When the floating Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and oil began leaking into the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010, it was major global news for weeks.

The enduring impression was that of a major environmental disaster - which it unquestionably was - but lost in the reporting and, some might say, in history, was the immediate human cost of the disaster: many remain unaware that 11 men died in the explosion.

A new film is injecting that humanity back into the story. Mark Wahlberg stars in Deepwater Horizon as electrician Mike Williams, who along with co-worker Andrea Fleytas (Gina Rodriguez) and their boss, Jimmy Harrell (Kurt Russell), risked life and limb to try to contain the disaster.

A scene from the film Deepwater Horizon starring Kurt Russell and Mark Wahlberg.
A scene from the film Deepwater Horizon starring Kurt Russell and Mark Wahlberg.

Director Peter Berg encountered some heavyweight resistance in attempting to mount the film.


"BP was very against the movie and that's a very powerful corporation," Berg tells TimeOut in Toronto. " We had a lot of problems, we were threatened legally, we had a lot of vendors cancel on us at the last minute because BP got to them. So we're making a film that a huge, very powerful international corporation didn't want made, and they're able to disrupt us on many different levels."

All the facts of the movie are public knowledge, so it speaks to the power of cinema that BP were so against it.

"You can watch the congressional hearings that BP went through that ended up costing them more than US$50 billion, but you'll fall asleep because it's a bunch of scientists giving testimony under oath. This movie wasn't designed to attack BP, it was designed to tell a story and focus on many aspects of the story. But BP didn't like that."

For Berg - who endeared himself to many New Zealanders when he posted footage on YouTube of the cast of his 2012 movie Battleship performing a haka on set ("I love the haka!") - Deepwater Horizon follows the success of 2014's Lone Survivor, another true story starring Mark Wahlberg. He has a third true-life drama starring Wahlberg out at the end of the year.

"This movie was based on a New York Times article, Lone Survivor was based on a non-fiction book. Patriot's Day, the film I just did, was based on a 60 Minutes piece. I think good investigative journalism is a great way to enter the world of a film."

As emotive as the film is , Berg knows it isn't about to turn anyone off petrol.

"It's a pointless debate until Elon Musk or someone invents a battery that makes you not need gasoline. The debate should be on safety. The reason that rig blew up is because people were more concerned about money than safety."

The sentiment is echoed by Kurt Russell, who portrays the manager of the rig.

"This is a business that is still performed by human beings," Russell tells TimeOut. "Men are going to calculate a percentage of success or failure and make a call. And in this business, I think we tend to forget that there are going to be horrific repercussions to bad decisions."

One of the starkest (true) moments in the film is when Harrell receives an award for safety mere hours before the explosion.

"He's a man trying to do the right thing," Russell says of Harrell. "And in this situation, the worst thing that could possibly happen on his watch takes place. You couldn't have had somebody who was more concerned about his men or his rig, and it just goes to show."

Although Russell is not Kate Hudson's biological father, he and Goldie Hawn raised her and the Almost Famous star considers Russell her dad in every respect. Hudson co-stars in Deepwater Horizon as Mike Williams' wife, Felicia, and admits the family connection played a role in her joining the film.

"Because it's a smaller part," Hudson tells TimeOut."The fact that my Ddad was possibly going to do it, it was an added element. We both kinda had it and were deciding at the same time."

She doesn't have a huge amount of screen time, but Hudson represents the hundreds of loved ones who followed the disaster from land as it unfolded .

"There's been a lot of people wanting to tell this story. To Pete and to all of us, the important part was the human aspect of it. What did they go through? Everybody knows the environmental disaster part."

Who: Mark Wahlberg, Kate Hudson and Kurt Russell
What: Deepwater Horizon
When: In cinemas from October 6