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THE PERFECT STORM summer preview

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WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL? Wild, wild waves.

In Hollywood, Fourth of July forecasts start early. Years early. ”We were aiming for that weekend a long time before shooting,” says director Petersen, whose most recent summer hit was Air Force One. ”This year, the Fourth is on a Tuesday. It’s going to be especially big.”

It’d better be, since Warner Bros. didn’t invite anyone to share the costs of their big-budget take on Sebastian Junger’s nonfiction best-seller. Sink or swim, it’s their $100 million-plus baby, though Petersen crows that thanks to ”good German planning, we were a few hundred thousand under budget.” Execs are hoping Storm can whip flag-waving Patriot Mel Gibson, whom they’re perfectly happy to have courted and lost for the lead role (he was Petersen’s second choice, behind Nicolas Cage), since they got Clooney at a price far below Gibson’s $25 million salary. But is Petersen worried about the been-there, read-that factor? WARNING! PLOT-SPOILING WATERS AHEAD; CUT ENGINES NOW IF NECESSARY. Anybody who read the book knows the story of the Andrea Gail and its six-man crew, who endured a Force 12 gale off the coast of Newfoundland. So won’t many viewers already know the fates of Captain Billy Tyne (Clooney) and crewman Bobby Shatford (Wahlberg)? ”You ask me so bluntly that question because you know the book,” says Petersen. ”It is a huge best-seller, but still maybe I hope a few people are not knowing how it really will end.”

Mastrantonio certainly didn’t when she was first approached. ”I’m a mom and I live in London,” she says. ”I wasn’t aware of the book at all.” But despite having OD’d on watery stunts while making The Abyss, she signed to play swordfish-boat skipper Linda Greenlaw when she realized ”this woman spends her time in the pointy end of her boat, under a canopy. She’s at the storm’s edge. She never even gets wet.” Wahlberg wasn’t so lucky. ”I was worried I’d have to pretend like I was rocking around,” he recalls. Silly him. He got ”dumped in the ocean” ad nauseam and was pelted on an L.A. soundstage for weeks on end with blasts of water that felt like ”a heavy-duty beating.” It might have gone easier if he didn’t have such a big mouth. ”When I met him about the part I promised…I’d doanything Wolfgang needed,” Wahlberg explains. ”Once I got there, I couldn’t wimp out.”

Wahlberg also squirmed at affecting a Boston-area accent, an inflection he’d worked hard to eradicate in his speech; he calls revisiting it ”a real turnoff.” It didn’t help that nearly all his dialogue had to be re-recorded in post-production because of crashing surf. ”If I’d known that,” he says wearily, ”I’d have tried to mime my lines.” (June 30)