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"Why Did You Cast A Massive Music Superstar In What Amounts To A Run-And-Gun Supporting Role?"

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by Tambay A. Obenson
May 17, 2012 5:44 PM
14 Comments
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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?
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?

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14 Comments

  • Tamara | May 18, 2012 9:08 AMReply

    What Berg failed to mention (but most of the commenters 'have' mentioned) is that she was cast also because she will bring a certain audience to view. Fangirls get their eye-candy and action with 'John Carter', I mean Kitsch and with Skarsgard. Fanboys (most of which I'd say comprise the majority who will support this film) will get their eye-candy via the blond actress (don't know her name) and now RihRih. And less we forget (though the article reminds) Urban Swagger Girls/Boys will bring an audience, too. With all that said (most tongue-in-cheek because really I'm getting a laugh out of all of this) I WILL BE SEEING THIS FEATURE. Maybe not tonight; maybe tomorrow or Sunday, but soon. Why? Because I was a fan of special EFX and action...and, AND Hasbro. Or something. LOL.

  • MichelleToo | May 17, 2012 11:38 PMReply

    Full disclosure, I'm an actress....

    That said...do you RiRi. Look, to the victor goes the spoils and, because I'm in a cliche kinda mood...the cows are already out of this particular barn. Beyonce doesn't have any business acting in ANYTHING. JHud? Gimme a break! Don't get me started on Alicia Keys....but, if those popstresses can get a starring roles and an actual Oscar, then RiRi has just as much right to step up to the plate. She can't do any worse than the aforementioned divas, so why not let her try? It is not as if she will make any difference in the conversation about whether or not legitimate Black actresses will be able to do these types of parts so that they can land on the Hollywood radar. That ship sailed (told you what kinda mode I'm in) when Ashanti was in Resident Evil 3.

    You all bring up good names...and Gugu is a fine actress, she was just HORRIBLY miscast. Nicole Beharie, Marsha Thomason, Megalyn Echikunwoke, Enuka Okuma (a personal favorite actress of mine)...yup, there are a ton of Black chicks who could have done the job with urban swagger.

    And I don't believe for a hot stinky minute that Rihanna impressed him with her comedic chops! PUHLEEZE! And I also don't believe that she went to the bathroom in a damn ocean! Really? What is the point of being in a huge blockbuster movie like Transformers, I mean Battleship, without the sweet ass perks like, I don't know private toilets? Liam wasn't peeing in no damn ocean, I can promise you that!

  • Cinexa | May 17, 2012 10:11 PMReply

    Wow. I wonder what's gonna happen when some of you get a big break. It's a movie about a game for christs sake. Eat your popcorn and hope a titty pops out. This is entertainment or at least this thread is. If we don't have blacks ,it's a problem. If we do have backs, they're not the ones we want. Let the girl work.

  • Ghost | May 17, 2012 8:40 PMReply

    SORRY the film still looks like a rip off of Transformers and the SYFY channel version of this film that is airing this week. If you didn't want a Transformer ripoff-don't bring in aliens attacking the planet. And all it took a was a beating by Chris Brown and some horrible videos for her to get the role? REALLY??? Sorry she's the reason why I WON'T be watching this film. I don't support media whores.

  • Alex | May 17, 2012 8:14 PMReply

    Not sure what "urban swagger" is, or why Rihanna (from Barbados, which doesn't have any cities) could convey it better than a professional actress. Clearly she was cast because she's famous and sexy, and it was thought she'd help pull in an audience. Why can't he just say that instead of pretending he hired her because she has a great personality and is a hard worker (as if all of that equals up to acting chops)?

  • other song | May 17, 2012 6:06 PMReply

    who's next? Nicki Minaj? Do whatever you have to do to get famous and impress some white dude with casting power. Problem solved.

  • Jug | May 17, 2012 5:59 PMReply

    Hey, when your lead actor is tied to the biggest bomb in Hollywood history, you gotta start blowing smoke up someone else's ass.

  • Jug | May 17, 2012 8:55 PM

    Akimbo, I agree with you there. Not a fan at all but I was hard pressed to find a young Black actress that fits that "type" in that age range that's somewhat popular right now. I know I know, everyone will start screaming about Adepero, but she's not looked at as the "stunna" right now & PARIAH had not hit the radar yet. Gugu was gorgeous in UNDERCOVERS....uhh..umm..yeah that's about it LOL

  • Akimbo | May 17, 2012 8:51 PM

    I'm sorry, but the only thing Gugu Mbatha-Ra has going for her is her pretty face. Where Paula Patton is bland and sometimes annoying, Gugu is actually just a bad actress. I'm down with Beharie, though.

  • Jug | May 17, 2012 8:28 PM

    @JMac LMAO Hey I just call it like I see 'em. Besides Beyonce was too pregnant LOL

  • JMac | May 17, 2012 8:27 PM

    Eww. Yuck. Lol. If he really wanted sexy he couldv'e gotten Beyonce. You know she's got the 'tude (that she can't seem to hide).

  • Jug | May 17, 2012 6:03 PM

    The irony is, EVERYTHING he mentioned...in his "off-beat" casting, he could've found in Gugu, or Nicole Beharie but they weren't "off-beat" enough I guess. "Off-beat" & "musician turned actor" is code for "she makes he horny, who cares about acting" LOL

  • Uncredited Rewrite | May 17, 2012 5:51 PMReply

    I just read a review on another site and the reviewer said that she gave the best performance out of all the other actors in the film. Still not going to see it, but hey that's something.

  • sosgemini | May 17, 2012 8:44 PM

    I read that review and it wasn't a compliment. He said all the acting was horrible but she was the best out of the bunch.

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