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'Deepwater Horizon' Director On The BP Oil Spill And The 'Addictive Dance' For Fuel

Peter Berg discusses his new film, which recreates the final hours of the oil rig that exploded and sank, causing the BP oil spill. Eleven rig workers died trying to prevent the disaster.




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Other segments from the episode on September 26, 2016

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, September 26, 2016: Interview by Peter Berg; Review of CD by Angel Olsen



This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, in for Terry Gross.

When we think of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico six years ago, we remember the extensive environmental damage and the video of crude oil gushing from the ocean floor for months. But it's easy to forget that 11 people died in the explosions and fire on the oil rig that led to the disaster.

Our guest today is Peter Berg, who directed the new film "Deepwater Horizon." The film, which stars Mark Wahlberg and Kurt Russell, depicts the final chaotic hours of the crew on that oil rig and explores the causes of the blowout that triggered the catastrophe.

Peter Berg's been writing, acting and directing films and television for 30 years. He starred the TV medical series "Chicago Hope," directed the film "Friday Night Lights" and then developed it as an NBC television series as its executive producer. He's directed several projects for HBO, including the sports documentary series "State Of Play." Among his other films are "Battleship," "Lone Survivor" and the forthcoming "Patriots Day."

Well, Peter Berg, welcome back to FRESH AIR. What got you interested in this story?

PETER BERG: The first thing that really kind of stuck out to me in terms of making a film was a "60 Minutes" piece that I saw that - I think it was about eight months, nine months after the Deepwater rig had exploded. They had, I think, just capped the well. And "60 Minutes" ran a piece that really focused on this one man's story, Mike Williams, who was the last man to get off the rig.

And, you know, we'd - I had known the story of the blowout and of the environmental disaster, the oil spill, the attempt to stop the spill, all that. But I had never really thought about, well, what led up to that spill? What - who were these people that worked on the rig? What did they do? And why did it all sort of go wrong? And that piece, the "60 Minutes" piece, kind of got me going.

Then I read this incredible New York Times piece that David Barstow did for the Times that really took you deep into the 14, 15 hours leading up to the blowout. And it was just a very interesting story.

DAVIES: It is, yeah. Now, 11 people died in the explosion and fire. I understand you met with the families of all 11?

BERG: I did. And that was another aspect of my research leading up to committing to do the film that really kind of sealed the deal for me. And I met with the families of these 11 men who died.

And, you know, when you meet with these families, you're obviously, you know, hit hard with their - the grief they're experiencing from that loss. But there's this added grief, which is that most people, when they hear about the Deepwater Horizon, and - if they do hear that someone died, their first reaction is often, well, you know, those guys caused the oil spill. So, you know, maybe that's fate - right? - that's karma.

And when I realized that, you know, not only did these 11 men not cause the oil spill - that oil spill was caused by decisions being made by guys that work for companies like BP that are way, way above their pay grade - but that these men actually died trying to prevent the oil spill. They stayed at their workstations, you know, when they could have jumped off the rig onto the lifeboats. They stayed on the rig and attempted very hard and courageously to try and prevent that blowout. And they died trying to prevent it.

When I realized the families, you know, had, A, had lost their loved one and then, B, had this public misperception of what happened, that kind of got me going. And I was a bit angered and inspired by that.

DAVIES: You know, in the film, the explosion itself is an amazing thing to watch. But we begin the film by getting to know these people who live in this world of offshore drilling.

And, you know, most of us work jobs Monday to Friday and have weekends off if we're lucky. Some of us have to work weekends or other shifts. These people work, what, 21 days away from home at a time. And one of the details that we see early in the film is how they get to work, meaning how they get to an offshore rig.

You want to talk about that?

BERG: Right. Well, I mean, there's a slight military component to this lifestyle. You know, soldiers deploy for, you know, a bit longer, you know, five or six months. But I think, you know, the basic oil deployment is three to four weeks. And you're about 50 miles off the coast. And that's a helicopter ride. So you - everyone shows up the day their shift starts. They show up at these sort of temporary helicopter airports that are in these small towns like Venice, La. or Port Fourchon, La. And everybody steps on the scale, weighs themselves. And then, you know, groups of 10 or 15 men and women pack into these helicopters and fly.

And I did one of these flights out to a rig. And you get about 5 miles out and you still have 35 miles to go. And you hit weather, you know, there's a lot of weather in the Gulf. And the isolation is very clear and very palpable. And I found just - my anxiety level after about 5 miles, every mile I just felt unsettled and very alone in that helicopter.

DAVIES: The other thing that I noticed early in the film is that in some little ways, you see people, you know, filling up - the characters in the film filling up their pickups at a gas station. And you remind us that we are all kind of complicit in some way in the extraction of oil.

BERG: You know, I've been asked why I didn't make a film about the oil spill or about the environmental aspects of that - this event. And my answer is, you know, that - I believe that's been, you know, pretty well covered. I think we all understand. And most people, if they do any research at all, understand that, you know, BP's paid in excess of $60 billion in fines as a result of that incident. And people are aware of the oil spill.

I didn't really think it was critical to make a film attacking BP. Although I think, you know, John Malkovich does a great job of conveying the ruthlessness that some of the BP company men, you know, used to create pressure to get what they wanted. BP was behind schedule and they were over budget with this rig. And there was a lot of pressure to cut corners.

But it is, you know, as true as that is, it's obvious that we are all complacent in this addictive dance that we do with fuel. And, you know, anybody that flies in planes or wears petroleum-based clothing or takes their children to work or, you know, anything - and we obviously - and - are very interdependent and in many ways responsible for this drilling.

DAVIES: Now, the Deepwater Horizon is actually kind of a floating machine that drills deep water wells. It doesn't extract the oil. It goes - it positions itself, and in this case, drops a drill bit a mile to the sea floor, and then another 2 miles in this case to reach an oil deposit. It's amazing.

You want to just describe a bit what the rig is like, its dimensions?

BERG: Sure. Well, the rig - these rigs are absolutely huge. And they are real testaments to engineering and, you know, man's ability to design very, very complex pieces of equipment. They're huge, you know, they sit about 150 feet tall. They're almost an acre in their - you know, the amount of space they consume over the water. The drill, the actual derrick, the top of the derrick goes up about 450 feet.

And like you say, they're capable of reaching extreme depths just to get to the bottom of the ocean. And then once they get there, they're capable of boring extremely deep into the core of the Earth. In the case of the Deepwater Rig, this was the deepest that man has ever drilled into the Earth, which kind of provided us with, like, an Icarus in reverse type of a metaphor. You know, how - it wasn't how high man can fly before he crashes. It was, in this case, how deep can we go before the pressures of these oil reserves become too great and they blow out?

But, you know, I was very interested to find out that these rigs are giant ships. They're controlled by about 15 different massive propellers that are communicating with satellites that can constantly turn and readjust their speeds based on current and wind direction to keep the rig centered directly over that pipe. And that's called direct positioning, and it's a very complex way of navigating. And that in and amongst itself I found fascinating. But the other thing is, you know, most people just don't realize that they're not pumping oil. They've got to find the oil which is a very complex event in and amongst itself.

Once they find it, if they're right, they go down, and they bore down. And it can take, you know, a month or two months just to make contact with that oil reserve. And then once you've made contact, that's like basically sticking your finger into a nuclear bomb. It wants to blow. So they've got to then manage extraordinarily high pressure, and that's where pieces of equipment like the blowout preventer that you - that is represented in our film come into play. And these very smart guys are a bunch of like MIT-style engineers - are sitting on top of a nuclear bomb trying to stabilize it. And that's the game these guys play, and it's pretty impressive to watch.

DAVIES: Right. And if they do it right, they drill, they find the oil then they cap it, stabilize it and move on. And then an extraction rig...

BERG: Then the lamer crews, as they say in our movie, as Mark's daughter says, the lamer crews come, and they just simply turn on a faucet, you know, underwater. That's actually not quite that simple, but the the real challenging work is in the finding of the oil, and then the making connect contact with that oil. But then the real challenge is stabilizing it. That oil is like a wild monster that wants to blow out, and it takes a lot of force to keep it from blowing out. And that's, of course, what, you know, went wrong on that rig that day about six years ago.

DAVIES: Now, when you take us onto the rig in this film, I mean - I'm reminded that most of us civilians who don't live in the industrial world - I think would be very unsettled maybe really frightened just to be on this thing because the weight and the scale of the machines and the chains and the drills and the stairs - it would be really unsettling and kind of scary. And I'm wondering the people who worked on them regularly did - do you think they lived with the sense of daily danger? I mean, obviously something like this had never happened, but did - was it routine for them or did it also kind of have a menacing, scary quality to it?

BERG: I mean, I think they definitely were aware of the dangers. I mean, you're absolutely right. Around every corner is a very serious injury just waiting to happen, and safety is something that is talked about and stressed so, you know, consistently on these rigs that it would be impossible to not, you know, be constantly vigilant. But the ultimate fear is falling off the rig. The one thing you never, ever, ever want to do is get in the water and jump off that rig. You're 50 miles off the coast. There's heavy currents. The water is on fire. It's the dead of night. Steel and oil and all kinds of things are falling everywhere. There's sharks. And the fact that some of these men and a - one female had no option other than to jump - when I really understood that, it reminded me of, you know, what we in New York experienced and other people obviously around the world, 9/11, when, you know, people had absolutely no choice but to jump out of the towers. That was, to me, it was almost as desperate an act and that was, you know, obviously something that I found very emotional and hit me very hard when I was thinking about doing the film.

DAVIES: Peter Berg directed the new film "Deepwater Horizon." We'll continue our conversation in just a moment. This is FRESH AIR.


DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR, and we're speaking with film director Peter Berg. He directed the new film "Deepwater Horizon" about the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. You had to recreate the rig in some way, and I was a little surprised to read that you didn't actually have access to a deepwater rig to film on because it looks like you're there. How did you pull this off? Did you reconstruct a rig on dry land?

BERG: Well, yeah. We had problems because BP was not particularly thrilled that we were making the film. You know, BP and the oil industry in general appropriately wields a lot of power in that community, and they pay a lot of mortgages. And because we were making a film about the oil spill, the oil blowout and what happened that day, BP was not - not only were they not a big advocate or very supportive, but they actually became a very effective disruptor. And we couldn't get access to many of the things that we wanted to. We couldn't get access to the boats, to some of the helicopters, to some of the men and women that we wanted to speak to.

But the biggest thing we couldn't get access to which is what we wanted the most was an oil rig. You know, one of these big, deepwater platforms. We tried and were politely but firmly declined on - at every turn. And that was challenging because we - I had always thought we would be able to film a portion of the movie on a real, you know, rig. And when it became apparent that we couldn't, the next best option was to build a sizable 85 percent to scale recreation of a rig which we did. And it was an extraordinary set, and we built that in a parking lot of an abandoned Six Flags amusement park just outside of New Orleans. And it was it was an extraordinary set.

DAVIES: Was there water? I mean, you know...

BERG: There was - the rig - the set we built was about 85 feet in the air, was about size of about one and a half football fields, and underneath it was a 5-acre water tank that we could set on fire and we could, you know, blow up giant pieces of that set and blow oil and mud up in the air about 150 feet and land helicopters on it to do all kinds of things to try and provide the audience with an experience that was - felt as authentic and, you know, non-computer effect created as possible.

DAVIES: I imagine the locals were kind of interested to see this thing appear in their neighborhood.

BERG: Yeah, I mean, we were way out in the swamps. And, you know, now that Six Flags had built itself kind of out in a pretty remote area, so we didn't get a lot of visits from locals. But it was full of alligators. I think we pulled about 15 alligators out of our water tank...

DAVIES: (Laughter).

BERG: ...Dozens of water moccasins. And there were wild pigs everywhere. So, like, you'd go to go to the bathroom and, you know, you'd come out of the bathroom, there'd be four wild pigs standing in the parking lot staring at you. And you just, like, would go back in the bathroom real quick and start screaming for help.

And we had a lot of visits from those types of critters, but not a lot of humans ventured out where we were. It was also hot. We were deep in the heart of summer, so we had it to ourselves.

DAVIES: Deepwater drilling is complicated. And you had to decide how much of that complexity to include in the film because what went wrong involves decisions and actions that are technical. How did you address that?

BERG: I got - I had the extreme fortune of spending time almost in what we called oil school, which, you know, we - was set up for us by some of our producers. And we were able to spend a lot of time with petroleum engineers and deepwater drilling experts. And they took us slowly and carefully deep enough into the process so we were able to kind of all agree that it was fascinating, you know.

And it's my belief that, you know, nobody likes to consider themselves stupid. And people actually like to learn things. And I felt that if we could find a way of presenting enough of this science to the audience so that they could keep up. That we could lose them at times or be - not speak down to them and not have to dumb down the science too much, so that they would understand to get - to really get the gist of what was happening and understand the basic elements of what was happening on that rig without necessarily understanding every word that was said. And we, you know, worked hard to find the right mix, the balance of, you know, science and then just, you know, common speak so that the audience could stay with it. And I'm very happy with the way that's playing now.

DAVIES: OK. Well, here's a challenge. You want to give us a short version of what went wrong on the Deepwater Horizon?

BERG: Right. Well, there's no one that can - that's a great question. And nobody can answer that question conclusively for sure. And there's still so many differences of opinion.

However, the one area that almost everyone seems to agree on - everyone I talked to and I - I've asked that question maybe to 150 people who are all very connected with the rig, you know. What went wrong? Why did it happen? You know, what was the genesis of the disaster? And almost everyone seems to believe - and now at the bottom of these wells, deep underground, they pump cement. They call it seament (ph), but it's cement - concrete. They pump it deep down into the core of the Earth. And that cement forms sort of a protective casing that's designed to keep the oil from all flooding up out of that hole. It's a very thick, heavy wall of concrete that's poured deep underneath the ocean and the Earth's surface. And, you know, if that cement is not poured properly, it hardens obviously. And that's the beginning of the management of that intense pressure. If that cement is not poured properly, and if that cement starts to break apart or, you know, is compromised, you can get too much oil streaming to the hole that takes the oil up out of the Earth. It's very widely believed that there was something wrong with that cement job.

And one of the reasons why people point a finger at BP is that before you declare a well safe, you have to do something called a cement bond log. And I don't want to bore people, but it's actually kind of interesting. A cement bond log is like a final test where you send sonar images deep, deep down into the Earth to test the solidity of that concrete. And that test costs a couple of hundred thousand dollars. BP didn't do that test. They sent the team home that's supposed to do the test, saving themselves a couple of hundred thousand.

And, you know, it's many people's belief that they didn't do the test because they just didn't want to get any bad news. They knew if the test came up bad, they're going have to rip it all out and do it again. They were in a hurry to get out of there. Not doing that test, not checking the cement saved them $200,000 in the short term, and cost them $60 billion and 11 men who lost their lives in the long term. So that to me is, you know, most people seem to agree that that's at the heart of what went wrong.

DAVIES: Peter Berg directed the new film "Deepwater Horizon." After a break, he'll tell us more about the film, about making a documentary on parents who want to turn their kids into star athletes, and about why he still trains and spars at a boxing gym.

I'm Dave Davies, and this is FRESH AIR.


DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, in for Terry Gross.

We're speaking with Peter Berg, who's directed the new film "Deepwater Horizon," about the explosions and fire on the offshore drilling rig that led to the BP oil spill. Berg's also an actor and writer. He directed the film "Friday Night Lights" and produced the TV series. He's also directed the films "Battleship" and "Lone Survivor," and several projects for HBO including the sports documentary series "State Of Play." In the film, before the crisis emerges and the blowout happens, you hear some of the characters talking about little things on the rig that don't work - phones or things like that that just aren't working right, a sense that the thing was compromised. Was that the case on the Deepwater Horizon?

BERG: They called the Deepwater Horizon the well from hell. That was the nickname that that rig got right up around the time that it blew out. There were many factors that went into calling the rig the well from hell. One of them was that the - they had a tremendous amount of difficulty drilling the hole. They had tried two times prior to the third attempt which was the attempt that blew out. But - and one of the rig - one of the attempts to drill in the hole they had come in from the wrong angle, and they snapped the drill off. And they had to repositioned themselves, try again. They weren't - they missed.

And the third time they actually made contact. By the time they made contact and were in the process of trying to stabilize that pressure, they were approximately 40 days behind schedule, and the rig operates at about $1.5 million dollars a day. So there was - they had a considerable financial overrun, and as a result they weren't pumping a lot of money - putting a lot of money into fixing up the rig. They were - and Mike Williams' character Mark Wahlberg says it to John Malkovich in the film. He said it feels like you're all trying to land the plane as you run out of gasoline. You're not keeping anything in the tank. He says, you know, you're exercising hope as a tactic and that's a bad tactic. The - they had stopped fixing things. There were lots of systems on the rig that were just not working properly or broken.

None of those systems had anything specifically to do with the blowout, although the blowout preventer - that piece of equipment below the - deep below the ocean that was overdue for maintenance. The - things like the airconditioning and some of the water, the piping, fire alarms, little things were not working properly. They didn't have anything to do directly with the blowout, but they were, you know, symptomatic of a larger problem that was things were not being done properly on that rig.

DAVIES: I read a piece that was written after the premiere of the film in Louisiana in which some specific plot points were disputed, some of them involving the BP executive played by John Malkovich and whether he was accurately portrayed. I mean, I imagine you expected some of this.

BERG: Yeah, of course.

DAVIES: Anything that you've heard that - I don't know...

BERG: Not really. I mean...

DAVIES: ...That you regard as a serious issue?

BERG: You know, we - no. The answer to that is no, and, you know, we were put under the scrutiny of attorneys pretty intensely. These were lawyers that Lionsgate had to hire in order to get insurance because they're so concerned about litigation and lawsuits from anybody associated with BP, including the men that work for BP that were on the rig - Vidrine and Kaluza - both of whom were charged with 11 accounts - 11 counts of manslaughter, and those charges were dropped. They - eventually and the court was not able to find a direct link between their actions and the death of those 11 men, although it was clear that, you know, their actions were certainly in many ways responsible for that blowout. It was impossible to prove intent. And I think there clearly was no intent to kill anyone on the part of BP or these men. But there was negligence, and there were decisions that were made that clearly led to the loss of life and led to the environmental issues. And that's why BP has paid, you know, 60 plus billion dollars.

So we were very careful with what we said and, you know, wanted to make sure that we could back up any major, you know, representations in our film. You know, that being said, there were moments that we condensed. There were - there was, you know, narrative aspects of the story that we jumped over because you just couldn't tell a 15-hour story in two hours. And I stand by those decisions. And I've heard, you know, some of the issues, and these are issues being brought up by people who are extremely on the inside. These are either attorneys from the - that represented different members of that event or people that are deeply involved in the oil industry, and, you know, it was inevitable that with the film this complex we would get, you know, those kinds of comments and some fact checking. But the basic facts, I think, are very, very solid.

DAVIES: You know, you began with an acting career and then eventually got into directing. You did "Friday Night Lights" the movie, the TV series, and you made this documentary series for HBO called "State Of Play." And I was going to focus on the first episode which is called "Trophy Kids." It's about dads and moms who have big ambitions for their children - amazing stuff, and I thought we would play one clip. This is from a dad named Josh whose son plays football at a private school he attends. And the dad has spent a lot of time working with his kid, making him practice, driving him to and from practice, pushing him to get better. And here they are driving home after a game.


JOSH: Let me explain something to you. If you do something wrong, do I tell you?

JAY: Yeah.

JOSH: OK. I correct it or I tell you so you can correct it. How do you know what to correct if you don't even know why he pulled you out of the game? What did I tell you about that? Are you scared of them or something?

JAY: No.

JOSH: So why don't you go ask him? Like right now. You know we're going to have this conversation after the game. You know it's coming. OK? This is part of you becoming a young man. If someone does something, you're just going to take it? So if I was to walk up to you and just slap you upside your face, what are you going to do? Just turn around and be like I don't know why that guy did that?

It doesn't make any sense, Jay. You act like your 10 or 9 or 8. You're just going through the motions. If you're going to be selfish, you know what? You have other brothers and sisters. OK? We'll take you from out of that school and give them a chance to put them in a private school. I don't understand it. I don't understand it. It confuses me. What's the problem?

JAY: Every time I come back in the car I just feel like I'm in trouble or I did something wrong.

JOSH: Well, did you?

JAY: Yeah.

JOSH: You've had more personal training than any of those kids out there. OK? Back to the drawing board. Back up to getting early, back up in the morning, OK? Because it doesn't make any sense. You have me driving back and forth from this school, back and forth, back and forth, back and forth for you to go out and do absolutely nothing. I don't understand why you don't get it. I don't understand it.

DAVIES: And that's from the documentary "Trophy Kids" directed by our guest Peter Berg. But this profiled four - I guess, four sets of parents' kids - it's just painful to watch, and I'm amazed. How did you get these parents to permit this kind of exposure?

BERG: Right. Well, let me start by saying that I co-directed it with a very talented filmmaker named Chris Bell, who first brought this material in an unfinished form to me. And I watched it. And my jaw just dropped. It was just unedited raw footage. And he had gotten the access to these families.

And he's very talented, you know, young filmmaker who, you know, just has this real aw shucks quality. And he's like, hey, you guys seem like nice people. Could I come follow you around and film you? And these people forget that he's there. And it was shocking how they had such a distorted perception of who they were as parents and people in general. And they, you know, allowed us to film. And then we kept filming. And we started editing it. And Chris would go back and film more. And then we would edit it.

And it was, you know, one of the most intense things I've ever been a part of. And, you know, one of the interesting aspects of that story is - there's a story of a young - 12-year-old-girl who's a very good golfer and her father, who's, you know, equally intense and was very rough with his daughter. And when the movie came out, we got a letter from that father. And I was nervous to open it. And in that letter, he thanked us for the show. He said it was like someone had finally put a mirror up to him. He had no idea that he'd become this man, and that if his behavior and his parenting could help any parent turn it down and sort of disengage from that kind of activity, he was very happy to be a part of it. And I was happy to get that letter.

But it's, you know, that - this is clearly a very real problem. I've had so many people come up to me and want to talk about this movie and say that, you know, they've seen this kind of behavior on the soccer field, on the flag football field, on the hockey rinks. And I've also had so many people come up to me and say unfortunately, you know, they might not be as intense or as narcissistic or having this kind of deep vicarious attachment to their kid's athletic performance that these parents do, but they can relate to it a bit, you know. And I, as a father of a son who plays sports, I've had moments where, you know, you watch your kid fail on a field and you feel like the effort's not there. And as a parent, you get concerned and anxious. And, you know, I think some of that's reasonable. But there's clearly a line that gets crossed often, certainly in America with parents and their relationship to their kid's sports.

And, you know, it was - it's something special when you get to make a film and you really feel the connection. And as much as anything I've ever done, "Trophy Kids" really elicited a strong response from, you know, virtually everyone who saw it.

DAVIES: How do you deal with your kids and their athletic ambitions?

BERG: You know, right now I'm fortunate because my son plays lacrosse. And that's a sport that I never played. I don't really know that much about it, other than I really like watching it. And I'm able to sit and enjoy his play from, you know, the position of a fan or a spectator. And I really do try to check myself whenever I feel, you know, my own ego getting in, you know, kind of wrapped up in his athletic performance. I do everything I can to disengage.

And, you know, I find it interesting. If you listen to that clip you played where Josh is screaming at his son, he must say the word I and me 20 times. You know, I did this and I do that and how can you disrespect me and me - and it's...

DAVIES: Right.

BERG: ...So clearly an ego distortion, you know. And I think, you know, for me, I literally take a deep breath and do everything I can to disengage my own stuff from whatever my child's going through on the field. And, you know, I think I'm manageable.


BERG: I've had my moments. But I generally - I'll walk away and sing a song to myself and calm down and not take it out on my son.

DAVIES: Peter Berg directed the new film "Deepwater Horizon." We'll continue our conversation after a short break.

This is FRESH AIR.


DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR, and we're speaking with Peter Berg. He directed the new film "Deepwater Horizon."

I read you co-own a gym, and that you like to - I know you boxed when you were younger. But you still like to work out on the heavy bag. And you still train and spar...

BERG: I do.

DAVIES: ...With other fighters. I mean, you know...

BERG: I love boxing, yeah.

DAVIES: ...I mean, guys our age get sore doing yard work. I mean, (laughter) what do you get out of trading punches with somebody?

BERG: Well, I've been a boxing fan my whole life. And about five years ago, I went to a dear friend of mine, Freddie Roach, who's a wonderful trainer and has a gym in Hollywood, Calif. called the Wild Card Boxing Club, which is probably the most famous boxing gym in the world. And I asked Freddie if we could open one up on the west side in Santa Monica. And he said sure. And so I did, I opened it up. And we started getting pro fighters coming in.

And it's a community that I care a lot about. It's a community that doesn't have a lot of people looking out for it. There's a lot of corruption at the top. The business is very distorted. But I've always found boxing to be an incredibly pure sport. The level of character of most fighters I find very high. And it's just the best workout you can get. And, you know, I'm 52 years old. And I absolutely love to spar. I, you know, I'm careful about how I do it. I don't get in there with young guys that are going to knock me out. I don't want to be knocked out. But the contact and the focus and the energy I get from sparring gives me energy to make movies, energy to be a dad, energy to be a friend, and, you know, makes me feel, probably, a lot younger and behave a lot younger than I am.

So no, I would say people like, how can you do it? And I always ask people, how can you not do it? You know, if you're a 50-year-old guy and you're sitting around the house with - you know, and just getting fatter, feeling sorry for yourself, get up and move your body and see what it does to your life and to your mind and to your happiness and to your energy levels. And I get all that from boxing.

DAVIES: One more thing, you've had some great acting roles. How do you like acting as opposed to directing? And do you plan to do more of it?

BERG: You know, I found at a certain point in my acting career that I was just bored. I had too much energy. I had too many ideas. I was - it was a movie, "Cop Land," that I did some time ago. And I was on the set, I was acting I had a small role in it. Robert De Niro was there and Harvey Keitel and Ray Liotta. And Sylvester Stallone had gotten real big for this movie and was doing this whole dramatic, you know, turn.

And Harvey Weinstein was the producer. And it was a, you know, very prestigious film. And I had a small part. So I was kind of sitting around on the set all the time. And there was this young director who was in the middle of it all who had written a script and was directing it. And he was in the middle of all these, you know, arguments with Robert De Niro and creative conversations with Stallone. And Harvey Weinstein had his arm around him. And I was like, man, that looks like the fun job.

And I walked up to him, and his name was James Mangold. And I said, hey, can I ask you a question? He had this look of - he was just in the middle of this, like, wild ride or something, you know, in the middle of directing. And his eyes were wide and his - he just looked very alive. And he kind of looked at me, he said, what is it? I said, how do you get this job, man? How do you do this? And he said, what are you talking about? I said, I want your job. He said, really? I said, I do. He said, well, you got to write. You got to write a movie. And I'm like, great, well, how do you write a movie?

And he kind of took me through his process, which was, you know, sharpie pens and note cards. And he said, do you have any ideas? I said, well, yeah. I kind of have some ideas. He said, well, write them out on note cards and don't stop the note cards until you finish it because you'll quit otherwise. And I did that and I made my first film, which was called "Very Bad Things." And it was about some guys at a bachelor party and things didn't go well for them...

DAVIES: Vega, right? Yeah.

BERG: Yeah, in Vegas. And probably 80 percent of the critics that saw it hated that movie horribly and ripped it. But there were just enough who liked it to keep me going. And I kind of found that that's what I prefer. I mean, I like acting for fun, but I'm very happy to be doing what I'm doing now.

DAVIES: Peter Berg, thanks so much. It's been fun.

BERG: A pleasure talking to you. And thank you for watching the movie, really appreciate it.

DAVIES: Peter Berg directed the new film "Deepwater Horizon." Coming up, Ken Tucker reviews the new album from singer, songwriter Angel Olsen. This is FRESH AIR.


This is FRESH AIR. Over the course of her recording career beginning in 2010, Angel Olsen has written albums that sound like folk music or indie rock or what she's called my low-fi velvet underground sound. But rock critic Ken Tucker says Olsen's never made an album with such a diverse variety of styles as her new one titled "My Woman." Here's Ken's review.


ANGEL OLSEN: (Singing) It hurts to be around you. I can't stand to hear your lying. Whenever you're beside me a part of me is dying. And every time I see you...

KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: Angel Olsen can make an expression of pain or frustration sound like inspirational verse. She's mastered a kind of poetry of exasperation set to music that assures you she's very much in control of her emotions and her life.

Listen to the way she takes a sprawling lyric that sounds like the description of a dream and wedges it into a very precise chorus that is her version of a 1960s girl group ballad.


OLSEN: (Singing) Coming from an endless place. Heaven hits me when I see your face. I go blind every time. Hate to have to watch you go, thought I'd been through this. Lord knows I've been trying. I'm still trying. You'll never be mine. You'll never be mine. You'll never be mine. You'll never be mine. You'll never be mine. You'll never be mine. But I would watch you...

TUCKER: I love the way Olsen's voice takes on a fatalistic firmness in the chorus. She's so sure that, quote, "you'll never be mine," there's no arguing with her. It's a conviction that spills over into the album's next and very different song, "Shut Up Kiss Me." It's no wonder this is the song she chose to perform when she appeared recently on Stephen Colbert's "Late Show." It's at once the tune most immediately recognizable as a catchy pop song while also extending the theme she's carefully developing over the course of the new album, a fierceness that can be romantic or despairing or cheerfully demanding. Here, it's all of those things at once.


OLSEN: (Singing) I ain't hanging up this time. I ain't giving up tonight. Even if you walk around, as though you think you're right. At your worst you still believe it's worth the fight. I could make it all go away. Tell me what you think and don't delay. We could still be having some sweet memories. This heart still beats for you. Why can't you see? Shut up, kiss me, hold me tight. Shut up, kiss me, hold me tight. Stop your crying. It's all right. Shut up, kiss me, hold me tight. Stop...

TUCKER: Olsen has a tendency to begin her songs with careful consideration as though she's just now at the moment of recording finalizing what she wants to say and how to phrase it. This has an effect that seems both spontaneous and well thought out, as it does on the song that opens the album called "Intern."


OLSEN: (Singing) Maybe you know that it's been too long. Going through the motions as you sing your song. Doesn't matter who you are or what you've done. Still got to wake up and be someone, still got to wake up and be someone. I don't care what the papers say. It's just another intern with a resume. I'm going to fall in love with you some day. I'm going to fall in love and run away. I'm going to fall in love and run away. Everyone I know has got...

TUCKER: One of my favorite songs here is one of the most ominous "Heart Shaped Face." That phrase could describe Olsen's own face, but for her, it's the face of a possible rival for the affections of her lover. Who's heart-shaped face are you thinking of, she asks. Her voice, a threat, the guitar a gun ready to go off, depending on the answer.


OLSEN: (Singing) I've seen you changing. I've seen you changing. Was it me you were thinking of all the time when you thought of me? Was it me you were thinking of all the time when you thought of me? Or was it your mother? Or was it your shelter? Or was it another with a heart-shaped face?

TUCKER: At one point on a song called "Woman," Olsen offers a blunt challenge. I dare you to understand what makes me a woman. The rest of the album is Angel Olsen's explanation of why it's not possible to fully understand what makes her the woman she is, and she's more than fine with that. Her songs would rather keep you guessing and being surprised.

DAVIES: Ken Tucker is critic at large for Yahoo TV. He reviewed Angel Olsen's new album "My Woman."

Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, Washington Post foreign correspondent Joshua Partlow says at the heart of the disastrous 15-year war in Afghanistan, is America's relationship with former President Hamid Karzai and his ambitious sometimes self-dealing brothers. Partlow's new book is "A Kingdom Of Their Own." Hope you can join us.


DAVIES: FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our senior producer is Roberta Shorrock. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our associate producer for online media is Molly Seavy-Nesper. John Sheehan directed today's show. For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies.

Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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