Joined: 28 Apr 2000
Location: Middletown, NJ 07748
|Posted: Mon May 08, 2000 11:12 pm Post subject: Interesting article about "Perfect Storm"
|From the LA Times. Their online links expire a few days after publication so I'm just pasting the full text below:
Tossed About by Reality
Los Angeles Times, May 7, 2000
Characters in a book are one thing, but then the cast and crew of 'The Perfect Storm' met relatives of those killed at sea.
By JOHN CLARK
GLOUCESTER, Mass.--It's hard to say what the strangest sight in Gloucester was on an October day last year. Maybe it was a woman suggestively raising and lowering her convertible top to grab George Clooney's attention. Or Mark Wahlberg's agent apparently monitoring the door at a divey bar called the Crow's Nest. Or a church full of black-clad mourners being herded into school buses.
More likely, it was simply the presence of the Andrea Gail, tied up to the end of a long pier that juts into Gloucester's harbor. The original Andrea Gail sank in a freak storm eight years ago. All six men aboard, most of them local boys, swordfish fishermen, were lost. The storm and the sinking were turned into a nonfiction bestseller called "The Perfect Storm," and Hollywood has come to Gloucester, about 40 minutes north of Boston, to film it.
"Right now, [Gloucester] seems pumped full of steroids," says "Perfect Storm" author Sebastian Junger, slightly bemused. He's wearing cutoff jeans, a sweatshirt, an earring and a five o'clock shadow. He looks like a Hemingway idea of an author.
Clooney, who plays the Andrea Gail's captain, Billy Tyne, and sports a similar look--he's just gotten through his midday two-on-two basketball game--says, "It's weird. Everybody you meet here is related to somebody or was friends with or knew these guys who died."
Wahlberg, unspeakably grubby and cracking a lobster claw with his bare hands and picking the meat out, says: "I got here a couple of months before the movie started. It was nice. It was quiet. Nobody recognized me. Once George Clooney is here it's an [expletive] madhouse."
They are here for only two weeks. The balance of the film, which opens June 30, is being shot in Los Angeles, on sound stages and adrift off the California coast. There they will re-create the interior of the Crow's Nest, which serves as a home away from home for Gloucester's fishermen, and the storm itself, with the help of computers that can digitally generate 100-foot waves.
Clooney frankly admits that the star of the movie will be the storm, but he says audiences won't care about the storm unless they care about the people in it--Tyne (Clooney), Bobby Shatford (Wahlberg), Michael "Bugsy" Moran (John Hawkes), Dale "Murph" Murphy (John C. Reilly), Alfred Pierre (Allen Payne) and David "Sully" Sullivan (William Fichtner).
The film's director, Wolfgang Petersen ("Das Boot," "In the Line of Fire," "Air Force One"), wishes they were shooting the whole movie here.
"I just love it," he says enthusiastically. "I grew up in the north [of Germany] in a small town called Emden and then came to Hamburg. Both are close to water. I grew up like this, so I love it."
"Like this" is not always to everyone's liking, however. Several days earlier, after a storm blew through, the second unit went out to shoot rough seas, and nearly all of them lost their lunch. Some members of the first unit are wearing seasickness patches so as not to join them.
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Nevertheless, most share Petersen's enthusiasm, especially the cast, who've gotten to shoot pool at the Crow's Nest and generally soak up the atmosphere. Rick Shatford, Bobby's brother, gave Wahlberg a chain with Bobby's name and the date of the sinking on it. Clooney showed the Andrea Gail to Tyne's sister (though this proved too much for her--she broke down). Hawkes helped Ricky wallpaper his mother Ethel's bedroom. Fichtner had chicken soup with Sully's family. Diane Lane actually met the character she plays, Christina Cotter, Bobby's girlfriend, and checked out her perfume. ("Essential oils," Lane says. "So she's a real babe.")
All of the actors are careful to say that they will not be imitating these people. They won't be following the book to the letter either--there is no letter to follow. Junger does not explore the characters in great detail, which actually works in the filmmakers' favor, because fans of the book do not have a fixed idea of who these people are. Instead, the actors are guided by Petersen and the script, written by William Wittliff (who adapted Larry McMurtry's novel "Lonesome Dove" into a miniseries that is, oddly, a favorite among the fishermen here) and doctored by Bo Goldman.
The parameters they have to work with are that the characters are working-class, hard-living, hard-drinking, some of them with ex-wives and children they have to support. The town they live in is depressed, the fishing stock depleted. A few people in Gloucester had a problem with Junger's inclusion of some of these untidy facts in the book, but he feels that it was necessary--and honest. Now that they've met some of the people involved, the filmmakers feel these competing interests keenly. Clooney says there have been daily rewrites, for a variety of reasons.
"There's that much freedom when you're in Los Angeles shooting the movie, but when you're here with the people--it's interesting," Clooney says. "Like a writer could put a line in--'Yeah, my ex-wife is holding me up for alimony'--because it would be something that would force [a person] to go out on the job. But that ex-wife actually lives in this town, and if you're going to do a giant movie that's going to open up for the Fourth of July, there is a responsibility. Billy Tyne does have an ex-wife."
The filmmakers have more latitude with the storm and the fate of the Andrea Gail. The boat was returning to Gloucester with a hold full of fish when it ran into the storm. It lost radio contact in heavy seas on the Grand Banks, south of Newfoundland, and that was the last anyone heard of it. (The rest of the "sword fleet," scattered to the east and north, managed to ride it out.)
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Junger cleverly got around the fact that no one knows what happened by interviewing survivors of similar storms and marshaling a dazzling array of marine and meteorological information. (Did you know that the deluge from such storms is so intense that birds drown in flight?) As a consequence, Petersen and company are at liberty to interpret and dramatize the possibilities however they want, including how the men died. It will be interesting to see how graphic this will be, especially now that they've met their relatives and friends. (Fichtner says the actors were given underwater training, which suggests a protracted sequence.)
One of the curiosities of "The Perfect Storm," the book, is that after the Andrea Gail sinks, Junger moves on to other disasters and near-disasters that occurred during the same storm, involving a yacht and Coast Guard helicopter sent to rescue its crew. Petersen says he plans to introduce these vessels and characters (played by, among others, Karen Allen and Cherry Jones) earlier in the narrative, so that the Andrea Gail remains front and center throughout. Obviously there will be no Hollywood ending, even if the budget, rumored to be north of $100 million, calls for one. While the filmmakers have been creative about what they don't know, they've been painstakingly--and expensively--accurate in depicting what they do know. They tracked down and bought a sister ship of the Andrea Gail, the Lady Grace, for $250,000, and outfitted it to look like the doomed vessel. Richard Haworth, a former captain of the Andrea Gail, was retained as an advisor. Clooney learned to dock a boat. Wahlberg and the other cast members went out with commercial fishermen. All of the guys are indistinguishable in appearance from real fishermen, as a casual visit to the Crow's Nest demonstrates. Wahlberg is staying in Bobby's old room there, No. 23.
* * *
Though the cast and director seem impeccably right, the studio, Warner Bros., originally had other talent in mind. According to producer Gail Katz, Steven Spielberg was approached to direct, but after shooting two films in the water, he didn't want to do another. Meanwhile, Petersen was given the book as he was doing post-production work on "Air Force One." The studio approached him with the project before he had a chance to read it, and once he did, he realized he was the perfect man for the job, with his maritime upbringing and his experience shooting "Das Boot," in which he depicts "what happens to people in a confined space out there on a boat."
The studio wanted Mel Gibson to play Tyne. In fact, they were so close to signing him that the Lady Grace, sailing from the East Coast to L.A. to accommodate the actor, had gotten as far as the Panama Canal when negotiations fell through. (Altogether, the boat will have been through the canal three times, a trip of 16,000 miles each way, from coast to coast.)
"We couldn't make a deal," Katz says of Gibson. "It's about his deal versus the deal the studio wished to make." Referring to the material's appeal, she adds, "I've had actors of real substance who said they would do craft services."
In a sense, Clooney was one of them. Originally, he wanted to play Bobby, and he says he would have done it for nothing just for the chance to act opposite Gibson. When Gibson fell out, Petersen approached him to play Tyne, but it took some convincing because Clooney thought he was too young for the role. He was surprised to learn that sword captains aren't grizzled patriarchs--by the time they reach early middle age, most of them have had enough of work that is dangerous, physically debilitating and requires them to spend weeks at a time away from their families.
(Haworth, who looks to be in his early 40s, is retired, having injured his back while at sea.) They aren't even always men. Linda Greenlaw, played in the film by Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, is one of the most successful captains in the fleet.
With Clooney playing Tyne, the filmmakers turned to the crucial role of Bobby. Clooney, who had just worked with Wahlberg in "Three Kings," recommended him to Petersen and Warner Bros. Though there was some uneasiness about this suggestion--at the time he was best known for the role of the porn star in "Boogie Nights"--they went with him, in part because they thought "Three Kings" was going to be a hit. (It was--but only with critics.)
"I said, 'If you really feel that way, then let's put our money where our mouth is and let's go get Mark Wahlberg, because I've never seen anybody more perfect for it,' " says Clooney. "He's a tough kid from Dorchester [about 40 minutes away], which is so important. There is a bit of redneck in him. I like working with him, and I like watching him on screen. There's real truth in what he does." "People have been asking me that," says Wahlberg, alluding to the fact that he and Clooney are working together again. "[They said] it's a new Hollywood pairing, like Paul Newman and Robert Redford. I said no, it's like Eddie Murphy, and I'm Judge Reinhold. I'm the sidekick who gets to talk every once in a while. We had a blast on 'Three Kings,' and this just kind of came up. I'd never wanted to come back to Boston and make a movie. I never wanted to play a guy from Boston. I never wanted to hear the accent again, but it was just too good to pass up."
* * *
Wahlberg says he's been distracted by the presence of family and friends--and by the fact that some "people want to beat the [expletive] out of me. I don't know why. Brag to their buddies." Otherwise, he loves it here, loves the people, loves the food. In many ways, he's closer to the unruly spirit of the men of the Andrea Gail than anything else about the production.
One evening at the Crow's Nest, for example, a couple of days before the end of the crew's stay in Gloucester, he is shooting pool with producer Katz. The bar is roaring. It is difficult to buy a beer, because somebody else is buying it for you. Junger, having closed the bar the night before, is here. So is Mary Ann Shatford, Bobby's sister. Ethel Shatford, who tended the bar for many years and was its presiding spirit, is not, but she is very much on many minds.
Meanwhile, Wahlberg, leaning on a cue stick with a clutch of adoring girls seated nearby, looks very much at home. Surprisingly, Katz is beating him. "She's the boss, man," he says slyly. "You let the boss win."
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John Clark Is a Regular Contributor to Calendar