is a variation of the famous phrase in TV commercials: 'You sunk my Battleship!' Any others?

A: "There was a variation, yes. And if you look closely at the weapons that the aliens fired, they just might resemble those old plastic pegs from the game, only a little more vicious. Also, the idea that the radar is out and we cannot locate the enemy, we cannot see the enemy, we are fighting blind. Those are just a couple of references. If you pay attention, I think you can find a few more."

Q: Did the Navy have strict rules you needed to abide by if you were going to use its equipment?

A: "I have a very good relationship with the Department of Defense and the Navy in particular. My father was a Naval historian and a Marine. I was brought up going a lot to Navy museums and listening to stories of the great battles of history. The Navy expects you to be reasonable. If you want the privilege and the luxury of filming on a $2 billion destroyer that's fully loaded with all kinds of missiles, you can't portray Navy SEALs doing things Navy SEALs can't do. All they asked is that I be fair to their rules."

Q: Like what?

A: "We had an actor playing a sailor in a supporting role. He showed up to Hawaii about 30 lbs overweight. The Navy has a very strict body fat rule. They told me this actor was not acceptable and could not represent the Navy. I couldn't argue over that. I had to tell this actor he lost the job. We had to get another actor."

Q: You cast many real-life war veterans. Their wars were real, in 'Battleship,' it's aliens. Why mix reality and fantasy?

A: "It was an opportunity for me to pay respect to veterans. That is a group I think we can all pay respect to, whether we serve or we don't. The alien component was brought in to help soften the reality of the war that we're all living with today. I wanted this to be a fun summer movie, not a bloody war about America and China killing each other. We have enough problems in that area today. I wanted to make a film that was as escapist as anything else."

Q: "Battleship" has already made $215 million overseas. Why do you think a film about American soldiers is playing so well internationally?

A: "At the end of the day, the movie is about people. You stop thinking about these sailors as representatives of an army. They're young people trying to survive. I felt that if we could accomplish that, the jingoistic aspects of the film could be diminished and people would get on the ride and go with it."

Q: This is singer Rihanna's big screen debut. Were you confident she could act?

A: "I had success with (country singer) Tim McGraw in 'Friday Night Lights' and 'The Kingdom.' In the case of Rihanna, I always felt she had such tremendous presence and charisma. When I met with her, it was apparent to me that she had everything it took for this role. I felt very confident I could get the performance out of her."

Q: Do you have any personal memories playing the Battleship board game as a kid?

A: "I remember it was the first time my dad talked to me about cheating. I was maybe five and my dad said, 'G7' and it was a hit. I realized I could possibly move my ship so I said, 'Miss.' I had a horrible poker face. My dad asked me if I was telling the truth and I said no. The game provided me with that first opportunity to do the right thing, to tell the truth."

(Reporting By Zorianna Kit; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte)

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