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Peter Berg Biography


Home > Actors > B > Berg, Peter > Biography


Birth Name: Peter Berg
Born: 03/11/1964
Birth Place: New York City, New York, USA


Born March 11, 1962 in New York City, NY, Berg was raised in a well-to-do home with his father, Larry, a former Marine and advertising executive, and mother, Sally, a former psychiatric hospital worker who co-founded the youth group Catalog for Giving and organized self-help groups for women with cancer. With visions of his son becoming a Harvard or Yale educated lawyer, his father sent him to Taft School in Watertown, CT, where Berg excelled instead at drinking and goofing off. He did, however, display a passion for theater - he regularly attended productions at Taft, but was uncertain how to go about getting involved. By the time he reached Macalester College in Saint Paul, MN, Berg began receiving encouragement to take acting classes. He eventually majored in drama and left Macalester with his degree in 1984. After spending some time acting in local productions, Berg moved to Los Angeles to take a job as a production assistant with Trans World International, producers of "Battle of the Network Stars" (ABC, 1976-1985). Though not yet established as an actor, Berg had planted a foothold inside the industry.

Thanks to his distaste for authority and lack of responsibility with large sums of money, Berg was fired from TWI in less than a year, despite being a well-liked employee. He continued working on various productions in numerous capacities - including as a property assistant on Wayne Wang's low-budget thriller "Slam Dance" (1987) - while auditioning for roles. Berg managed to get some theater work - he landed one part after cutting in a large line to get the last audition spot - then had his first big break with a 1986 episode of "The Equalizer" (CBS, 1985-89). Soon regular guest spots on television came his way, including an episode of "21 Jump Street" (Fox, 1986-1990). Also at the time, Berg made his first forays into feature films, landing bit parts in "Miracle Mile" (1988) and "Tale of Two Sisters" (1989). He had one of his first lead roles in "Shocker" (1989), playing a high school athlete whose dream of a mass murderer leads to his execution, only to trigger a more frightening and deadly killer. Berg wrapped up a productive year with three more low-budget indies - "Race For Glory" (1989), "Never On Tuesday" (1989) and "Heart of Dixie" (1989).

Berg was on the rise in 1990s, as evidenced by his increasing demand and higher-profile projects. After starring opposite Terrance Stamp in "Genuine Risk" (1990), he played a college student who returns home to discover his family mired by a host of problems that never go away in "Crooked Hearts" (1991). In "Late for Dinner" (1991), he played the dolt brother-in-law of a man (Brian Wimmer) who thinks he killed an evil land developer, so both have themselves cryogenically frozen, only to be unfrozen almost 30 years later to discover that life has gone on without them. After starring as a young intelligence officer at the end of World War II in "A Midnight Clear" (1992), he played a young man from Detroit who moves to Aspen with his best friend (Paul Gross) where they become ski instructors, only to have their friendship almost fall apart over drugs, women and a big ski race in "Aspen Extreme" (1993). Berg made several more low-budget films, including John Dahl's award-winning neo-noir "The Last Seduction" (1994) in which he played a young man who becomes the unwitting dupe of a con woman (Linda Fiorentino) using him to get rid of her husband (Bill Pullman).

Right in the midst of an increasingly vibrant feature career, Berg ventured back into television with a regular series role on "Chicago Hope" (CBS, 1994-2000), a medical drama about the personal and professional lives of a group of surgeons at the high-tech Chicago Hope Hospital, on which he played Dr. William "Billy" Kronk for four seasons, before appearing in a recurring fashion for the rest of the show's run. While on "Chicago Hope," Berg had the opportunity to stretch his creative legs into writing and directing a few episodes, which eventually whet his desire to direct features. Also on the small screen, he was the lead in "Rise & Walk: The Dennis Byrd Story" (Fox, 1994), playing the former New York Jets defensive lineman who battled complete paralysis after colliding with a teammate on the field. In the meantime, he continued acting outside the confines of the small screen, appearing as a creepy caller in Spike Lee's "Girl 6" (1996), before starring as a washed-up boxer who gets another chance at glory in "The Great White Hype" (1996). Berg then co-starred alongside Hollywood heavyweights Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel and Sylvester Stallone in "Cop Land" (1997), playing one of several corrupt police officers being investigated by an Internal Affairs officer (De Niro) helped by a put-upon small town sheriff (Stallone).

It was while working on "Cop Land" that Berg began sketching ideas for his feature debut, "Very Bad Things" (1998), a dark comedy about a soon-to-be-married man (Christian Slater) and his four friends who get embroiled in the murders of a prostitute and a security guard while trying to have some bachelor fun in Las Vegas. After Berg wrote the script, he sent it around town to every producer and studio he could get to read it. They all passed. Berg eventually found independent financing and made his film. But when it was released, "Very Bad Things" was savaged by the critics, particularly Kenneth Turan of The Los Angeles Times, who called it "tedious" and "completely pointless exercise." Berg took the criticisms in stride. Meanwhile, he continued acting, appearing in features like "Dill Scallion" (1999) and "Corky Romano" (2001), followed by a two-episode arc on "Alias" (ABC, 2001-06). Back in the director's chair, he helmed "The Rundown" (2003), a mildly entertaining action-adventure yarn about a fixer (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) hired to bring back a motor-mouthed troublemaker (Seann William Scott) from Brazil. Despite a big budget and fairly prominent talent, "The Rundown" came and went without much fanfare.

While working consistently as an actor for well over a decade, Berg was struggling to define himself as a filmmaker. But that changed with his third effort, "Friday Night Lights" (2004), a gritty, but earnest look at a small Texas town's obsession with high school football, despite their struggles to cope with racial and economic divides. Based on H.G. Bissinger's best-selling nonfiction novel, "Friday Night Lights" focused on Coach Gary Gaines (Billy Bob Thornton), who works hard week after week to build a winning team with a group of young players struggling to cope with their problems, including the hopelessness of being stuck in a small town. Reviews for the film were overwhelmingly positive, while the $60 million box office take was more than expected. Unsatisfied with exploring the world on the big screen, Berg turned the film into a one-hour drama, "Friday Night Lights" (NBC, 2006- ), giving him a broader canvas on which to paint deeper, more vibrant characters.

Despite low-ratings its first season - which led to constant speculation about the show's cancellation - "Friday Night Lights" lured an almost-fanatic audience that helped push the show off the bubble more than once. Critics were also prominent in helping to keep the show on air, many of whom considered "Friday Night Lights" one of the best series on television. In 2006, the American Film Institute deemed the show one of the "10 Best TV Programs." The following year, Berg was nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series. Also in 2007, "Friday Night Lights" earned a Peabody Award for Broadcast Excellence and a Writers Guild Award for Best New Series. Though rumors of the show's imminent demise were rampant - particularly during the Writer's strike in 2007-08 - a third season of "Friday Night Lights" looked like a real possibility for 2008-09. Back on the big screen, Berg directed two more films - the Jaime Foxx-Chris Cooper thriller, "The Kingdom" (2007) and the Will Smith comic book actioner "Hancock" (2008).