They weren't a hundred feet high, but some exceptionally powerful waves were smashing against the sides of the Andrea Gail replica as it sat anchored about 12 miles out from Dana Point, Calif., during production of "The Perfect Storm" late last year. It was a beautiful, crisp, clear day when TIME Los Angeles correspondent Jeffrey Ressner spoke to movie director Wolfgang Petersen on the Gail, but the ship was rocking back and forth so badly that the cast and crew were not at their peak. Mark Wahlberg looked as gray as a ghost from vomiting throughout the morning, while George Clooney was recovering from a bout of the flu. During a lunch break, Ressner spoke to Petersen, who happily chomped away at a boxed lunch of chicken as the mock swordfish ship swayed like a toy boat in a bathtub.
TIME: Are you having fun?
Wolfgang Petersen: I'm having a blast because I'm lucky that these seas don't affect me. I'm perfectly fine. This movie is my kind of thing. I love the water and the sea and being able to do a story about people who make their living out here, doing all this crazy, adventurous stuff to get a paycheck. So I'm having a lot of fun, even if it's a very tragic movie.
Q: How's the cast holding up?
A: Mark [Wahlberg] had the toughest day in his life this morning. He never felt so bad before, and I've never seen anything like it. I felt so bad. This poor guy was hanging over the railing after practically every single shot we did. Once, we actually filmed him in the middle of a take as he was throwing up. (Laughs.) People who get seasick know it's close to suicide time it's so bad. To have to do a big scene at the same time and act is really pushing it to the limit. It's tough. But he did great. I think nobody will ever suspect anything.
Q: What about the troubles you had shooting at the Warners Studio tank? I heard Karen Allen got banged around pretty severely there and other actors got bumped and bruised.
A: I'd say it comes with the territory. These films are not easy to make. Everybody knows when we go into it there will be physical things tough stuff to go through like working in a tank with water cannons and the gimbal and the locking bolt and creating 100-foot wave effects. They know it's not easy stuff. I must tell you, I'm immensely impressed how all the actors were up to it. We had no real problems; I could do whatever I wanted to do with them. It was hard for them, yes, but they did it and we're now on day 99 of the shoot. I can say they're all still in one piece and enjoy what we're doing even if it's very, very hard.
Q: Was there any point when you thought things were too tough or dangerous?
A: I must tell you, to see this 70-foot boat I don't know how many thousands of pounds of steel were held on that gimbal. It was rocking and rolling like crazy and smashed with these huge loads of water, actors being on it, cameras all over the place. It was an awesome sight and sometimes it just stopped your heart. You don't know if at some point things would break how can a gimbal hold this huge boat? There was always some kind of pressure and tension there when we did that. But it did fine. It worked. Sure, sometimes it broke or didn't always work, but nothing really major happened.
Q: Isn't it easier to do it all with special effects and models these days?
A: Yes, probably. Of course, we're using the help of a computer, because there's no other way to create 100-foot waves and stuff like that. Maybe it could have been a little easier, but we wanted to go for reality and do it as real as possible. I'm a little bit experienced with that kind of filmmaking from "Das Boot," and in that film when we had depth charges detonating around the submarine or that stuff, we also worked with a huge gimbal. It was really frightening, but I just loved it. The actors like it too because it's not bad to have something really tough to fight against. If tons of water comes over them, it's high adrenaline to act in a situation like that. It also makes it look so real, and reality is everything about this movie. I want it to feel damn real, and I want the audience to feel they're with these people on the Andrea Gail in that huge storm.
Q: How's George holding up?
A: He's great. I couldn't believe what he was doing himself. We have all sorts of stunt people, of course, but he did most of the stuff himself. He was swinging on the top of this outrigger on the soundstage back and forth when that bird smashes a window. He's good. He's in great shape physically and loves that kind of stuff. Today, he's OK. Last time when we were out at sea, he was green. Maybe the lab will have to digitally take the green out of his face. (Laughs.) But we can do anything today, so that shouldn't be a problem.
Q: Can you excuse me for a second. I think I have to hurl. (At this point, your humble correspondent succumbs to a bout of seasickness, while director Petersen takes the opportunity to deliver a monologue into the still-running tape recorder. His statement follows verbatim.)
A: Our reporter is right now throwing up. That's the reason for that little break here. If you find that kind of funny, I don't. But it's a good story anyway, that while we're doing this interview, he asked me to hold the recorder for a moment, and he just went over to the railing and threw up and then came back and we continue the interview. Should I yell for water for you?
Q: I'm OK. (Laughs.) Aside from nauseous journalists, how has the rest of the day been with these rocking waves?
A: I think that scenes we did today, where you see the boat going all the time, where you're inside the wheelhouse, may make audiences a little queasy. If you're outside and watch the boat going, it probably won't but we were shooting inside the boat today and you saw the horizon going up and down. Who knows what will happen? We'll see?
Q: So you never feel the effects of seasickness? Do you take anything for it?
A: No. I don't take anything and I don't need anything so far, thank God. But I'm German, I'm from the North, I grew up with water and the sea and I'm used to it. Thank God I have no problem with it; the same with my cinematographer. No, it's fine.