Peter Berg is sunk deep into an armchair in his hotel suite at London’s Claridge’s, rubbing his brow. He’s wearing a suit jacket approximately two sizes too small for him and the expression of a man simultaneously nursing an expensive hangover, transatlantic jetlag and the pressure of bringing the $200m blockbuster Battleship safely into harbour. After proving his big-budget action credentials with Will Smith’s drunk superhero movie Hancock, Universal handed him the keys to their brand new Hasbro franchise (complete with stars Liam Neeson, Taylor Kitsch and Rihanna) and all the political headaches that go with it – they’re spending another $50m on promotional tie-ins with the likes of Coca-Cola Zero and Subway alone. GQ.com lends an ear as he explains how he’s dealt with the inevitable jokes about making a film based on a children’s game, how Spider-Man changed everything for moviemakers and why the best way to wake up is with a “Breakfast of Booze”.
GQ.com: How involved were Hasbro in the making of Battleship?
Peter Berg: First of all, Hasbro doesn’t have any real creative input. They might have an idea, and I’ll listen to anybody’s ideas because I’m a very inclusive filmmaker – Hasbro have had some really good ideas. That being said, there’s a lot of scepticism and cynicism about the title and the fact that there’s a toy company involved. People have been very public about it: “What’s next, ‘Tic-tac-toe: The movie’?” At the same time, I’ve also met a lot of people who generally don’t write for websites or blog who say; “Wow! That’s awesome, I love that game!” So how it really pans out remains to be seen. I think at the end of the day the movie will succeed or fail based upon itself and once people have taken their shots at the title, they’re still going to take a look at the movie. If the movie is good and the marketing is good then it’ll work, if not, it won’t. I don’t think that the title of Transformers and Hasbro’s involvement in it had very much to do with the film’s success – but Michael Bay had a lot to do with it. Pirates Of The Caribbean didn’t owe much of its success to the theme park ride, it was a success because it was a Johnny Depp movie directed by Gore Verbinski.
What motivates you to make a summer blockbuster?
I’m interested in the business of movies. When I first started making films as a profession, Universal was the top studio. Stacey Snider was running it and back around 2000 they had movies like Meet The Parents and The Bourne Identity. They were number one. Their movies were making a certain amount of money, maybe $350-400m worldwide and were good movies with character and some effects. Suddenly Spider-Man comes along in 2002 and blows the roof off it! People realized that there was actually a bigger audience out there and a bigger appetite. It was Sam Raimi (a respected filmmaker) and Tobey Maguire (a pretty good actor) and the movie was actually really good! It made a lot of money all around the world. Suddenly people realised “Holy s***! There’s a new game!” When a movie like Avatar does the kind of business it does you have to realize that there’s an appetite for big spectacle that delivers. There’s gotta be emotion, humour and character but if you can take those things and add big, epic never-before-seen visual spectacle then you can make a mega-movie. If you look at the directors, guys like JJ Abrams, Jon Favreau, James Cameron, Gore Verbinski – these are talented filmmakers who understand the thrill and the rush you get making movies like that.
Are we supposed to sympathise with the aliens in Battleship?
I wanted the aliens to at least have a pathos because we see so many [science fiction] films where we don’t know what’s going on and they’re killing everything. I liked the challenge of making their thought processes and emotions part of the film. Making their desire to look out for themselves as relevant as our desire to look out for ourselves. There’s a scene later on in the film where there’s an encounter between an American scientist and an alien scientist. It’s a peaceful encounter where they just take the measure of each other and I think it’s my favourite scene in the movie. I also like the idea that the aliens didn’t start it – we started it! We didn’t mean to start it but there’s a series of misunderstandings. I’ve seen that happen in real life: giant miscommunications which end in violence.
Is there any truth to the rumour that you’re going to direct an N.W.A biopic?
No. I’m a huge fan of N.W.A. I was really into Eazy-E, like every other red-blooded, white American who thinks he’s a rapper from Compton. It’s not a movie I’m going to do but I hope somebody does it because it would be a great story.
Can you recommend a good book?
Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell. It’s going to be my next movie and it’s a hell of a book.
What’s the best thing you can cook?
The Breakfast of Booze. We make it every Super Bowl at my house. I got the recipe from Epic Meal Time. They’re my heroes. They’re some cooks from Canada who have a YouTube channel and they’re getting big.
What’s your whiskey of choice?
I’m a Jack Daniels man. As classless and American as that is, I grew up drinking Jack Daniels. Last night, though, I was drinking a 1966 Macallan. That was a treat. It was £500 for a shot of that.
Originally published by British GQ.