Interview: ‘Battleship’ London press conference

With the forthcoming release of Peter Berg’s Battleship (2012), an action-packed, frenzied sci-fi adaptation of Hasbro’s classic game of strategy, CineVue were invited to attend a London press conference in advance of the film hitting UK screens in April. With a cast full to the brim with up-and-coming talent, including John Carter star Taylor Kitsch and True Blood’s Alexander Skarsgård, along with the big-screen debut of world-renowned pop star Rihanna, Battleship has all the trimmings to make it a summer blockbuster.

At the London press conference was the film’s director Berg, accompanied by key members of the cast, in the shape of Kitsch, Rihanna and Brooklyn Decker, who play the respective parts of Lt. Colonel Hopper, Raikes and Samantha; Hopper’s fiancée. The first question, inevitably, went to the film’s director, Peter Berg.

In the film, we see the familiar board game of Battleships and the strategy involved, but then we see aliens as well; can you tell us how the alien element came into this story? 

Berg: I have a lot of respect for the men and women who fought in the battles at sea during WWII, so I wanted to make a navy film, but I also wanted to make a big summer, popcorn, kind of badass movie; I wanted to have fun. The idea of England fighting China or the US fighting Japan seemed too rough, so I tried to figure out who the nemesis should be, and at the time I was watching a documentary by Stephen Hawkins on aliens; in it, he talked about these so-called “goldilocks” planets, much like ours, and how we are beaming messages towards those planets in hope of making contact. However, Stephen Hawkins said this was a really bad idea; if they’re out there, the chances of it going well are virtually non-existent, and that seemed like a credible way of getting into the alien component of the film.

Having made the movie, are you now believers in extra-terrestrial life?

Kitsch: I think it’s a lot more fun to believe it. It may be a bit naive to think that we’re the only one’s out there, so just for fun’s sake I think I believe it.

Decker: I think it’d be a little ignorant to say there is nothing out there; and movie makers have a lot of imagination, so to roll with that and make a movie out of it is a fun concept.

Rihanna: I never really used to put a lot of thought into it, but after the movie it’s made me want to look into it more. My dad used to make me sit out on the porch, all night long, looking for a UFO flying by [sic].

How did you all become involved with the movie? 

Kitsch: We’re friends first and foremost; he (Berg) cast me and gave me an incredible opportunity, playing Tim Riggins on Friday Night Lights, and we’ve been in touch ever since. I think trust is everything on a set, and the trust that we have is really an empowering thing as an actor.

Decker: The biggest trigger for me was that Peter Berg was directing. I am a big fan of his work, and in particular what he does with women. I think if you look at Rihanna’s and my character in the movie, they’re really strong, and that’s typical of Peter’s style. 

Rihanna, you mentioned in previous interviews that you wanted to take some time out to make a movie, so obviously this has been something that you’ve wanted to do for a while? 

Rihanna: It’s something I’ve been working on for a long time, but never did the right part come up. When I met Pete, I had no idea what the interview I was going into really was, and when I got there, the room was covered with these little figures he referred to as thugs; demo figures of what was to be used in the film. I was cracking up. Not until the end of the meeting did I realise that he was the director of the film and what it was about. He had me saying the craziest stuff right on the spot, and just told me that he thought I’d be great for the part. 

Peter, you’ve been in this from the word go?

Berg: I’m responsible [laughs]. It goes back to my desire to want to do a navy film. I call these sort of movies [sic] “super movies”, and I see them as the defining movies of this generation; these big, epic films. Some of the best filmmakers in the business are making films that have these incredible global reaches, and there’s so much room for creativity. I wanted to make one of these films and Battleship felt like the right one.

Rihanna, could you tell me about working with your trainer Jacqui?

Rihanna: She is actually a weapons officer, so she is actually the real life Raikes. I hung out with her a lot, listening to her iPod, watching her body language, how to handle weapons, and how to salute properly and do all the proper drills correctly. She was coaxing me along the way and I just wanted to embody her character. I did some personal training of my own before we got to set, and worked with a real soldier who was scary, scary, scary. He got me to the right emotional place, to get what this character was. There was a lot of depth to it. I was a lot more connected to the character because of the training. 

Rihanna, did this experience live up to your expectations of making a movie? 

Rihanna: It’s such a big film and I was so scared getting involved, but Peter’s experience filters through the set, calming everyone. Before you know it, you’re saying lines that weren’t even in the script. It was an incredible experience. I am looking forward to doing more films for sure. 

You’ve put a lot of old school rock tunes in there Peter, and you’ve been working with the legendary Rick Rubin. Can you tell us a little about that?

Berg: I wanted a rock vibe for the film, so we needed a real rock guitar player, and Rick asked me who my favourite rock guitarist is, and I was like, “it’s Tom Morello” from Rage Against the Machine, and he was like “yeah, no problem.” A day later I was in Tom Morello’s studio, and he had the film up on a screen playing to it!

On that note, time was up and the panel bid their farewell, leaving the press, and cinemagoers in April, to make their own decisions on Battleship – a film that has all the elements to make it one of the biggest movies of 2012.

Battleship is released in UK cinemas on 11 April.

Russell Cook