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Navy wanted slimmer sailor for ’Battleship’ role, director says

    FILE - In this undated file photo of a film publicity image provided by Universal Pictures, Rihanna is shown in a scene from "Battleship." Hollywood is best known for snatching up best-selling books and turning them into big-screen blockbusters, but adaptations like "Battleship" releasing on May 18, 2012, didn't need a novel's characters or built-in narrative, just a well-known brand name. (AP Photo/Universal Pictures, Frank Masi, File)
    In this film publicity image released by Universal Pictures, Tadanobu Asano, left, and Taylor Kitsch are shown in a scene from "Battleship." (AP Photo/Universal Pictures)
    In this film publicity image released by Universal Pictures, Taylor Kitsch, left, and Rihanna are shown in a scene from "Battleship." The Hasbro Inc. game using plastic pegs and ships was once a way for kids to while away lazy summer afternoons. But as it debuts in Europe on April 11, ?Battleship? the movie has become a potential franchise sporting Michael Bay-inspired special effects, aliens invading Earth, a bikini-model actress, superstar Rihanna and, of course, lots of guns. (AP Photo/Universal Pictures)
    In this film publicity image released by Universal Pictures, a naval ship is attacked by an invader in a scene from "Battleship." (AP Photo/Universal Pictures)

During the making of the movie “Battleship,” the science fiction thriller pitting U.S. naval forces against alien attackers, the Navy requested just one key change: replace an overweight actor portraying an officer with a slimmer one, according to director Peter Berg.

The surface-ship tale, a special-effects-laden movie which opens nationally today, received full U.S. Navy cooperation. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus had a one-line role as commanding officer of the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier: “Commence air operations.”

The cooperation included filming on U.S. vessels during the RIMPAC 2010 naval exercise and at famous Hawaiian sites, use of sailors on leave, helicopter flights and one day at sea filming the USS Missouri, a floating museum normally docked at Pearl Harbor. The so-called Mighty Mo battleship last fired its guns during the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

In exchange for such access, equipment and personnel, filmmakers must modify a script if requested by the Pentagon or military service. Among the most famous maritime films that received Pentagon and Navy support was 1990’s “The Hunt for Red October.”

“The only significant modification I had to make” involved the actor initially cast as a destroyer executive officer, Berg said in an interview in Washington.

“I cast without meeting him,” Berg said. “I saw him just on video. He was 35 pounds overweight. The Navy consultants had a ’body-fat’ rule. They said ’he’s too fat, don’t use him.’ I had to get rid of him. That was the only issue I had with the Navy.”

’Adventure Film’

“There were times when we would argue and disagree but we would always work it out,” Berg said.

Battleship “is an adventure film” not meant to be taken literally, Berg said. Still, Navy consultants were involved with how to portray procedures, such as “the way the Navy communicates, certainly wardrobe and cause-and effect — if some member acts out, he’s got to be held accountable,” Berg said. “That was no problem.”

The singer Rihanna, making her acting debut, had a female Navy technical adviser.

The adviser coached the Barbadian pop singer — who’s a petty officer second-class in the movie — on military protocol and weapons handling, ranging from a small-boat Gatling gun to a 5-inch destroyer deck gun she uses to demolish an alien.

The Navy allowed the filmmaker access to vessels during previously scheduled training events and dockside, said spokesman Lieutenant Myers Vasquez in a telephone interview.


Brief Voyage

NBC Universal worked directly with the Naval Facilities Engineering Command and paid all expenses for any crane, lift and dumpster usage on base, Vasquez said.

The film crew was considered media and allowed to film on the Arleigh Burke-class destroyers USS Hopper and John Paul Jones and amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard, he said.

Actor Alexander Skarsgard, who plays the commanding officer of a destroyer, also was allowed time on the USS Benfold to watch a real one in action.

Berg’s crew filmed the Missouri in January 2010 during a brief, at-sea foray as it returned from dry dock to its permanent site near the USS Arizona after an $18 million maintenance and preservation upgrade.

Tugboats towed the Missouri about two miles offshore Honolulu’s Waikiki Beach. Special effects artists recreated the battleship for its climactic encounter with aliens.

“Her historic albeit brief ’voyage’ was an image not seen since the ship’s arrival in Hawaii in 1998,” according to the production notes.

The Missouri, commissioned in 1944, was the last battleship built by the U.S. Japan surrendered to the U.S. on board the Missouri in 1945, ending World War II.

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