WonderCon 2012 Interview: Peter Berg And Brooklyn Decker Talk About 'Battleship'

– by Melissa Molina

When Peter Berg's "Battleship" was first announced, there were some skeptics out there who immediately shut down the idea of making that movie. It's a Hasbro game that'll be turned into a feature film, but it's not like this is the first time that a movie based off a board game has been made. Despite the mixed thoughts on "Battleship," Peter Berg and company have been moving forward with the sci-fi adventure movie and are excited to show it to the world. In the Hawaiian Islands, an international naval fleet at Pearl Harbor engage in a dynamic and intense battle against an alien species known as "The Regents". The aliens come to planet Earth on a mission to build a power source in the ocean. Upon their visit, they come in contact with the naval fleet.

We got the chance to talk with director Peter Berg and actress Brooklyn Decker who were more than happy to chat about their latest sci-fi epic movie from Universal Pictures.

When you first came onto "Battleship," was there already aliens in the script when you first came in or how did that happen?

Peter Berg: I had tried for a long time to do a nautical film. I wanted to do a movie about John Paul Jones, founder of the American Navy. He was like a great Scottish alcoholic womanizing tough bastard who George Washington later hired. We need a navy and he went out sort of fighting all these English ships, sinking them and he was a total stud. I was going to do that movie at Fox and then the "Master and Commander" series came up so that kind of killed that. Then I wanted to do a film about the Indianapolis. It would be a great film, the sinking of it was brutal, but we couldn't get that going. Then we tried to get the Essex story going. The Essex is a book called "In the Heart of the Sea" which ended in cannibalism, which is kind of hard to sell to studios.

Then about two years ago my partner and I were kind of figuring out what we wanted to do. We looked at where movies are today and I really think if you look at what guys like James Cameron, Jon Favreau, J.J. Abrams, Gore Verbinski or Michael Bay, these guys are making these films that I call super movies. They're going out and having this incredible global reach, they're taking the audiences places that they're never able to go. In twenty, thirty films we're going to look back at this time at these big super movies that have these huge visual effects components that are fun, that are global and I wanted to make one.

Could you do that with our without the aliens? 

Peter Berg: I didn't really think so without because after having read those books and studied naval warfare, there's very little fun about men dying out at sea. You get burned, you get shredded by metal, you get decapitated. If you live you get eaten by sharks, you end up drifting for years until you end up eating your friends, it's rough. I thought that the alien component, if we did it well and weather the storm of "Oh my God it's going to be this kind of movie," so many films have been done I felt we could find our own original way of doing it and I think we have. I feel like it opens the film up in the way that we want it to open.

Brooklyn, could you talk a bit about how you came onto the project?

Brooklyn Decker: Well I was shooting another movie at the time and I actually got a set of sides and was told that Peter Berg was directing but I couldn't see a script because it was very secretive at the time. At the mention of the name Peter Berg, I wanted to audition for it. So I sent in a tape from location and then I went to LA, auditioned for it three times after that and then finally I got to actually meet with Pete. I think he wanted to see how tough I was. We we're having so much fun, we're shooting in Hawaii and we get to shoot in these incredible locations in the mountains and in Pearl Harbor, but at the end of the day we're getting our butts kicked and I think Pete wanted somebody who can handle that. So he definitely put me through the ringer in my audition and--

Peter Berg: Whooped her up. [laughs]

Brooklyn Decker: He physically made sure I could handle everything. I think it was a Friday or Monday, he called and asked me if I wanted to be a part of it. So really Pete was the driving force for me and then of course, as it evolved, it became this really special, great project for all of us to be involved in.

Peter, is strong female characters actually something you aim for when you are making a film?

Peter Berg: I think so. We try to make all of our characters relatively strong and compelling but I think that a lot of times the women in some of my films, whether it’s Jennifer Gardner, Brooklyn, or Charlize (Theron) in "Hancock," represent some version of my ideal woman. You know they are all really strong, smart, beautiful women that can actually kick ass, which I think brings an inherent complexity if you can pull that off. Who wouldn’t want that?

Can you talk about the marketing of the film? As you said, you’ll inevitably come up against a negative response (because it’s a board game adaptation), how do you navigate around that?

Peter Berg: I mean I think it comes with the territory. Look we announced that we were making Battleship based on the Hasbro game, which as we all know consists of random seemingly completely strategy void lunacy. And we had Rihanna in it as our star, and we were out of our fucking minds. That was the initial reaction. Then people actually started to realize that there actually is a story, and it has been one of the more creative challenges of my life. We are taking people out in to this world. Rihanna is part of an ensemble and she is actually quite a good actress, as was Whitney (Houston), and Lenny Kravitz, and Mariah Carey, and Frank Sinatra, and Mick Jagger in “Performance,” and David Bowie, and Barbara Streisand, and Tim McGraw, and lots of them. So the whole idea of, “Oh my God, this is the most shocking and outrageous thing and how dare they put Rihanna in this film,” that all started falling away.

I always follow my own instincts when I make films. I’ve been doing this for a long, long time, since I was in high school. The first movie I ever made was about two guys playing the board game Stratego. One guy bumped another guy’s head and he went into a hallucination that the game is coming to life. I made that when I was fourteen. I’ve been making movies for a long time and I’ve never had skepticism and I don’t think there is a director that you will talk to whether it is Ridley (Scott), or anyone here it’s just part of … you have to ignore that to make a film and you are basically setting out to do the impossible, which is make people believe in something that is not real. There will always be doubters and I’ve enjoyed watching most of those skeptics start to turn around and singing a different tune.

On the heels of that question, marketing wise, with Taylor Kitsch also being one of the stars of your film, and with John Carter being released and not being extremely successful, does that concern you at all as far as selling the film on his name, or is the film such an ensemble piece that it really doesn’t matter?

Peter Berg: No not even in the slightest. I’m not even remotely concerned. “John Carter," if anything, suffered from marketing challenges and that is very common. The way in which a film looses its ability to find an audience is very complicated. You know, Hollywood is not stupid, contrary to popular belief; it’s really a lot of intelligent people trying to figure things out. They had some bad things happen on that film, and régime changes.

Are there lessons that you can learn from that going in to marketing your film?

Peter Berg: I think you have to really listen to your audience when you’re talking about marketing a film, which is much different than making a film. But when you are marketing a film and you’ve invested as much as some of these films that you’ve looked at today, there is a responsibility on the part of these guys to really kind of listen to what the world is saying. The tricky thing now is, because of what you guys are able to do with these (digital recorders) obviously it’s much harder to figure out who to talk to and how to adjust the message. How do you get a new message out if it has to be? But for us, I love Taylor. I know him very, very well. He’s like my stupid little brother, who I adore. And I’m his ass hole big brother that he wants to kill half the time. He’s a great actor. He’s very funny and charming in this film. I don’t even think about, I just hope “John Carter” makes so money back over seas.

"Battleship" will be out in theaters May 18, 2012.

Interviews, Film Battleship, Brooklyn Decker, Peter Berg, Universal Pictures