The Wonder Years

by Daniel Manu January 23, 2009
The Peter Berg Interview

TWoP: In Wonderland, Michelle Cox's character is named Lyla Garrity and, of course, that's also Minka Kelly's character in Friday Night Lights. Was there a real Lyla Garrity in your life?

PB: When I was a kid growing up in Chappaqua, New York, my dentist Dr. Garrity, his dental practice was in the basement of his house, and he had a daughter named Lyla Garrity, who -- and this was when I was maybe 10 -- was the first crush that I ever had. I was madly obsessed with his daughter, and every time I'd see her she'd kind of walk by the dental chair and I'd have my mouth open with all the gear in there, you know, like as big of a loser as I could be, and I never talked to her. I just have all the images of seeing her, and she'd come in and talk to her dad, and I was always the loser with hoses in my mouth. And I never got a chance to speak to her, so I think I've paid my homage to her continually by naming characters Lyla Garrity.

TWoP: Have you ever heard from her?

PB: No, 'cause I don't want to, you know? It's like I have my image of her in my mind and I want to preserve that.

TWoP: In terms of your directing style, you have an almost documentary look, or a breaking-news type of feel, look, even when you're dealing with something sci-fi like Hancock. How would you describe it?

PB: I like a looser, more organic style, and that generally equates to handheld cameras. I've certainly heard from people that love it, and I've heard from people that can't handle it and say it's too busy and too dizzying for them, and, you know, I hear that. I guess if I was to define my style, it would be kind of loose and natural. I tend to not like very orchestrated, controlled shots that take a long time to set up, and that's [partly] a response to all the time I spent acting for directors that would spend hours and hours setting up shots and then give us a few takes -- and then they'd move on because they spent all their time with the equipment. I'm more kind of actor-oriented than I am equipment-oriented.

TWoP: And you love the overlapping dialogue and having multiple conversations in the foreground and background, which is very natural also very Robert Altman-esque. Was he an influence?

PB: Big fan of Robert Altman, yeah, for sure.

TWoP: Who else influenced you?

PB: On that side, that sort of naturalistic side -- John Cassavetes, Woody Allen, Robert Altman. But then, from a technical side -- Ridley Scott, Jim Cameron, Tony Scott, Michael Mann, obviously [Berg was in Mann's Collateral]. Directors that were kind of able to do both: find the look and a visual style, use effects, but really still manage to keep this grounded to the characters.

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