This week in theaters comes director Peter Berg’s film about the British Petroleum oil disaster and the courage of those aboard “Deepwater Horizon.”
In April of 2010, a drilling rig known as “Deepwater Horizon” owned by BP oil was a floating rig that could travel to any spot for drilling. Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg) boarded the rig along with Jimmy Harrell (Kurt Russell) and Andrea Fleytas (Gina Rodriguez).
With questions already looming about the readiness of the rig, Harrell has questions for the execs already on board. Already in conference are Vidrine (John Malkovich), and Jimmy calls them out on the inspection that seems to have been bypassed. Mike isn’t happy, asking Caleb Holloway (Dylan O’Brien) who is working the pipes if the inspection has been done.
Agreeing to a pressure test, everyone on the rig waits as the first test fails. It is Vidrine who consistently tries to out-talk the crew on what BP is expecting from the rig and there is nothing wrong. Nothing could be further from the truth when later in the evening the earth decides to revolt against the rig.
The explosion brings out courage of the many to save lives!
Berg has taken the story of Deepwater Horizon and made it into a film that tells the story bringing Mike Williams to the forefront as a hero. This isn’t the first film Berg has brought an intense story about courageous individuals to the screen. In 2013 he directed the film “Lone Survivor” about Marcus Luttrell (also played by Wahlberg) and his team on a mission to capture a Taliban leader. In 2017, the film “Patriots Day” will be released about the Boston Marathon bombing and the citywide manhunt for the terrorists.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Berg about “Deepwater Horizon” and what pushes him to tell stories of extraordinary people and events.
Jeri Jacquin: Thanks for talking with me today Peter.
Peter Berg: Of course Jeri, it’s my pleasure.
JJ: Tell me what interested you in wanting to take on this project?
PB: There was a “60 Minutes” piece about Mike Williams, and it really just got to me. I thought it was a great story and it spoke to me.
JJ: Did you realize the monumental scope of the making this film when you decided to go ahead and make the film?
PB: I did. I knew it was going to be a challenging movie and I felt absolutely ready for it. I was actually really excited to get involved and get it going.
JJ: Did you already have a cast in mind?
PB: Mark (Wahlberg) was already to go and we knew each other, which was obviously part of the reason I was excited about the film.
JJ: He and Kurt Russell together are so fantastic and amazing in the film. Was Kurt some one else you knew right away needed to be in the film?
PB: Not right away but pretty quickly I thought of Kurt. I am a really big fan of his.
JJ: John Malkovich as well? I know I’m a huge fan.
PB: Absolutely, same here. I am a big fan of his work as well.
JJ: He is so amazing — his accent is pretty good.
PB: Perfect right?
JJ: Building the set, it must have caused a little bit of a shock to put together something so spectacular?
PB: It was fun!
PB: Yes, because we got to go big a real big set. We got to be kids with Lincoln Logs but bigger!
JJ: That’s a pretty massive Lincoln Log, Peter.
PB: Yes it was. It was a massive Lincoln Log and fun to do at the same time.
JJ: I was surprised to see you in it as well, that is a nice bonus.
PB: Thank you, it was actually fun to do it.
JJ: You took on the film and started putting it all together; did you see it was going so big? I mean, you have your human characters but now you have this big other character (the rig) to control. How did you manage the double duty?
PB: It was fun too. Making movies is always super challenging and for me it is getting myself fired up and getting excited for those challenges. The set was a big challenge and executing it in New Orleans with the heat and the water — you have to be up for it. As long as you are I find it all works out pretty well.
JJ: The storyline is so intense and you didn’t sugar coat anything?
PB: My grandmother Ruth said, “Shoot straight and don’t sugar coat.”
JJ: I was wondering how you were going to get around the BP situation, and thank you for being straight with the story telling.
PB: BP messed up big time and you have got to be accurate with the facts if you are going to point the finger at some of BP’s behavior.
JJ: The scene with Russell and Malkovich, when they are doing the pressure test, I have to say, their interaction felt so brutally honest.
PB: I appreciate that. My grandmother also said honest is the best policy, so I went with that.
JJ: I think that is what makes this film bigger than just the action, that you were telling the story honesty. Now, dealing with all that mud and oil, how did you make that happen?
PB: We had this guy name Burt Dalton who is a physical production designer for films, and he brought in all these gallons of mud and oil and this incredible pumping system. He was able to get heavy pressure and throw that mud around. I had my son and his friends from high school on summer break and made them clean it all up.
PB: It’s true!
JJ: It looks like the cast took a beating. You’ve got fire, mud, falling metal, water — that’s pretty intense. How long did it take you to shoot the film?
PB: It was done in 60 days or around that. It didn’t take as long as you might think, we moved pretty quickly.
JJ: Working with Malkovich, Russell and Wahlberg who you have worked with before — how is that for you as a director to look at that cast and think “wow?”
PB: I look at everything and say, “Wow!” I like my cast, crew, getting to meet Mike Williams and the men and women who were on that rig. It is all a process that I like very much, and I’m very grateful to have participated in all of it.
JJ: I’ve seen interviews with Mike Williams, what an amazing person.
PB: I’ll say.
JJ: You seem to really enjoy doing films working with amazing people.
PB: I like nonfiction and I’m at a point in my life where I meet people who have gone through extraordinary experiences like Mike Williams and Marcus Luttrell (from the film “Lone Survivor”) or some of the FBI agents, police and citizens of Boston (coming soon “Patriots Day”) who were involved in the hunting down of those who hurt people in the Boston Marathon. Those are the stories that excite me.
JJ: It gives you an opportunity tell those truths.
PB: It gives me so much inspiration. You spend time with the people who went through it and obviously it’s a more authentic experience and gives me access to that part of the process that inspires me. Every director is different and some like science fiction — I like nonfiction.
JJ: Finally Peter, what do you want the audience to walk out of the theater understanding about “Deepwater Horizon?”
PB: There is never any one thing. I think certainly one of the things that resonates with me is that there were 11 people who died on that rig because of corporate bullying. They could have all run and jumped into lifeboats, and they all would have been back with their kids. They did their jobs when a lot of other people like the executives got off that rig. These working class men stayed on that rig and they died — it cost them their lives. To me, that is worth knowing.
JJ: That means everything, thank you Peter. In “Deepwater Horizon” Peter, it is nothing like I expected yet everything I want in good and true storytelling well done sir!
PB: Thank you Jeri, thank you so much.