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BATTLESHIP

An International Crew
As the script's action took shape, the filmmakers set out to populate their story with a band of heroes who happen upon their alien foes after investigating of a piece of debris floating off the coast of Oahu. Joining them in the production would be accomplished producer Duncan Henderson, who had helped to bring the ocean-set epics Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World and Poseidon to life and served in key production roles on A Perfect Storm and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.

When the Battleship team was researching the project, they spent time on destroyers in the Navy's fleet and made a visit to the U.S. military's Special Operations Command (SOCOM) in Florida. The team was impressed by the young men and women who populate the Navy's high-tech ranks, as well as the extreme situations for which they train. It became strikingly clear that at the wrong time in politics or war, these sailors could be in the middle of life-and-death situations for which they so arduously trained.

Stuber shares that Berg's depth of research and experience as an actor resulted in casting a group who did justice to the brave sailors they met. "Pete wants to emulate everything the way it would happen, whether it's through an actor's performance or an explosion on the side of a ship," he says. "On Friday Night Lights, he didn't just read the book, he went to Texas to immerse himself in the world of high-school football. A lot of that comes from being an actor. Other actors trust him because they see he wants to get their best performance. He's takes these authentic characters and puts them in big worlds."

In crafting the film's protagonist, Hopper, Berg and the Hoeber brothers imagined a character who is forced to grow up fast. A hothead kid who shoots from the hip, Hopper learns discipline through his naval service, especially from his older brother. Stone's frustration with his sibling leads him to insist that Hopper get his life together. "It's brotherly love taken to a whole new level," says Aubrey. "Still, Hopper is a guy who leads with his chin and is always looking for a fight."

"I think Battleship is autobiographical," laughs Goldner. "In many ways, Hopper is Pete. What I love about him is his willingness to bring that to the table. There are no filters. Pete's right in there, creating a characterization of someone who an audience can root for. Hopper is a tough guy, certainly challenged and with a history. You're going to see a depth of character that evolves. Pete created a character who is real, emblematic and enticing to an audience."

Cast as Hopper was another longtime Berg collaborator, Taylor Kitsch. The performer's work in the critically acclaimed television show Friday Night Lights has moved audiences since 2006, and his scene-stealing work in 2009's X-Men Origins: Wolverine finally brought to life Gambit, one of the most beloved characters in the X-Men universe. In addition to Battleship, Kitsch hits worldwide screens this spring as the title character in Disney's epic John Carter. In July, he will be seen in Universal's Savages, the new drama from Oliver Stone.

Truly, it would take a partner like Berg for the actor to agree to cut his hair for the first time in 12 years. Berg began his career in front of the cameras before he turned to directing, and his style has long meshed with Kitsch's. "I love the way that Pete shoots with regard to freedom…no marks or anything like that," the actor commends. "Of course, I was used to his style from FNL and will always be grateful that Pete gave me that huge opportunity to play Riggins."

Kitsch was also curious to explore the dynamic between the two brothers. He says: "That is what put me overboard, no pun intended: the arc of where Hopper starts in the story-from stealing and being arrested to the head shaving when he enlists-to his becoming a leader. As an actor, that's everything. You see his emotion through the loss he suffers, then watch as he becomes the ship's captain. Hopper never wanted to be this guy, but he's thrown into it unexpectedly and is forced to reach his own potential in the most extreme circumstance. Even though he's in the Navy, his core hasn't changed. This guy who's saving the world is the same guy who you met in the beginning.

"In comparison, Stone gives him a purpose, and Hopper owes everything to his brother," the actor continues. "Initially, he didn't want to reach his potential because of that risk of failure. He'd rather just sit and go with the flow because he can get by with no problem. But taking this risk is also risking failure, and that's something Hopper, in the beginning, just won't do."

Calling Kitsch "the real deal," Berg flew to London-where the performer was in production on John Carter-to pitch to him. Kitsch recalls the meal: "The way Pete does it, it's not like your average meeting. It's like this: 'You want to do this with me or not? Let's do it. Let's kill it. Let's make a badass, fun movie with a heartbeat in it!' To have that responsibility and challenge is everything. There was already a trust there, which is everything on set. You've got to know that your director has you, your character and, of course, the film's best interest at heart." Kitsch shares the big screen with another television favorite, Alexander Skarsgård. The star of HBO's award-winning series True Blood was brought on to the production as Commander Stone, Hopper's disciplined older brother who convinces Hopper to get his act together by joining the Navy. Berg met the performer for dinner, this time in Los Angeles, where Skarsgård is based while filming the show on which he stars as Eric Northman, the aged Viking vampire.

As it turns out, the eldest son of acting great Stellan Skarsgård was quite familiar with "Battleship": He played the game, known in Swedish as "Sänka Skepp" ("Sink Ship"), as a boy. "On meeting Pete for the first time, I liked him," Skarsgård says. "His energy was enthusiastic, as was the way he talked about the project. When he discussed his father's fascination with naval history, you could see Pete's passion come out. And I liked the dynamic between two brothers. Stone is diligent, hardworking, and attended the Naval Academy. He's very motivated. He also loves his younger brother, but he isn't sure how to help him."

"But Hopper doesn't have that drive at all," Skarsgård adds. "He screws up all the time, but he's also charming. Stone's approach is to let his brother learn and grow from his mistakes. He's tough on Hopper, but you feel the love between them and the connection there. You have to feel that he really cares about his brother or it wouldn't work. I really liked the dynamic of their story arc."

Skarsgård took care in sculpting his role by requesting time on a U.S. Navy vessel, USS Benfold (DDG 65) to watch a commanding officer (CO) and his crew in action. While the U.S. Navy was a new entity for him, the actor was no stranger to military service. Before co-starring as a marine in David Simon's gritty HBO miniseries Generation Kill, he had logged time as a Marine who worked in antiterrorism in his homeland of Sweden.

The timing of Skarsgård's request coincided with the 2010 Rim of the Pacific Exercise (RIMPAC), the biennial maritime event staged off of the Hawaiian coast. It is the world's largest international maritime gathering, and more than a dozen navies from around the globe participate. RIMPAC is hosted and administered by the U.S. Navy, with support from the U.S. Marine Corps, the U.S. Coast Guard, Hawaii's National Guard and the U.S. Pacific Fleet, which invites and oversees allied military forces from the Pacific Rim n

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