Peter Berg is one of the most recognizable directors in Hollywood, even if that's only because he used to be on TV (Chicago Hope).
Since then, he's gotten behind the camera for the movie version of Friday Night Lights and become the executive producer of the TV series of the same name, which finally returns for a second season this Friday, October 5.
He also just released, The Kingdom, set in Saudi Arabia and featuring a small role by Friday Night Lights star Kyle Chandler as well as a cameo by Minka Kelly (in addition to stars Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Garner and Chris Cooper, of course).
Peter Berg spoke to New York Magazine about Friday Night Lights, The Kingdom, Muslims, multitasking, and leaning on Jeff Zucker.
New York: The Kingdom has tons of explosions and stunts — how do you learn to manage all that?
Peter Berg: I've had every job you could have on a movie set. I was a grip, a prop man, a stand-in, a PA. The key to big action sequences is having a vision for what you want. Way before we started, I had beers with our stunt coordinator, playing with toy cars like little kids, and I'm telling him, "This car will hit that car, and it will swerve and twist."
New York: Do you think the film has a political message?
Peter Berg: I hope that it's pretty clear that the movie doesn't support religious extremism, but it does support dialogue between Muslims and non-Muslims.
New York: But it doesn't portray Saudi society in general very positively.
Peter Berg: Yeah, if there was a tourism department of the Saudi government, which there's not, I bet we'd be getting some phone calls from them right about now. But The Kingdom presents the most optimistic and moderate portrayal of an Arab character that I've ever seen in a film.
New York: What's your input these days on Friday Night Lights?
Peter Berg: I watch the rough cut of all the episodes, and generally I love everything they're doing, so my role is to be a fan. Every once in a while, I'll have an opinion on something.
New York: Like what?
Peter Berg: There's something very dramatic and violent that happens in the first episode. I encouraged the producers to carefully consider what the impact of that would be. I didn't want it to appear that we were being sensational.
Peter Berg: Let's just say I was on Jeff Zucker's phone list repeatedly. There wasn't a lot of subtlety. It was, "Jeff, you got to pick up the fucking show." And he would say, "I hear you." And I'd say, "No, Jeff, I'm serious, you've got to pick up the fucking show."
New York: Did you make nice when he picked it up?
Peter Berg: I sent him a bathrobe that says MR. ZUCKER.
New York: What's your next movie?
Peter Berg: It's called Hancock. Will Smith plays an alcoholic superhero who's trying to get his life back on track.
New York: What superpowers does he have?
Peter Berg: He can fly, he's bulletproof, he's very strong, and he's incredibly sarcastic.
New York: That sounds like quite a change of pace from the Middle East.
Peter Berg: I wanted to make a movie that my 7-year-old son could see. The Kingdom is too violent; he couldn't see any of it. He was very upset about it. He tried to convince me that he's old enough to handle realistic portrayals of violence and that it won't cause psychological problems. But I don't buy it.
New York: Do you let him watch Friday Night Lights?
Peter Berg: Oh, sure.