It's fascinating that Peter Berg directed "Lone Survivor." Fascinating only in the respect that Berg's previous movie, "Battleship," was also a military themed film, yet "Battleship and "Lone Survivor" could not be more different from one another. But that's the thing about Berg: his films are hard to, let's say, pin down.
A story he tells ahead about his directorial debut, "Very Bad Things," pretty much illustrates exactly that: In the theater, he hears people laughing; outside, he sees a woman vomiting. The same man who directed the theatrical version of "Friday Night Lights" also directed "Hancock" and the aforementioned "Battleship." Berg refers to his early directing style as "creatively reckless." It might also be an apt phrase for his filmography.
Berg's latest, "Lone Survivor," is the true story of four Navy SEALs (played by Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Ben Foster and Emile Hirsch) ambushed by the Taliban in 2005. The film is based on a book by former SEAL Marcus Luttrell (Wahlberg), and Berg makes "Lone Survivor" an almost overwhelming re-creation of those events.
I met Berg at an Upper West Side hotel where we talked about "Lone Survivor," his lingering disappointment with the box-office results for "Battleship," and that poor woman who threw up at the premiere of "Very Bad Things."
This is an intense movie. It made me feel physically tired.
Yeah, that was one of all of our goals for everyone involved in the film -- to put someone into the experience of what these guys went through. And it was obviously a traumatic and violent and exhausting experience.
The first two acts especially do make you feel like you're with them. Is there a trick to doing that?
What might be the kind of secret ingredient, if you will, is the amount of research we all did before we ever started shooting. I spent two years developing this script and I got to go to Iraq and embed with the Navy SEAL platoon for a month. And I spent a of of time with Marcus Luttrell and a lot of time with the families of the soldiers who were killed.
I feel there's a misconception that this movie isn't for the squeamish. It's intense, but the violence isn't something that will make a normal person feel sick.
I think it's the totality of the intensity of the experience. Because it really happened -- and we stayed true to what really happened -- it feels much more gruesome, visually, than it really is. People have asked me about it: "It's such a gruesome, bloody film." Well, not really. Go look at a "Saw" movie -- it's nothing like that.
The scenes where the group is falling down the side of a mountain is exemplified by the sounds being made when they hit a tree. What was used to make that sound?
It's hitting trees.
So people who were mic'd up?
Yeah, people mic'd. Our sound designer, Wylie Stateman, is phenomenal ... his crew of sound freaks just go out and recreate these sounds.
Taylor Kitsch is really good in this movie. I feel he got some heat for "John Carter" and your last film, "Battleship." I don't know how you feel about that ...
Look, I love Taylor Kitsch. I'll work with him as long as he'll work with me. You know, he had a rough year. Anybody who has a career in this business is going to have highs and lows.
He was thrust into two big budget features.
Jettisoned into these two huge films, which, you know, had mixed results, obviously. But the thing I like about him is that he never looked back. He never complained. He never felt sorry for himself. He said, "What's next? Let's keep working."
Of all of your films, are you most proud of "Lone Survivor"?
I'm very proud of it. It hasn't come out yet, but I feel like, in some ways, it has. I've never had such a satisfied experience making a film.
I have been in the minority as supporter of "Battleship," but I have wondered if you were you surprised that it didn't do well?
You know, it was obvious early on that there was a large majority of critics that had it out for that film, based on just concept alone. I wasn't completely shocked that we had trouble performing domestically. The film performed very well internationally. You know, it is what it is.
I still quote "Mahalo, bitch." Wait, no ...
[Laughs] "Mahalo, motherfucker!"
Of course I get it wrong in front of you.
And we had a 90-year-old Navy vet who says, "Let's drop some lead on these motherfuckers." That was my favorite line. That was his line, too, "Let's drop some lead on these motherfuckers!"
I've grown an appreciation for your first movie, "Very Bad Things," since I first saw it.
I get reactions a lot from people who just found it. Generally, what's consistent is there's a very, very strong reaction. It's very polarizing. People either got it and went with it, or they were just completely repulsed by it. It was my first film and I was very creatively reckless and was doing anything I wanted to do.
But creatively reckless can be a good thing.
Oh, I think so, too. I look at "The Hangover" and I look at us as the grandfather of "The Hangover."
When you first saw "The Hangover," did you feel like you had already made that movie?
I mean, I think "The Hangover" was really funny.
Bradley Cooper in "The Hangover" is more likable than Christian Slater in "Very Bad Things."
A little bit, yeah. We pushed it. I knew "Very Bad Things" was going to be an interesting ride when, at the first screening, people were laughing so hard. I've never heard people laugh that hard. Then, in the middle of it, this woman got up and kind of ran out of the theater and a guy was chasing after her. I walked out and there was this woman bent over a garbage can about to get sick. Her husband was standing next to her and I was kind of like, "Is she OK?" And the husband looked at me, "No. She's not OK. Please stay back."
Did they know that you were the director?
No. But I can hear laughter coming from inside the theater and this woman is getting sick in a garbage can. And I was like, "Gah. This is going to be a tricky one." Westwood. This was in Westwood.
I know you were a producer on the "Friday Night Lights" television show and directed a couple of episodes. It doesn't happen very often that a television show overshadows the movie. Maybe "overshadow" isn't the right word.
No, it overshadowed the movie.
Is that weird for you?
There are moments when I'll be with Garrett Hedlund or Lucas Black or Billy Bob Thornton -- and we'll talk about it and we're like, "Hey, we did a movie, right?" Like, "We did do that movie!" I mean, I don't feel bad about it. I always felt that one of the frustrating things about doing that movie was there was so much in Buzz Bissinger's book that made that movie work that we weren't able to fit into the movie. It talked a lot about racism, it talked a lot about academics and how we allocate money to schools and how much money goes to athletic programs versus academic programs -- religion and abortion and all of these themes were in the book. So, we felt like one of the reasons we did the show was I felt there was a lot more to discuss. So, I kind of look at it all as one big experience. You know, the football [action] in the movie was better than anything we were ever able to do on the TV show, but that's sort of what we were focused on. So, I'm happy. I'm happy that the whole "Friday Night Lights" experience has landed like it has.
Mike Ryan is senior writer for Huffington Post Entertainment. You can contact him directly on Twitter.