What's the deal with your blond beard?

I [grew] it for a photo shoot two weeks ago. It gets a little sun-bleached out there.

So you're not bleaching it?

If you watch the film, it gets whiter and whiter as we stayed out in the sun.

Did you ever lose it on the boat?

I never puked. Wahlberg went down.

He said it was food poisoning.

Food poisoning, yeah.

Does being a fisherman get you babes?

I think so. You know who I'm dating right now? Apparently Mark Wahlberg. It was in some paper. Oh yeah, Mark did a People magazine interview where he said, "I'm very attracted to George," and he called me and said, "I think I may have made a mistake."

Originally, Mel Gibson was to play Billy Tyne and you wanted to play shipmate Bobby Shatford, which eventually went to Wahlberg. What happened?

They wanted Mel, and I don't blame them. I said I wanted to play Bobby because I wanted to work with him. I've heard three different stories but the one that seems closest to what sounds right is he couldn't work it into his schedule. So Wolfgang called me and said, "You want to play Billy Tyne?" I said, "Yeah." A couple of days later, he mentioned a couple of actors he'd talked to [for Bobby] and I mentioned Mark and he said [imitates Petersen's German accent], "You've just done a movie with him and what if you suck?" So we arranged for him to see some footage from Three Kings and he hired Mark based on that.

Gibson was beside himself when you admitted he was the first choice. Do you feel you're violating Hollywood protocol when you say things like that?

But I don't say it, it's always sort of in the press and people know it. It's silly when you try to hide s--t, like something bad's going on. This is just the way the business works. If I was a producer and was going to go hire an actor, I'd go to Mel Gibson first. And if you can't get Mel, then you come to some other names on that list, including me. I understand that.

What is the secret to your chemistry with Wahlberg?

I don't know. The funny thing is, it was by accident we got together on Three Kings, it was just how people get a job. On Perfect Storm, it was me saying, "I can't think of a better actor more right for the role." Then my company was doing Metal God and I couldn't think of anybody more right for that role. And he wanted it and really lobbied for the part.

That's continuing now with Ocean's Eleven.

Yeah, I brought Mark into Ocean's Eleven, but that's different, it's a real, real ensemble. Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts. The Wilson brothers, Owen and Luke, who are playing brothers, and Don Cheadle, and, I think, Bill Murray.

Are you doing the Rat Pack?

No, we're not doing those guys, Sammy and Frank and Dean.

Steven Soderbergh, the director, said the casino heist concept is the same but otherwise it's a revision.

Yeah, completely different. I don't want to badmouth the original and I don't quite know how to say it yet, but the truth of the matter is Ocean's Eleven is a great, fun idea for a movie and we love those guys but … it's a pretty bad movie.

Sort of like the remake of the The Thomas Crown Affair?

That's a great correlation. It's a movie that could be really redone. We won't be as cool as those guys but we might be able to make a better film. [Soderbergh and I] met with Warner Bros. and they said, "Go get yourselves some people." And we met with Brad and he said he wanted to do it. Steven was working with Julia [on Erin Brockovich], so I sent Julia a script with a $20 bill in it and a note that said, "I hear you make 20 a film now." She said yes. It's going to be such a fun time.

More fun than making Perfect Storm?

It was six months soaking wet. It was miserably cold. Mark got the worst of it, he had an ear infection. We put wax [earplugs] in our ears, because it's ice water and these cannons will literally knock you off the boat [even though] we're cabled in. It came from the side and it hit him and knocked the ball of wax [deep] into his ear. He ended up getting an ear infection [before] they could get the wax out and he had it the rest of the shoot. He was just miserable.

What was going through your mind when you're there filming the climax in the water for Perfect Storm?

Swim. The only time I was nervous shooting [was when] they took the wheelhouse, not the boat but just the wheelhouse, and turned it upside down and hung it by a crane [over] this 90-foot tank [that] was about 25 feet deep. They had Mark and I go underwater. They had two oxygen tanks on each side, hidden. They would release the cable and this wheelhouse would float down. It had air in it, so we had to time it to float down, we actually cut lines to fit it perfectly as the water would rise. We shot that scene all in one take. The water would come up — this wheelhouse is now all the way to the bottom and everything is upside down, it's sort of murky water and you're caught in there. You start to panic because you're afraid. Are you going to make it to the oxygen mask?

Was PETA protesting the killing of fish for this?

[Smiles] Some people came out. We had 100 rubber fish laid out and three people came over and had signs and were yelling about the fish. I said, "They're rubber. I feel for you, I know how it's awful to kill fish for a scene. But they're rubber."

What was your reaction watching the movie on a big screen?

It's pretty spectacular. It's funny, I know people say it's a CGI film but in this 90-by-90-foot world we were in, we were in the middle of it! We were getting pummeled. All this stuff about computer graphics, we looked at each other.

What do you do after taking a beating every day?

You'd go home to a hot shower. Because really what it is, is it's cold. I don't mind a hit so much, because you can take that. When you read the script, you know what you're getting into. But what you can't ever prepare for is how cold you are. You get there at seven in the morning and they just start dumping this ice water on you.

Have you ever really felt like you were in danger of drowning?

You know, it's funny, I went to the Hamptons, where I'd never been before, over Labor Day while we were shooting near here. I got caught in a riptide. My friends are sitting on the beach, just laughing and stuff. I'm out there with this other guy and we're just getting pulled further out. The harder I'd try to swim in, the farther out I'm going. It's two guys and I don't know the guy, and it's the stuff where we're laughing at first, and swimming, and getting further out. Finally this guy goes, "We're not doing so well," and I go, "No, we're not." Then it's, "I'm not a great swimmer," and I'm, "Me neither." Then we finally caught a wave and went back in. That was the only time I felt I was going to drown.

Did you feel uneasy about making entertainment out of a tragedy?

The concern is not that, but doing it so quickly after that. It's different when it's Saving Private Ryan and it's 60 years. It's a lot tougher when their kids are around this town and they are 15. Roberta, Billy's sister, was here and she was really a wreck, she was like this [shakes his hands]. She wouldn't come down to see the boat. Finally I said, "You have to understand it is make-believe. We're putting them in the best light. We're not going to make them out to be the bad guys. We're not going to make them out to be idiots. That's our jobs, to make sure they made the right decisions and it's bad luck."

Did you feel a certain responsibility in making the film?

We had two real responsibilities doing the movie: One is to these families and the other is to Sebastian [Junger], who wrote a best-selling book. As we all know having seen adaptations, that doesn't guarantee a good movie. More often than not it's the opposite. Keeping that in mind, I'm proud of what we did.

Do you have any stories about the pub featured in the film, the Crow's Nest?

There are none. Mark had all the good Crow's Nest stories, I was trying to catch up. I was here for two weeks and was coming off the Coen brothers film [O Brother, Where Art Thou?] and was running as fast as you can to catch up. We were drinking over there a lot, just to hang out.

Did you meet Bobby's mother, Ethel, the bar's owner?

Ethel's great, but she wasn't working there then, she had cancer. She was pretty sick. The first time I walked into the Crow's Nest was the second day I got here, a couple of weeks before we started shooting. I'm sort of lucky in one sense. People will come up and bug me for a while but also let me just be a guy after a while. I try not to treat myself as a celebrity and so usually after a few minutes they stop treating me that way as well.

How do people bug you?

People in general? Well, it's very different being famous from television as from film. Mel Gibson is the biggest star I know, he's a gigantic movie star. You pay $8 and make a decision and go see him and he's 60 feet tall and he's a movie star. I got off a plane with him and everyone is silently going, "Mel Gibson," and everyone is reverent of him. I'm on television, that's what I'm famous for. So I'm this big [gestures with two fingers] and they can make me talk or not talk and they can watch me in their underwear and they know me personally. I get off a plane and it's [in a loud voice], "George! Hey man, it's Dave." It's because you've been in their home.

What happens to your sense of trust when you become a celebrity?

It depends on you. Nothing has changed. I trust the people I've always trusted. Trust is sort of reciprocal. As long as you do things that are trustworthy then people in general will trust you, I find. From the beginning, I thought if you do the right thing, people will treat you the right way. I've tried to do that.

Do you think an event movie like this will change your status in Hollywood?

I don't know what it is yet. You can't tell what's it's going to be. The truth is, I've enjoyed a really great career and I haven't had a blockbuster. I've managed to go and do films I wanted to do and I haven't been pigeonholed. In a strange way, not being especially successful in films keeps them from saying, "You can't do something." You'll do Out of Sight, Three Kings, and this; they don't really say no to you. If you're in a big action hit you get stuck. So I don't worry about it and I don't count on it.