DETAILS: Your new film, Battleship, reportedly cost $200 million-plus and is based on a kids' game. Do you understand some people might have reservations?
Peter Berg: There's so much inherent skepticism—but there's a reason this game has been around for nearly 90 years. The second you hit my ship, there's this anxiety—and now you're going to get brutally killed. That's a cool DNA engine for a film.
DETAILS: You cast Rihanna as a weapons officer, which seems like a risk—but you had success with singer Tim McGraw in the film Friday Night Lights.
Peter Berg: Musicians have a long history of being great actors, going back to Frank Sinatra, who won an Oscar for From Here to Eternity. Dean Martin. Kris Kristofferson. Jack White acted in Cold Mountain. Rihanna came to audition wearing jeans, flip-flops, no makeup. I offered her the part and she said, "I'll do it, under the condition that you treat me like any other actor. Don't bullshit me." She came out there with no entourage, worked for five months, stayed in the same shitty hotel that we stayed in.
DETAILS: You were a successful actor in the nineties. Why did you give it up?
Peter Berg: There's a lot of insecurity and fear. And boredom. I remember being on Chicago Hope and sitting in my trailer...you're just at the mercy of so many forces you can't control. That was not acceptable to me.
DETAILS: I heard one of your nicknames is Dirty Pete. Care to explain?
Peter Berg: That's my boxing nickname. I used to fight dirty—cheap shots, elbows. I was never as good of a fighter, so I had to be a little dirtier.
DETAILS: What did you learn in the ring?
Peter Berg: What a real threat is versus a perceived threat. When I was younger and started directing, I was more volatile. When I was directing Very Bad Things, if anyone came up to me with even a whiff of an idea, I would attack them with everything I had. Favreau, Cameron Diaz, the grips, my mother—anybody with an idea, I perceived as my mortal enemy. That was out of fear. It takes courage to be collaborative.
DETAILS: In college, you lived with Ari Emanuel, the Hollywood agent who inspired Jeremy Piven's character on Entourage. What was he like then?
Peter Berg: He's always been the most fearless man I've known. We went to a Beastie Boys concert on New Year's Eve—maybe '89. He was totally sober. Didn't drink. But he decided he wanted to stage dive. He jumped up on stage—and nobody caught him. He landed fucking flat on the concrete. There were these huge Samoan security guards—one of them picked him up, and another hit him. Ari grabbed the guy by the back of the head, bit down on his face, and pulled a big piece of his cheek off. They were going to kill him. But the Samoan with the bloody face looked at Ari and said, "You're crazier than me. I like that. Now get the fuck out of here." That's a true story.
DETAILS: You just turned 50. Does aging concern you?
Peter Berg: Last night I was watching the NFL Combine. I was looking at these 20-year-old kids doing shit I know I'll probably never do. I don't think I'll ever run a 4.4 40 again. That's the only thing that bums me out.
DETAILS: Kyle Chandler was the heart of the Friday Night Lights series. But I read that you initially didn't want him. True?
Peter Berg: I wanted Dwight Yoakam. I only knew Kyle from his late-nineties drama Early Edition, and I thought he was a little soft.
DETAILS: Tim McGraw and then Yoakam—you really wanted another country singer?
Peter Berg: I was trying to make a deal with him, but his touring schedule was so elaborate. My casting directors kept pushing Kyle. Finally I was like, "All right." He showed up really hungover—reeked of alcohol, had huge bags under his eyes. He'd been at a buddy's birthday party. I was like, "Okay...Just keep drinking, you'll be great."
DETAILS: You were married once, back in the nineties. Would you ever get married again?
Peter Berg: Not on purpose. I love the idea of getting married. I love being in love. But the idea of getting divorced again is terrifying.
DETAILS: You were in a relationship with the model turned actress Estella Warren for years but split. Are you dating now?
Peter Berg: I'm doing all right. So far, so good.
DETAILS: Tim Riggins—Taylor Kitsch's character on FNL—used sex as a sedative. Ever done that?
Peter Berg: Of course. Haven't you? I mean, what else do you use it for? A demonstration of love?