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Peter Berg: A Man of Action and Words : Television: His dual life as actor and screenwriter has put him in a state of enjoyable overload. He's on 'Chicago Hope' and has a production deal for his screenplay.

April 08, 1995|TOM WHITE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

With a critically acclaimed film, a hit television series and a mid-six-figure production deal for his first screenplay suddenly under his belt, Peter Berg is feeling a little overwhelmed these days.

"My life has suddenly become much more complicated than I ever imagined that it would be," says Berg, 30, taking a day off from his hectic shooting schedule for CBS' "Chicago Hope," where he plays aggressive young surgeon William Kronk. "As a result of working as hard as I have been, I have absolutely no memory for the little things. I have to ask everyone I know to constantly remind me of where I'm supposed to be and what I'm supposed to be doing."

Judging by Berg's recent accomplishments as an actor and screenwriter, he might want to hire someone full time for that task. Fresh off his role as the naive fool Mike Swale in director John Dahl's "The Last Seduction," Berg's recent deal with Paramount for his screenplay "Furious George," in which he will also co-star with Michael Keaton, has the New York native juggling rewrites and production meetings alongside his "eight-days-a-week" shooting schedule for "Chicago Hope."

Throw in Berg's plans to direct and possibly star in a play he has written for Los Angeles' Act One Theater Festival this spring and you have all the signs of a multitalented performer on the fast track to stardom, if he doesn't burn out along the way.

Not that Berg is complaining.

"I've been working hard for so many years now that I'm very happy with the quality of work that's keeping me as busy as I am," he says. "I think that if I wasn't as challenged and stimulated as I feel right now, it might be pretty stressful."

Just surviving as a Hollywood actor has been a longtime challenge for Berg, who has had stints as everything from a driver to a prop assistant since coming to Los Angeles eight years ago. Bitten by the theater bug while attending Macalester College in Minnesota, the actor has appeared in a number of critically, if not commercially, successful projects since then, including a role in the 1993 movie "Aspen Extreme" and the lead in the Fox TV movie "Rise & Walk: The Dennis Bird Story.

The days of slugging it out for good roles have come to an end with "Furious George," where Berg's acting and screenwriting duties are already drawing comparisons to Sylvester Stallone's dual roles in the first "Rocky" film, and more recently Chazz Palminteri's credits in "A Bronx Tale."

Co-written by screenwriter Michael Schiffer, the $30-million action thriller revolves around an alcoholic park ranger who stumbles onto a plot to assassinate the President of the United States and the premier of China during a world treaty summit in San Francisco. In a role he wrote for himself, Berg plays Keaton's best friend and fellow ranger Derek Hatcher, whom the actor describes as "a cross between Smokey the Bear and Sid Vicious."

If it sounds like something of a departure from the noirish "Last Seduction" or the medical drama of "Chicago Hope," that's just how Berg likes it. A fan of blockbuster action films, he says he enjoyed the freedom to write the big summer movie he's always loved to watch, but has never had the chance to appear in.

"You're in control of your universe as a writer, and as an actor you're much more at the mercy of other writers, producers and directors," says Berg, who plans to start a "bigger, meaner, faster and better" script with Schiffer during his hiatus from "Chicago Hope."

"I enjoy being able to think of the most insane, expensive stunts I could possibly imagine and writing them down. It's really fun to blow up the Golden Gate Bridge, or send a massive garbage truck on a suicide binge through downtown San Francisco--huge set pieces that I just wrote because they were fun. I was like a little kid, laughing and writing these crazy action sequences."

To hear Berg tell it, "Furious George's" evolution from a crazy idea to a major studio project was blessed as much by luck as it was by talent.

"I never had any expectations for selling 'Furious George,' " he says. "It was something I started writing because I was bored and had this crazy idea kicking around in my head. And then I was lucky enough to be living next door to a really great writer like Michael Schiffer. It all sort of came out of nowhere."

Director Dahl says that Berg's sense for character development made the actor the perfect choice to play "The Last Seduction's" Mike Swale, a small-town loner duped into a diabolical murder scheme by the venomous Bridget Gregory, played by Linda Fiorentino. Playing a character that is largely foolish and unsympathetic, Berg's ability to infuse Swale with a sense of gullibility and humor is what ultimately makes the movie's tale of manipulation and deceit work, Dahl says.

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