Maybe the question of the decade.
Remember this quote from director Peter Berg on casting Rihanna in Battleship – the upcoming Universal Studios mega-budgeted, live action adaptation of Hasbro's naval combat board game?
I spent a lot of time in the Navy thinking about who would make sense and who would bring an urban swagger to this character… Put a call in, had a great couple of meetings, and she’s a great girl, really hard-working, very smart, wants to be good, really strong work ethic, no attitude, no diva nonsense. She was great.
You folks, I recall, had a lot of fun with that :)
She's barely in the trailers for the film, so if you blinked, you'd missed whatever glimpses exist of the "urban swagger" she brought to the project.
Fast-forward to today, and I came across this interview Berg did with Entertainment Weekly, in which he gives a much longer explanation in response to the one question that I think many of us have long-wondered:
Why did you cast such a massive music superstar in what amounts to a run-and-gun supporting role? Did Universal want a big name? Did she seek out the role?
That's exactly how the EW reported phrased the question. It's a question that I think applies to other similarly cast films, not just this one.
First let me set this up properly… according to EW, with regards to the film, Berg is most concerned about 2 things: that audiences don't watch the movie and think of it as "a total Transformers rip-off;" and secondly, that Rihanna's acting performance is believable.
The EW reporter said that during this conversation with Berg, he was obviously anxious about those 2 things, asking specifically what the reporter thought about Rihanna's performance, whether she was solid, etc.
Ok, so now that I've set that all up… in response to the question about why he cast Rihanna in the first place, if he was so worried about whether or not she could pull off a convincing performance, here's the Q&A segment with Berg's response to the reporter:
PETER BERG: No, it was totally me. I’d obviously seen [Rihanna’s] videos and was a fan of hers. The videos were really sexy and obviously, you know, very entertaining to say the least. But what first caught my eye about Rihanna was an interview she did with Diane Sawyer after the Chris Brown incident, where she was very articulate, very poised, obviously a smart girl who talked about a very traumatic experience. That was a legitimate, violent, real experience that would traumatize anyone. I thought she handled herself very well. I was intrigued. That was the first time I really remember Rihanna kind of coming on my radar, someone that was more than just kind of a sexy girl that sang hip-hop songs.
So as I was getting ready to cast, I was thinking about Rihanna. I’ve been a big believer in musicians turned actor, going back to Sinatra winning the Oscar for From Here To Eternity. David Bowie in Man Who Fell to Earth, Kris Kristofferson’s been great in a bunch of films. Liza Minnelli, Barbra Streisand, Mariah Carey, I thought was great in Precious — remember her inPrecious? And I had great luck with Tim McGraw twice in Friday Night Lights and The Kingdom. I love finding off-beat casting and finding someone you know in one way and you reinvent them in another way. I like doing that as a director.
EW: So what happened when you reached out to Rihanna?
PETER BERG: I asked to meet her, she came in in a pair of blue jeans, a T-shirt and flip-flops, and for two hours we just improv’d. She read all the roles in the movie. She read Liam Neeson’s role in a Valley girl accent, just this really kind of crazed, slightly off-balance Valley girl, which is very funny. She improvised. She cried. She did it as if she was drunk. She did it as if she was a nun.
EW: It sounds like you were impressed.
PETER BERG: What I was looking for with her was a sense of adventure. You know to me, being a good actor, the most important quality is you’ve got to love to play, and to just be open to anything. And this girl clearly was. I knew right away that she’d be great, I knew what the demands of the role were, that I’m not asking her to carry a film.
The conversation continues with Berg telling the reporter what Rihanna's reaction was when he offered her the part, stating:
She called me and she said, “I’ll do it, but please you have to promise me you won’t treat me special, you’ll treat me like you would any other actor, you’ll make me work and you won’t go easy on me.” And I’m like, “Deal.” She stayed in the same crappy hotels that we stayed in; she got there at 6 a.m. and left at 10 p.m. sometimes. She was on that boat in the water where there are no bathrooms except for jumping in the water. She never complained and she worked her ass off.
He also went on to say how physical she was on set, doing some of her own stunts, etc, and how impressed he was with her.
I didn’t know how physical and agile she’d be. I mean, there are scenes later in the film where she’s sprinting all over [a battleship], and it’s, you know, tight little corners. The girl is extraordinarily agile. That’s all her, getting slammed against walls, you know, being able to take a hit, throwing punches, shooting. She did all of it.
You can read the entire EW piece HERE.
So there ya have it; a little *insider* info, if we can call it that. All your questions about why Rihanna was cast in Battleship have been answered… right?
Battleship opens tomorrow, by the way; who's seeing it?