The Wonder Years

by Daniel Manu January 23, 2009
The Peter Berg Interview

A familiar face from such diverse '90s fare as the neo-noir film The Last Seduction, the David E. Kelley series Chicago Hope and the inspirational movie-of-the-week Rise and Walk, actor Peter Berg is now deservedly better known for his writing, directing and producing. His most recent projects may include the star-powered feature films The Kingdom and Hancock, but it's his adaptation of an acclaimed sports book into both a movie and a TV series called Friday Night Lights that solidified both his distinct visual style and his uncanny ability to draw amazing performances out of underappreciated actors.

Those qualities may be most appreciated by today's audiences, but they were first on display almost a decade ago in ABC's Wonderland, a series that marked Berg's debut as a creator, but unfortunately also epitomized the phrase "brilliant but cancelled." Now all eight completed episodes are finally airing, on DirecTV's The 101 Network at 10 PM ET each Wednesday, which gave us an opportunity to talk to Berg about his groundbreaking early work, the future of FNL, his upcoming science-fiction projects, the true origin of Lyla Garrity and much more.

TWoP: Watching the first two episodes of Wonderland again for the first time since they originally aired, it's incredible how uncompromising your depiction of the realities of mental illness was. What originally motivated you to tackle such a difficult subject?

PB: It started for me when I was a kid. My mother volunteered at a psychiatric hospital in White Plains, New York, and she would come home with these stories of things she'd seen and patients she had developed relationships with, and she was completely mesmerized by the whole environment of a psychiatric hospital -- in a good way. And she really loved the patients, she loved the doctors, and really loved the experience of -- she was a suburban housewife -- leaving this sort of middle-class suburban home and going into this mental hospital, and that had a big lasting impression on me. So that's what I thought about, and I started doing my research at the Bellevue Psychiatric Hospital in New York City, and I think kind of felt the same kind of passion for it that my mother did, and just spent about six months pretty much living at that hospital. Got to know lots of patients, lots of doctors and it was very inspiring me for when I sat down to write the script.

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