As Rihanna makes her silver-screen debut in Battleship, a seafaring flick about alien ships, VIBE chats with director Peter Berg about what made him pluck the pop princess for the role of a Navy gunwoman
VIBE: We sort of know, but what was it about Rihanna?
Peter Berg: I’ve always been a big fan of hers. I’d see her in her videos and was pretty taken with her intensity and charisma. I’ve been a longtime believer that musicians can make really great actors. It goes back to Frank Sinatra winning the Oscar for From Here To Eternity to a long list of actors who have made the transition, from Liza Minnelli to Kris Kristofferson to Whitney Houston in The Bodyguard. I thought she was fantastic. I worked with Tim McGraw in Friday Night Lights. I think musicians have all the ingredients to be great actors and strong performers.
I suspected Rihanna was no different. I had a couple meetings with her, and she came in my office dressed in casual jeans and a t-shirt with no makeup on and she expressed a really strong desire to be a real actress and not want any special treatment. I felt very confident for a number of reasons that she’d do a great job and she really had it. She was really good in the movie. I’m always looking for new faces; I love going to movies when you don’t know who all the actors are and you can be surprised. I’m always thinking in those terms. Frankly, I was surprised that no other director ever cast Rihanna. She seemed like such an obvious choice for someone to make the crossover.
Did she require any type of coaching?
There’s an acting coach, a woman named Susan who we all know and is legendary. It was great, because really what an acting coach can do for somebody like Rihanna is keep her focused on the set. There are so many distractions, and we were a mile out in the ocean with 400 people and sharks and dolphins and whales. It was good to have someone to kind of keep you quiet and focused. I think after working with music producers [Rihanna] just understands that kind of relationship, and it’s probably not that different from working with a record producer and director. She’d look to me for ideas, advice and inspiration and I’d throw her as many ideas as I could.
Kind of an important question: What’s the premise of Battleship?
We’ve identified what’s called a Goldilocks planet. Goldilocks planets really exist; they’re similar to the earth. They have similar relationships to their sun that we have to our sun. And in theory, these are planets that should be right for supporting life. What we actually do with these planets is we send high frequency signals out to these planets and basically say, “Hey, we’re earth, we’re here if you need us. If you’re interested, come and visit.” Steven Hawking, a very famous scientist, came out and said this was a horrible idea. If there are aliens out there, we shouldn’t be telling them where we are. We should keep quiet. If they come, they’re probably not going to be very friendly.
So in the beginning of the movie, we identify one of these Goldilocks planets, we send out a signal, and five years later we get a response in the form of five alien ships. These ships don’t come looking to fight; they’re actually relatively peaceful. They come into contact with two United States Navy ships and a Japanese ship and Rihanna is a gunner on one of those ships. She’s in charge of what’s called a “5-inch gun” which is a very powerful weapon on a ship. These weapon systems are traditionally run by men and women her age. What’s surprising is you go and meet the modern Navy and there are some very beautiful women in the Navy. They have to keep their hair cut a certain length, they’re not allowed to wear makeup and they’ve gotta wear a uniform but Rihanna fit in just perfectly with many of the Navy, especially Navy sailors we met.
Rihanna has this badass quality and looks like she has no problem holding a gun.
Yes, I mean the thing I like about her is she had no problem sliding into a physical character. She fights, she shoots, she kicks ass. I expected her to be able to do that. What I didn’t expect was there were some very subtle natural moments or her in this film. As much as there’s cocky, hot, sexy girl full of swagger, there’s also a real sweet girl in there. She’s got many gears. That’s what I find interesting about her. She can turn on other modes and be very sexy and be a badass. She can be very funny. Those are key prerequisites for good acting. You’ve gotta have a lot of different moves. And she’s got them.