: Taylor Kitsch, Alexander Skarsgård, Rihanna, Brooklyn Decker, Liam NeesonDirector
: Peter Berg Genre
: Action, AdventureSynopsis
: Peter Berg (Hancock) produces and directs Battleship, an epic action-adventure that unfolds across the seas, in the skies and over land as our planet fights for survival against a superior force. Based on Hasbro's classic naval combat game, Battleship stars Taylor Kitsch as Hopper, a Naval officer assigned to the USS John Paul Jones; Brooklyn Decker as Sam, a physical therapist and Hopper's fiancée; Alexander Skarsgård as Hopper's older brother, Commanding Officer Stone of the USS Samson; Rihanna as Lt. Raikes, Hopper's crewmate and a weapons specialist on the USS John Paul Jones, and international superstar Liam Neeson as Hopper and Stone's superior (and Sam's father), Admiral Shane.
Berg directs this epic action-adventure also produced by Scott Stuber (Couples Retreat), Sarah Aubrey (The Kingdom), Brian Goldner and Bennett Schneir of Hasbro (the Transformers franchise), along with Duncan Henderson (Master and Commander) and Jeffrey Silver (300). The film is written by Jon Hoeber & Erich Hoeber (Red).Release Date
: April 18th, 2012An International Crew: Casting the Action-Adventure
As the script's action took shape, the filmmakers set out to populate their story with a band of heroes who happen upon their alien foes after investigating of a piece of debris floating off the coast of Oahu. Joining them in the production would be accomplished producer Duncan Henderson, who had helped to bring the ocean-set epics Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World and Poseidon to life and served in key production roles on A Perfect Storm and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.
When the Battleship team was researching the project, they spent time on destroyers in the Navy's fleet and made a visit to the U.S. military's Special Operations Command (SOCOM) in Florida. The team was impressed by the young men and women who populate the Navy's high-tech ranks, as well as the extreme situations for which they train. It became strikingly clear that at the wrong time in politics or war, these sailors could be in the middle of life-and-death situations for which they so arduously trained.
Scott Stuber shares that Peter Berg's depth of research and experience as an actor resulted in casting a group who did justice to the brave sailors they met. "Peter Berg wants to emulate everything the way it would happen, whether it's through an actor's performance or an explosion on the side of a ship," he says. "On Friday Night Lights, he didn't just read the book, he went to Texas to immerse himself in the world of high-school football. A lot of that comes from being an actor. Other actors trust him because they see he wants to get their best performance. He's takes these authentic characters and puts them in big worlds."
In crafting the film's protagonist, Hopper, Peter Berg and the Hoeber brothers imagined a character who is forced to grow up fast. A hothead kid who shoots from the hip, Hopper learns discipline through his naval service, especially from his older brother. Stone's frustration with his sibling leads him to insist that Hopper get his life together. "It's brotherly love taken to a whole new level," says Sarah Aubrey. "Still, Hopper is a guy who leads with his chin and is always looking for a fight."
"I think Battleship is autobiographical," laughs Brian Goldner. "In many ways, Hopper is Peter Berg. What I love about him is his willingness to bring that to the table. There are no filters. Peter Berg's right in there, creating a characterisation of someone who an audience can root for. Hopper is a tough guy, certainly challenged and with a history. You're going to see a depth of character that evolves. Peter Berg created a character who is real, emblematic and enticing to an audience."
Cast as Hopper was another longtime Peter Berg collaborator, Taylor Kitsch. The performer's work in the critically acclaimed television show Friday Night Lights has moved audiences since 2006, and his scene-stealing work in 2009's X-Men Origins: Wolverine finally brought to life Gambit, one of the most beloved characters in the X-Men universe. In addition to Battleship, Taylor Kitsch hits worldwide screens this spring as the title character in Disney's epic John Carter. In July, he will be seen in Universal's Savages, the new drama from Oliver Stone.
Truly, it would take a partner like Peter Berg for the actor to agree to cut his hair for the first time in 12 years. Peter Berg began his career in front of the cameras before he turned to directing, and his style has long meshed with Taylor Kitsch's. "I love the way that Peter Berg shoots with regard to freedom
no marks or anything like that," the actor commends. "Of course, I was used to his style from FNL and will always be grateful that Peter Berg gave me that huge opportunity to play Riggins."
Taylor Kitsch was also curious to explore the dynamic between the two brothers. He says: "That is what put me overboard, no pun intended: the arc of where Hopper starts in the story-from stealing and being arrested to the head shaving when he enlists-to his becoming a leader. As an actor, that's everything. You see his emotion through the loss he suffers, then watch as he becomes the ship's captain. Hopper never wanted to be this guy, but he's thrown into it unexpectedly and is forced to reach his own potential in the most extreme circumstance. Even though he's in the Navy, his core hasn't changed. This guy who's saving the world is the same guy who you met in the beginning.
"In comparison, Stone gives him a purpose, and Hopper owes everything to his brother," the actor continues. "Initially, he didn't want to reach his potential because of that risk of failure. He'd rather just sit and go with the flow because he can get by with no problem. But taking this risk is also risking failure, and that's something Hopper, in the beginning, just won't do."
Calling Taylor Kitsch "the real deal," Peter Berg flew to London-where the performer was in production on John Carter-to pitch to him. Taylor Kitsch recalls the meal: "The way Peter Berg does it, it's not like your average meeting. It's like this: 'You want to do this with me or not? Let's do it. Let's kill it. Let's make a badass, fun movie with a heartbeat in it!' To have that responsibility and challenge is everything. There was already a trust there, which is everything on set. You've got to know that your director has you, your character and, of course, the film's best interest at heart."
Taylor Kitsch shares the big screen with another television favorite, Alexander Skarsgård. The star of HBO's award-winning series True Blood was brought on to the production as Commander Stone, Hopper's disciplined older brother who convinces Hopper to get his act together by joining the Navy. Peter Berg met the performer for dinner, this time in Los Angeles, where Skarsgård is based while filming the show on which he stars as Eric Northman, the aged Viking vampire.
As it turns out, the eldest son of acting great Stellan Skarsgård was quite familiar with "Battleship": He played the game, known in Swedish as "Sänka Skepp" ("Sink Ship"), as a boy. "On meeting Peter Berg for the first time, I liked him," Alexander Skarsgård says. "His energy was enthusiastic, as was the way he talked about the project. When he discussed his father's fascination with naval history, you could see Peter Berg's passion come out. And I liked the dynamic between two brothers. Stone is diligent, hardworking, and attended the Naval Academy. He's very motivated. He also loves his younger brother, but he isn't sure how to help him."
"But Hopper doesn't have that drive at all," Alexander Skarsgård adds. "He screws up all the time, but he's also charming. Stone's approach is to let his brother learn and grow from his mistakes. He's tough on Hopper, but you feel the love between them and the connection there. You have to feel that he really cares about his brother or it wouldn't work. I really liked the dynamic of their story arc."
Alexandra Skarsgård took care in sculpting his role by requesting time on a U.S. Navy vessel, USS Benfold (DDG 65) to watch a commanding officer (CO) and his crew in action. While the U.S. Navy was a new entity for him, the actor was no stranger to military service. Before co-starring as a marine in David Simon's gritty HBO miniseries Generation Kill, he had logged time as a Marine who worked in antiterrorism in his homeland of Sweden.
The timing of Alexandra Skarsgård's request coincided with the 2010 Rim of the Pacific Exercise (RIMPAC), the biennial maritime event staged off of the Hawaiian coast. It is the world's largest international maritime gathering, and more than a dozen navies from around the globe participate. RIMPAC is hosted and administered by the U.S. Navy, with support from the U.S. Marine Corps, the U.S. Coast Guard, Hawaii's National Guard and the U.S. Pacific Fleet, which invites and oversees allied military forces from the Pacific Rim nations.
With the cooperation of the U.S. Navy, Peter Berg guided embedded camera crews on four ships for 12 days to capture the spectacle of these military war games and collect astonishing footage of the ships on the open seas. These crews were supported by camera boats and camera helicopters that added exponentially to the look of the film, and the sequences were then built into the screenplay. "Fortunately, RIMPAC was on in Hawaii, so we went out there with Peter Berg and camera crews for an amazing week," Alexandra Skarsgård remembers. "I did get to talk to the CO of the ship, which helped tremendously. I was also able to fly out and land on an aircraft carrier, which was spectacular."
Alexandra Skarsgård relates how Peter Berg blended their on-deck experiences during RIMPAC into the film: "Stone receives recognition because his ship, the Sampson, is the highest-ranking ship among the 13 nations and dozens of ships participating. Stone is proud of his ship and crew, and his little brother is a naval officer on another destroyer. That's also fun for Stone, to have Hopper out there on another ship."
Another elite member of the U.S. Navy was played by Rihanna, making her feature-film debut. The Grammy Award winner was chosen to play the tough-as-nails gunner Petty Officer Second Class Cora Raikes, one of Hopper's fellow shipmates. "From day one, I had strong feelings about Rihanna," Peter Berg says. "You can tell she's musical because she takes direction well, and she looked the part. I was very impressed with her work."
The performer was open to acting roles before production began. "I didn't know who I was going to play when I met with Peter Berg," Rihanna reveals. "After I got the script, I was so impressed by it, and I just loved the story. I couldn't put it down, which was a clear indication that it would be a film that I would enjoy watching. What I ended up enjoying about working with Peter Berg was his energy, how adventurous and spontaneous he is."
Rihanna completely responded to how tough her character was. "Raikes kicks a lot of ass," she says. "She's one of the boys, and it was fun to explore that because I was a tomboy as a kid. The character is filled with raw energy, and it was a moment for me to be someone completely different than what people are used to seeing. It was exciting for people to see me as an actress and look at me as Raikes and not Rihanna."
For Rihanna's acting debut, Peter Berg chose as a technical advisor a sailor who was just a year younger than the performer. By the time production began, Jacquelyn Carrizosa had spent three years in the Navy and was based on the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) in San Diego. Jacquelyn Carrizosa was a Gunner's Mate Second Class (SW/AW) whom Peter Berg first spotted playing soccer for a U.S. Navy team during the 2010 RIMPAC.
Peter Berg says: "I wanted Rihanna to see that it is possible to be tough, patriotic, kick-ass, and still be feminine and sexy. I looked at Jacquelyn Carrizona and thought she was Raikes. I saw her in the RIMPAC Cup, and she was the only girl playing soccer with a bunch of guys. She was all tatted up and had on this badass band T-shirt. She is a hard-core, dedicated sailor who was more than holding her own. I thought that she would be a good role model for Rihanna, and the two of them got along great."
Rihanna remembers her first meeting with the sailor, who also played her double in the RIMPAC soccer game. She says: "I had Jacquelyn Carrizosa in my trailer all day long. I listened to the same music she listens to, and I just lived and breathed in her mind set because I was playing the part of who she is in real life."
Raikes was not the only tough woman in the Hoeber brothers' screenplay. Meet physical therapist Samantha "Sam" Shane. Actress Brooklyn Decker was brought aboard to play Sam, Hopper's fiancée and the daughter of his CO. "I was in Oahu, shooting Just Go With It, when I got the call," Brooklyn Decker recalls. "I was told that I wasn't right for the role because they wanted someone tough, and I seemed a little too nice. But they kept calling me back, and I flew to L.A. and read for casting. A week later, Peter Berg called me in to read.
"I knew the role would be very physical, and Peter Berg wanted to make sure that I could stack up," Brooklyn Decker continues. "So, he put me through the ringer. What made me want to be in this film was the fact that Peter Berg was directing. He's big on strong female characters. The women in his movies never play the damsels in distress; they're never weak. When I read for Sam, I loved that she was this admiral's daughter, a bit of a rebel, strong and independent and could hold her own in helping to save the world."
The director discusses why he chose Brooklyn Decker: "She's incredibly mature for a 23-year-old. When Brooklyn Decker was cast, there was speculation on whether this model could act. Brooklyn Decker is going to surprise people. She's a bright, serious and beautiful woman who wants to do a great job. She is mature and quite good in the role."
Unlike her co-stars, Brooklyn Decker's research did not involve a week on the high seas. Truly, she has the scars to prove her rugged, multiweek shoot in the Hawaiian brush. In preparing for the role of a physical therapist who rehabilitates wounded soldiers, the actress visited hospitals to meet with injured troops. She provides: "I went to Tripler Army Medical Center in Honolulu and another rehabilitation hospital later in the shoot, the Intrepid Center in San Antonio. I respect Peter Berg so much for his dedication to doing the military justice, and it's also the reason that the military was so supportive."
Several dozen of these wounded warriors served as extras during the company's one-day shoot at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence, a rehabilitation facility in San Antonio that treats amputees and burn victims. It is located next to the Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston and was specifically built to provide care for U.S. servicemen and women who have returned from military operations in Iraq and in Afghanistan.
"A big part of Sam is her relationship with Mick [U.S. Army Colonel Gregory D. Gadson's character] and how they struggle with one another and become a huge source of strength to one another as they go through an emotional and physical arc," Brooklyn Decker reflects. "I talked with these soldiers to find out about their emotional arc and how they progressed in their stages of post-traumatic stress after returning from battle. With modern technology, there are so many soldiers coming back who don't die from their injuries. They are returning with lost limbs and other severe wounds that are beyond anything you can imagine."
The character to whom Brooklyn Decker refers is Army Lieutenant Colonel Mick Canales, a double amputee who lost his legs in Afghanistan and has recently been fitted with prosthetic limbs. On his road to recovery, the Special Forces officer relies on Sam to assist with his physical and mental rehabilitation. While Hopper is engaged in war-game exercises, Sam and Mick set out on their first rehab session. She takes the veteran on a hike in the hills above the Pacific. What begins as a simple exercise evolves into battle with aliens who are trying to erect a communications tower and call for reinforcements.
The role of Mick was brought to life by Gregory D. Gadson, a massive former football player whose legs were amputated above the knee after being wounded. "The character of Mick had injuries I can identify with," shares Gregory D. Gadson. "I'm a field artillery officer, was a battalion commander in Iraq and lost my legs to an IED, or improvised explosive device. So, I brought my understanding of someone recovering from these injuries to the role. That's where Mick Canales and Greg Gadson came together."
In his 20-plus years as a career officer, the West Point graduate and real-life hero has served in every major global conflict of the past two decades in which the U.S. has been involved (including Kuwait, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Afghanistan and Iraq). In May 2007, Greg Gadson was a Lieutenant Colonel and battalion commander of 400 troops in Baghdad. Three months before the attack, he had been deployed to Iraq's capital city. After attending a memorial service for two deceased soldiers from a sister battalion, he was severely wounded while returning to the base.
Several years later, the soldier sitting on the film set in San Antonio's Intrepid Center recounts the stark details of that fateful night. "Returning to headquarters, my vehicle was struck by a roadside bomb," he explains. "The IED ejected me from the vehicle and damaged my legs severely. I was fortunate that my First Sergeant, Frederick Johnson, located me immediately and began to resuscitate me. PFC Eric Brown got tourniquets on my legs to get the bleeding under control. I needed 129 units of blood to save my life."
After sustaining an overwhelming 22 surgeries and experimenting with different types of artificial limbs, Greg Gadson now sports powered titanium prosthetics. He explains how Peter Berg first became aware of his story: "There was an article in the January 2010 National Geographic that focused on bionics and advancements in prosthetics. There were power knees that I was testing, with a picture of me in uniform displaying them."
If Peter Berg had any doubts about choosing the first-time performer, Greg Gadson assuaged him on his first day. According to the director: "Greg Gadson had, as a Lieutenant Colonel, to act in front of hundreds of soldiers. He had to act like a hard-ass, had to act like one of the guys, like a dad or an uncle to his troops. As he started getting more comfortable on set, I felt like he was getting it and he was enjoying it."
When he was recovering at Walter Reed in 2007, the honorary captain of the New York Giants couldn't have guessed what the next few years would bring. "I never would have imagined being on the sidelines of the Super Bowl champions," he says. "Or being promoted to colonel in the Army and chosen as the new director of the Army Wounded Warrior Program. But I have to admit that I wasn't holding my breath about being in the movie. I thought this would run its course. I don't want to say, 'It goes to show you that you just have to live,' but you can never quit. That's what I've tried to do."
The man running the show in Oahu is played by action star Liam Neeson, who was brought aboard to serve as Commander of the Pacific Fleet, Admiral Shane-Hopper, Stone and Raikes' CO (and Sam's father). The performer explains his interest in the project: "The foundation stone is the script, and this one was a real page-turner. That's the litmus test. If I'm reading through it, and I'm suddenly at page 78 and haven't stopped for a cup of tea or a glass of water, it's got me. I thought this was very gung ho. It's got thrills and spills and very good character development, too."
No stranger to playing tough guys, Liam Neeson found it quite simple to ease into his part. The star of Taken and The Grey explains: "As an actor filming on location in Hawaii, at Pearl Harbor and on USS Missouri, I didn't have to use my imagination... all that history is right there for you."
One of Liam Neeson's most memorable moments on set was the day when he shot a key scene with Colonel Gadson, which was filmed at the famous "Punchbowl" cemetery in Honolulu. Liam Neeson recounts: "I present a medal to Greg Gadson's character, Mick. After they helped him up on the stage, he walked toward me. As the camera rolled, he had a look in his eyes that wasn't acting. It reflected what this man's been through, the incredible injuries suffered for his country. Yet, there was also this incredible defiance and dignity and power. It made me feel very proud."
Battleship marks the second big Hollywood film for Asian movie star Tadanobu Asano, who made his English-language debut as the Asgardian called Hogun in 2010's blockbuster Thor. Tadanobu Asano landed the role of Hopper's Japanese counterpart, Captain Yugi Nagata, whose ship, the Myoko, is destroyed in the alien attack. This forces the captain to join his archrival on USS John Paul Jones, where they fight together.
Producer Sarah Aubrey describes his character's arc: "Nagata, whom Hopper has initial friction with, subsequently becomes his ally during this epic battle. Hopper is very competitive with the Japanese, which you'll see in the RIMPAC soccer game. After their first encounter with the aliens, Hopper wants to charge right back into the fray. Nagata thinks that's not a good idea. But, being a brave and honorable sailor, he doesn't want to leave Hopper's ship exposed. So, he follows him into battle and loses his own ship when it is sunk by the aliens. Nagata and the remainder of his crew come aboard Hopper's ship, and the two men must work together to defeat the aliens."
Tadanobu Asano shares what attracted him: "I play a Japanese navy officer who fights side-by-side with an American Navy officer, which is something that intrigued me. Nagata is a captain of the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force, and he and Hopper come together during a convention of Navy officers from all over the Pacific called RIMPAC."
"Nagata and Hopper have known each other prior to this convention," the actor continues. "Nagata likes Hopper, but there's something about him that gets on Nagata's nerves, and there's a bit of conflict. I'm a captain and he's an officer, so I treat him a bit condescendingly, which he reciprocates with similar attitude. But when a common enemy approaches, we accept that we have to fight together."
Like the rest of the cast, the Yokohama native filmed several scenes on location at Oahu's Pearl Harbor. Setting foot on such sacred ground made the actor "think a lot about what happened between our two nations decades ago." He asserts: "Without that history, we Japanese and Americans wouldn't be collaborating on a film like this today. I feel terribly sorry for those who lost their lives. But the fact that now, as a Japanese person, I can work in a friendly atmosphere with an American crew at Pearl Harbor is what makes this movie even more significant. For that, I feel grateful."
"I tip my hat to Tadanobu Asano," commends Taylor Kitsch. "I looked forward to working with him in every scene we had together. He's a great actor, and I'd do it all over again. I admired the balls it took to come over here and be a huge part of this huge movie, with English not being his native language. It would be just like me going to Japan, speaking nothing but English, and having one guy come in and translate direction. He just killed it!"
Tadanobu Asano returns the compliment: "There were so many things that were unfamiliar to me working in the American film industry for just the second time. I was like a kid, watching and learning from my colleagues. I'm especially thankful to Taylor Kitsch. His power and charisma is palpable, and he is also kind and humorous. When I didn't understand what was being said, Taylor Kitsch would step in to help me communicate. Also, when we filmed a scene together, if I made a subtle change, he was sensitive and responsive."
The performer was but one of many international actors in Peter Berg's multilingual cast. Coincidentally, with the exception of Jesse Plemons, each of the other actors playing key naval personnel were all from countries outside of the United States. While Taylor Kitsch hails from British Columbia, Alexander Skarsgård is a native of Sweden and Rihanna was born on the Caribbean island of Barbados.
The Texas-born Plemons, Taylor Kitsch's co-star on television's Friday Night Lights, was cast as the ship's boatswain, BMSN Jimmy "Ordy" Ord. The low man on the totem pole, Jimmy Ordy Ord thought he'd never in his wildest dreams see action in battle. Still, he must rise to the occasion when duty calls. As well, New Zealander John Tui makes his Hollywood film debut as the 20-year career man, Chief Petty Officer Walter "The Beast" Lynch. The ship's engine expert, Beast is the exact guy who you want beside you if you must head to war.
John Tui, a New Zealand Tongan, provides yet another example of the game's worldwide reach. He says: "In New Zealand, we are influenced a lot by Europe and America, and 'Battleship' is huge. My mates had the game when I was growing up, and I would go play with them." For his part in the film, the actor reflects: "I wanted to give this role the integrity it deserves, for the Navy, for your country."
On the civilian side, Hamish Linklater was brought on board as Cal Zapata, the project manager at Saddle Ridge Station who must join Sam and Mick to stop the aliens from finishing construction of the beacon tower. With nerves of jelly, Hamish must take as much inspiration from Mick as possible in order to complete his mission.
Finally, joining the team in supporting roles are Joji Yoshida as Chief Engineer Hiroki of the Myoko; Rico McClinton as Navy Commander Brownley; Adam Godley as Beacon Project director, Dr. Nogrady; Jerry Ferrara as Sampson Jood Strodell; and Peter Macnicol as the U.S. Secretary of Defense. Stay Frosty: Trainers and Technical Advisers
To help the cast prepare for their roles, Peter Berg worked with multiple consultants who organised the performers and got them in fighting physical and mental shape. Standout partners on the production include the teams who helped Rihanna, Brooklyn Decker and Greg Gadson get ready for their intense scenes battling the aliens.
Gunner's mate Jacque Carrizosa was at the ready to get Rihanna into fighting shape on the set of Battleship. Channeling such tough-as-nails warriors as Terminator 2: Judgment Day's Sarah Connor and Aliens' Private Vasquez, Rihanna impressed everyone on set with her dedication to the part and discipline in preparing for the role.
"A lot of the training on set had to do with how to hold the weapon the correct way," Rihanna notes. "I had to learn about these weapons and I enjoyed that because I didn't want to look like an actor with a gun, just shooting off into nowhere. It was also important to Peter Berg to make sure that everything would be like it would be if we were actually in the Navy. Jacque Carrizosa had a lot to do with my look and feel in the film."
During production, Jacque Carrizosa held the rank of E5, which is petty officer second class. "I deal with everything from basic 9-mil handguns and 50-caliber weapons to torpedoes, magazine sprinkler systems, missiles, VLS systems and such," states the sailor. "We also deal with the 5-inch guns that you see on a battleship like USS Missouri."
She explains how she got the actress ready for battle: "I helped Rihanna feel comfortable with military protocol and weapons handling. She shot a little before I came on board, so she wasn't scared. I helped her with posture, standing at attention and saluting. Along with her talent and beauty, she's really smart and a natural bad-ass." Duty called, and the Greg Gunner's Mate's time on set was up. She was back on her ship in San Diego after a three-week hiatus with the production in Hawaii.
Greg Gadson and Brooklyn Decker had assistance of a different sort as they battled aliens on Oahu's windward (eastern) side. Things got off to a shaky start as equilibrium came into play when Peter Berg first took Gadson and Decker (and co-star Linklater, also crucial to the landlocked sequences) out to Kualoa Ranch, where the company spent three weeks filming the scenes in which the aliens construct their communications tower.
Brooklyn Decker appreciated the bonding that her director encouraged. "Greg Gunner and I became close very fast because we had to be incredibly vulnerable. We rehearsed and shot in the mountains where it rains all the time. It's muddy, it's hilly and there were a couple of times when Greg Gunner's prosthetic legs would slide on this mud and he would go down. Because he would fall in front of me, or when I would be a nervous wreck in front of him, we quickly became trusting of one another. He told me: 'If we're going downhill, I'm going to need to push on you. I need you to be strong when I'm walking downhill; you need to support me.'
"There's a scene when Sam freaks out after she finds bodies and cars ripped apart and sees one of the aliens for the first time," the actress continues. "Mick is her source of strength. That day we shot this scene, it was just Greg Gunner and me. We didn't talk to anybody on set; we just rehearsed. I told him to get physical with me, push me to the ground, grab me and shake me. We beat each other up, but also took care of each other."
Peter Berg recalls that first day of rehearsal before filming officially began: "Greg Gunner's never acted before, and he's a double amputee. This was completely out of his comfort zone and certainly something he's not familiar with. Yet, he came out and jumped right into it, and it was intense, especially when he slipped and fell. We picked him up, he took a few more steps and immediately fell again, hard. I thought he had damaged his legs; they looked banged up. He got real quiet, and I thought to myself, 'This is going to be an absolute disaster.'" Peter Berg couldn't have been happier to be more wrong.
"It's what happens when you don't have your legs...you fall," the director remembers Greg Gadson telling him. "I wanted to take him up to the top of the mountain to see what we could expect: How much stamina he had and whether he could stand and move on this type of terrain. Brooklyn Decker got right in there with Greg Gadson and helped him walk around. Then we were able to start seeing whether he could act."
While these titanium legs, which Greg Gadson calls "Real Ones," support his body, the soldier still struggles with balance and navigates in a wheelchair when not wearing his prosthetics. He relays that standing and walking (with the aid of a cane) is like being on the top rung of a stepladder. "It's shaky on prosthetics," he explains of the challenges. "You have to balance, to keep yourself stable so that you don't lose support on the ladder. That's the best way to describe being a bilateral AK, or amputee above the knee."
Stunt coordinator Kevin Scott recalls the first time he saw a picture of Greg Gadson after Peter Berg cast him as Mick. "I saw he was a bilateral amputee. But he is not just a guy with two aluminum legs. He is a true warrior, a fantastic person and a great leader. The fight scene that we did with Greg Gadson will be an extremely moving moment in this film. I wanted to make sure that we paid respect to individuals who have lost their limbs. We didn't want to do anything that was out of character."
Scott Stuber continues: "Damon Caro, who's one of the industry's best fight choreographers, came out to help us, and we put together a fight that Greg Gadson was comfortable with. There were a couple moves in the fight that came from just talking to Greg Gadson. He can twist his legs in ways that we can't. It was interesting to see his response to the fight, and he admitted he'd not been this physical since losing his legs. There were some extremely moving moments with him, and he came through as a warrior every time. The audience will not have seen this type of physical activity before."
To ensure that every aspect of the U.S. Navy was portrayed as accurately as possible, Captain Rick Hoffman was brought on board as Peter Berg's Navy technical advisor. From dialogue and sets to specifics of uniforms and haircuts, the veteran who commanded two warships during his 28-year career left no stone unturned.
Hoffman-whom we will also see portraying Battleship's Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff-recounts: "When I was first interviewed for the position, Peter Berg told me that in a movie this fantastic, the real part has to be very real. He wanted to use active duty sailors-preferably serving aboard ship now-in as many scenes as possible, and we wanted to make sure the actors came across in a compelling and convincing manner."
Prior to each of the main shipboard scenes, the film's actors and extras would go through what came to be known as "Cap'n Rick's Boot Camp." While this did not involve push-ups or yelling, the training was a full day on the set that helped the sailors grow accustomed to what they would see during the filming, as well as help the actors to understand how to look and act like sailors. It was also an important time for the cast and military extras to get to know one another as they rehearsed their scenes.
The career sailor's influence extended to close work with the crew. Hoffman adds: "I also had the chance to work with the extremely talented set design, props and set decoration teams in putting little touches on the set-moving a radio so it worked better with an actor's movements, adding charts, binoculars or other small details to create a realistic environment. I used the sailors' help whenever I could to add realism. They know what 'real' looks like better than I do."