“Greyhound,” the film adapted from the novel “The Good Shepherd” by C.S. Forester, is set in the middle of the ocean during World War II’s Battle of the Atlantic — about as far and wide a location for a movie as possible. That angry sea, frozen sky and the pitch-black nights are ever-present antagonists, characters that are equal to the film’s human cast. Those players, whose faces come and go in the movie with growing recognition, rarely leave the too-cozy confines of a very small, particular space — the bridge of our fictional USS Keeling, the Fletcher-class destroyer code-named Greyhound.
An actual Fletcher-class destroyer — the USS Kidd — sits on the Mississippi River in Baton Rouge, La., as fine a motion picture set as it is a museum. Anyone can step aboard and walk the ship’s historic decks, climb its gangways, pace upon its bridge. For the filming of “Greyhound,” we shot as much footage on the Kidd as possible, even arranging the firing of its guns, a rare event that attracted the local media and many Louisianans.
However, the Kidd’s steel bulkheads and immovable interiors forced us to build our own Fletcher class, or a part of one, on a soundstage at the Celtic Studios a few miles inland — a movie set with removable walls, decks, hatches and portholes; one wrapped in as much green screen as we could tape together.
Our destroyer also sat upon a gimbal, and it was that massive assemblage of steel beams and hydraulic hoses that gave “Greyhound” what the USS Kidd could not — the sense of the rolling sea.
The gimbal was huge, but still only large enough for us to construct a part of the ship: the bridge, its wings and foredeck, and the closely placed sonar room. Most of the film takes place in this cramped, tiny area, tricked out with crew stations and instruments, manned during four-hour watches according to the time of day. As many as a dozen of us were on the bridge at a time, along with other characters coming and going throughout the action of the film.
When the camera was rolling, the gimbal was tilting, pitching, leaning, bucking, rolling and rising and falling in amusement-park-worthy action that had us actors compensating as best we could, sometimes falling into each other, spilling our coffee, bumping our heads and chasing rolling pencils. There were many pencils used and much coffee spilled during the Battle of the Atlantic.