Peter Berg's career path has kept taking turns. If you spoke to him when he was still a kid, he might have said he wanted to be a professional boxer. By high school, he had thoughts of becoming a filmmaker, but he ended up in front of the camera instead of behind it. At least until the day, when he was a cast member on "Chicago Hope," that he got a chance to direct an episode. Since switching to feature films, Berg has directed, among other films, "Friday Night Lights," "Lone Survivor," and "Deepwater Horizon." His newest, based on events surrounding the terrorist bombings at the 2013 Boston Marathon, is "Patriots Day," starring Mark Wahlberg (who also starred in "Lone Survivor" and "Deepwater Horizon"). Berg recently visited Boston to talk about the film.
Q: Was there a big decision you had to make between being an actor and a director?
A: Early on, when I was acting, I never really liked it that much. I mean, it was fun to be in my 20s and running around pretending to be somebody else. But it never felt it was the kind of career that I wanted. I was always focused on writing, and I really liked directing because I like telling stories and you get to have so much creative control over it.
Q: You've made some great action sequences in previous films. most notably the Taliban attack on American forces in "Lone Survivor." Did that in any way prepare you for the intense shootout between the Tsarnaev brothers and the Watertown police in "Patriots Day?"
A: What I've learned is that if you're going to do an action scene, and you want it to penetrate so that you actually feel it, you have to think about the rhythms of the fight, the personality of the fight, the psychology of the people in the fight. In "Lone Survivor," those are Navy SEALs. Marcus Luttrell (Wahlberg's character) and his guys were pretty well trained for that. They had ways of behaving and fighting. It was a lot different than the guys in the Watertown Police Department who never fired their weapons in the line of duty. They were fighting for their lives, and they were scared. So those scenes were completely different.
Q: What about the logistics of setting up those scenes?
A: That just takes prep. We sat with the Watertown Police Department in their police station, and we used toy cars and toy figures. And the cops were telling us, "Well, I did this, I went there, he shot me, the bomb went off there." We slowly recreated the scene to understand what happened. If you don't make that effort, it's probably gonna feel a bit generic, and it's harder to get that emotional feeling.
Q: It must have been an emotional experience making the film, for you and for the actors.
A: I think the most memorable moments were when we were filming the scenes just after the blasts on Boylston Street (where they actually happened). There were a thousand extras out there, and many of them had come up to us earlier, and said, "I was there, my friend was hurt, I know someone that lost a leg." We were very aware that we might cause real trauma for people, so every day before we started, I'd get on the p.a. system and say, "Thank you for coming. This is a scene in the film, but it's just a part of the film. This isn't really what the film is about. It's about the spirit of Boston, and if anybody's upset, come see me or come see Mark Wahlberg." But everybody was cool.
Q: This is the third time you've directed Mark in a feature film in three years. How did the relationship start?
A: We have the same agent, Ari Emanuel (the basis for Jeremy Piven's Ari Gold on "Entourage"). Mark and I knew each other socially, and had talked about doing some things together. He offered me "The Fighter," and I probably made a big mistake by not doing that. But at the time I was focused on other things. Sometimes it's just timing. The timing was right on "Lone Survivor," and that went really well, so now we just keep doing it.
Q: Is it true that you've also been boxing for a long time?
A: I try to box every day. I don't spar every day, but I'll at least do focus mitts. I own a boxing gym in Los Angeles, and I go there every day. I've been doing this since I was a kid at summer camp. The counselors were sadists, and they used to take us into the woods and make a ring by putting ropes around the trees. They'd put us in there like "Lord of the Flies" and they'd make us fight and they'd bet on us.
"Patriots Day" opens on Jan. 13.
-- Ed Symkus writes about movies for More Content Now.