Transformers: The Cast, The History, The Movie
Reported by Jay Cochran - 01:03 PM 2007.06.15
“TRANSFORMERS”: THE HISTORY
“I’ve been one of the biggest fans of Transformers™ since they first came out,” says executive producer Steven Spielberg. “I’m not talking about buying the toys for my kids. I’m talking about reading the comic books and buying the toys for myself. I’d play with them at home with my kids, but I’m the one who was enthralled with them,” he recalls. “I was a collector and I always thought the Hasbro toy line would one day ‘transform’ into a big summer movie.”
Spielberg was not the only one to think so; several of the film’s producers had the same impulse. While producer and former studio executive Lorenzo di Bonaventura and Hasbro COO Brian Goldner were talking about possible movies ideas for Transformers™ and other Hasbro franchises, Tom DeSanto was approaching Don Murphy to form a partnership in hopes of making his own Transformers™ project. When all was said and done, the core creative force behind the film is a virtual who’s who of Hollywood producing royalty: Steven Spielberg, director Michael Bay, di Bonaventura (“Shooter”), DeSanto (the “X-Men” series), Murphy (“Natural Born Killers”) and Ian Bryce (“Saving Private Ryan”).
From the get-go, all of the producers did their homework and knew that making a Transformers™ movie meant honoring a much beloved franchise backed by a strong base of devotees, many of whom had lifelong ties to the characters.
“Transformers™ has a rich, established history that inspired all of us,” says di Bonaventura. “It’s no wonder we each had the same brainstorm; each of us was attracted to its mythology.
“The hardest aspect of overcoming people’s assumptions about robots – even the fans’ – was that until we could show footage, no one could really understand what this particular movie is all about,” he says. “So we focused on the work at hand: developing a human story, finding the best cast and producing the most exciting effects we could. The rest would take care of itself.”
DeSanto swears that he’s dreamt of making a movie about Transformers™ since he was a kid, but it didn’t occur to his partner Murphy until years later as he was strolling through the Comic-Con convention in San Diego. “I was walking around, looking at a lot of properties and franchises, and all of a sudden it hit me,” Murphy says. “The kids of the ‘80s have grown up and now they probably want to see movies based on all this stuff around me, all their beloved characters and stories. Oh my God, this makes perfect sense.”
Murphy also knew that DeSanto, whom he’d met when the two worked together on “Apt Pupil,” was not only a huge fan of the toy franchise, he was a walking encyclopedia of comic book information. DeSanto, who owns over 35,000 comic books, called Murphy to partner on the project as Murphy had a previous relationship with Hasbro.
“Transformers™ was something I loved and cared about as a kid,” says DeSanto. “It’s hard to get these movies made, so you better love what you do because otherwise you’re in for a few dreary years trying to make the idea a reality.”
“When DreamWorks told us that Steven loved the idea, I couldn’t believe it,” DeSanto recalls. “As a kid from New Jersey, to hear that Steven Spielberg liked the same robots, I just thought, ‘how did I get here?’ The rest is a dream; it’s just been great.”
“Hasbro and Paramount were very excited about the process of putting another successful product into live-action format,” di Bonaventura says, “and of course Transformers™ came up because its one of Hasbro’s crown jewels and a brand Brian believes has great potential.
“Brian is understandably protective of every franchise at the company,” di Bonaventura explains. “For that reason he wanted to be involved as a producer, an idea I readily embraced because Brian really knew the brand and has a lot to offer.”
Ultimately DreamWorks Pictures and Paramount Pictures chose to partner on the film. In previous years their collaborative efforts have yielded such successful films as “Dreamgirls,” “War of the Worlds,” “Collateral,” and “Saving Private Ryan.”
Screenwriter John Rogers, a comic book writer and enthusiast, was asked to put together an initial draft of the script. “The nice folks at DreamWorks know I’m a geek; I make my living as a professional 12-year-old,” jokes Rogers, “So considering I was assembling and disassembling Optimus Prime® in their offices, I really had no defense when they asked me if I was interested. I was very eager; it was a great opportunity. The only real direction I was given was: write a human story.”
Rogers’ initial three plot lines eventually evolved into the rich, textured story that is “TRANSFORMERS,” crafted by the talented team of Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci. Prior to passing the torch, Rogers spent an inordinate amount of time monitoring different Transformers™ web sites. “When I moved onto another project, I left Alex and Bob to take the heat,” he jokes. “The fan base is so huge you could devote an entire section of your life to answering their questions. These people care. No one knows that more than the writers.”
Rogers’ favorite Transformer™ is Sound Wave “just for attitude and sheer crankiness,” with Optimus Prime® running a close second “for moral clarity.”
A longtime aficionado of science fiction, Spielberg was recently inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame. “The reason I love science fiction so much is because it’s the only genre that allows you unlimited access to your imagination.”
For that reason, Spielberg took a special interest in “TRANSFORMERS” and called director Michael Bay while he was putting the finishing touches on “The Island,” to ask him to helm the film.
“Michael is the perfect director for “TRANSFORMERS,” says Spielberg. “He really had a feel for this material; he had a focused vision for what this franchise could look like as a movie. Michael had all the freedom he needed to breathe life into the humans, the Decepticons® and the Autobots®.”
Without much thought, Bay initially dismissed Spielberg’s offer, but when he realized that Spielberg was serious about the project and wanted to act as a hands-on producer, Bay relented and agreed to take a trip to Rhode Island to visit Hasbro’s home base. After meeting with Goldner, Bay caught the bug and he swears it took him all of three seconds to change his mind.
“Walking down the hallway where they created the Monopoly® game, Mr. Potato Head® and G.I. Joe® – everything from my childhood – I knew this was a company that took their toys seriously,” Bay says. “Meeting with Brian, who’s probably more manic than I am, if that’s possible, really started me thinking. He’s wild, he’s an absolute zealot about these action figures and he loves his business; his enthusiasm was infectious.”
Bay along with producers di Bonaventura and Ian Bryce were put through their paces and attended “Transformers™ School.” (DeSanto and Murphy had taken the course on a previous excursion to Hasbro.)
“That’s actually what they call it,” Bay explains. “They take you through the lore and the different incarnations of the comic books and the toys – kind of an overview of Transformers™ history – the brand, and the characters. The scope of it just blows you away, and the first thing that struck me was the idea of robots transforming at 80 miles an hour on a freeway. Right then and there I was sold on making this idea work.”
Bay has been offered many super hero projects over the years, but has turned them down for the same reason many aficionados of original fantasy characters dislike their interpretation on celluloid. So when Spielberg tapped him to direct an action picture bringing to life a 20-year-old iconic toy line that had already been immortalized with lunch boxes, comic books, games and its own cartoon series, Bay realized he would be confronting an outspoken army of die-hard fans who were dedicated to the original action figures.
An admirer of Japanese animé, Bay knew he and his production designer, Jeff Mann, would do justice to the Transformers™ franchise, but neither of them was prepared for the onslaught of harsh criticism they would face even before a single frame of film was shot.
“You have to respect the guys who created these phenomenal toys,” says Bay, “but I was set on taking them into a real world where they’d have to be more intricate to fit in. The Generation One robots were very blocky which would have been like using the unarticulated marshmallow man from ‘Ghostbusters.’ Our Optimus Prime® has 10,108 parts, each of which move.
“It was a big leap of faith for me to sign onto a movie like this,” he continues, “because I only wanted to make something that was as photorealistic as possible. These robots are the most complex modules ILM has ever made. We couldn’t have accomplished this two years ago. I guess that’s my answer to people who complain that the robots will look a bit different from the originals. Sometimes it’s best not to answer your critics and just let the work stand for itself.”
“Our goal was always to be true to the original spirit behind the Transformers™,” says di Bonaventura. “You never want to disappoint the people who really care about the franchise if only because it translates to a larger audience and negativity spreads. Besides, we would never want to alienate our core fan base; it’s like alienating your family.”
Actor Shia LaBeouf, who portrays Sam Witwicky, puts it succinctly. “People love Michael Bay or people hate him. It’s just a fact,” he laughs. “He’s not Elia Kazan. Even Mike will tell you that. Of course, my goal is to work with all types of directors, I want to stretch and make films that mainstream audiences really appreciate for the visceral experience.
“Michael is the sickest action director on the planet,” La Beouf continues. “He’s General Patton: hard as hell, opinionated, but with a great sense of humor, and he’s got an amazing visual sense; he’s a genius. I know that I worked with the best Michael Bay there’s been so far.”
Jon Voight was familiar with Bay, having previously worked with him on “Pearl Harbor.” He knew well the director’s fast-paced shooting style, his love of action and his desire for perfection, and similar to Voight’s co-stars, he sees Bay’s sense of humor as one of the tools in his arsenal of filmmaking techniques.
“Michael has a great sense of fun,” Voight says, “and all of his films reflect that no matter how serious the subject matter. It’s also what I like about this film – we don’t take ourselves too seriously.”
“Michael is definitely the fastest director I’ve worked with,” say actor Tyrese Gibson. “He keeps everybody on edge so that we stay sharp and on top of our game, and that’s because he’s on top of his game. When I watch everything and everyone he has to deal with on set, it makes me feel that much more responsible to do my part. Michael keeps me motivated.”
“As my mother would say, Michael’s a pip,” laughs Voight. “He’s got this tireless energy and he jumps from one set to another. Sometimes it seems as though he’s making it up on the spot, but he’s so familiar with the script that he has that leeway. You just never know where a scene might go, so you have to be on your toes and pay attention because all the pieces have to tie together; it’s a challenge. But with Michael the creative juices are continuously flowing. It’s as though he is meditating in motion.”
All of the actors were amazed by the secrecy surrounding the project. Most of them only received script pages with their own scenes rather than the entire script.
“This is as tight as it’s gotten for me,” says Voight. “I never know what I can say, so I just don’t say much,” he laughs. “But when I walked onto some of the sets and saw how amazing they were, I understood why Michael and Steven wanted to keep it under wraps.”
It became a joke with cast members how many people would ask them which Transformer™ they were playing when friends and family found out they were starring in the film.
“TRANSFORMERS”: The Story
In many ways Sam Witwicky (LaBeouf) is like every teenage boy. He’s interested in girls and cars, and bored with school. But that’s where the similarities end. Smart and witty, Sam is destined for bigger things than his peers. When his father agrees to match funds toward his first car, Sam’s excitement quickly turns to disappointment with the purchase of a beater 1976 Chevy Camaro® that appears to have a mind of its own. But when the hottest girl in school, Mikaela (Megan Fox), needs a ride home, Sam can’t resist, and before long the Camaro® steers the two of them together.
The next morning Sam awakens to a distinctive roar and screeching tires. Someone has stolen his car. In a valiant effort to pursue the thief, he chases the Camaro® only to find himself overpowered by a police cruiser that shockingly transforms into a menacing 20-foot robot.
Looming over him, the robot attempts to interrogate Sam, but before he can comprehend his terrifying circumstances, Mikaela appears. As the two run from their mysterious attacker, Sam’s Camaro® flies in to the rescue. Before the dust can settle, sections of the Camaro® peel back like a banana, grinding, rising before their very eyes and suddenly changing into another giant robot.
Saved by the yellow behemoth, Sam and Mikaela attempt to communicate with their new friend who cannot seem to speak without the aid of songs playing from his radio. Soon other vehicles join them, transforming one by one into enormous mechanical beings who explain that they are Autobots® from the planet Cybertron on a mission to recover the “Allspark,” their life source, before their enemies, the evil Decepticons®, can find it.
Before Sam and Mikaela can implement their plan to help the Autobots®, they are arrested by a strange and officious government lackey (John Turturro) and taken to a clandestine command post.
Half a world away an Army Captain (Josh Duhamel), who is in charge of a small brigade of Special Forces Rangers, and the assigned Air Force combat controller, Sergeant Epps (Tyrese Gibson), find themselves the sole survivors of a bizarre attack on their base in Qatar. The soldiers soon discover they are the first present-day humans to come up against a powerful alien being that can shape-shift into a giant metallic scorpion but is really a powerful bullet and bomb-resistant robot.
When Lennox’s squad is surreptitiously transferred back to the U.S., they know they have seen and experienced something earth shattering. They are part of a select group that includes the U.S. Secretary of Defense (Jon Voight), members of a top secret military unit called Sector 7 (Turturro and Michael O’Neill), along with a beautiful computer analyst (Rachael Taylor) and her associate, a smart but uptight hacker (Anthony Anderson), plus the most unlikely pair, a couple of high school kids who have befriended some of the robots, (LaBeouf and Fox) – all of whom know about the aliens that have come to Earth in a desperate search for the “Allspark.”
Together the group strategizes a plan of attack to save the world from the battling Transformers™, but when Sam and Mikaela realize the government plans to destroy their new friends the Autobots®, along with the evil Decepticons®, they devise a plan of their own to save mankind.
When Spielberg first described the story to Bay, it was simple: It’s about a boy and his car that just happens to be an alien robot. A great hook, to be sure, but generating an entertaining, engaging story necessitates more than the kernel of an idea; its success rests in the hands of talented, ingenious writers.
John Rogers, who has written comic books himself, took a first crack at the story. In hopes of calming the nerves of fervent Transformers™ fans, he went online to reassure them that the filmmakers understood the devotion that kept the franchise alive long enough to be worth making into a movie. With that sense of respect and dignity, he approached the story, following DreamWorks’ edict to write a human tale.
“I had to start with human characters that could be expanded into larger roles,” Rogers explains, “and at the same time show the global scale of the story in the three or four different plot lines that eventually intersect. The idea was a worldwide conspiracy in the form of an action movie where all these people’s lives come together in the middle of the movie. So I started with Sam Witwicky and his love/hate relationship with his beater car; a group of soldiers who find some weird technology; and some scientists who are investigating that technology. That was the basic spine of it.”
Next up were writing partners Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, both of whom are the perfect age to remember playing with the toys as kids, watching the television series, which ran from 1984 to 1987, and seeing the animated 1986 movie, “The Transformers: The Movie” written by Ron Friedman and directed by Nelson Shin.
Orci likens playing with the toys as “the ultimate peek-a-boo” game for eight-year-olds. “What is it, a truck?” he says, “No, it’s not a truck. Oh my God, it talks! It’s a robot. It’s the ultimate jack-in-the-box with a constant surprise. And from a more sophisticated approach, you’d imagine all your toys coming to life. You imagine befriending all the technology around you. That was a cool concept in 1984, and it still is now.”
Kurtzman agrees. “The idea behind the toy is that everything around us, our cars, and all technology, are sentient,” he explains. “Every thing has emotions and feelings but we don’t know it because they are in disguise. This seemed like a good jumping off point for a movie.”
“Alex and Roberto are very skilled at drawing strong characters,” says di Bonventura. “Once they came aboard, the project quickly found its feet.”
“The Transformers™ may be robots on the outside but they all have very human souls,” says DeSanto. “It’s important not to lose that in the translation. As always it comes down to the classic good (the Autobots®) versus evil (the Decepticons®) with the future of humanity at stake.”
“The writers really helped narrow the choice of robots,” says Bay. “At the beginning I had some very elaborate plans for these newer robots called ‘Combiners,’ but ultimately it became too cost prohibitive to create them just in terms of manpower, let alone the technology to make them look real.”
“Steven wanted to make it an even five against five,” Bay continues, “so that’s where it took off.”
The filmmakers spent time watching the 1980s “The Transformers” television show as well as the animated movie until they were very familiar with the first generations of robots.
“It became obvious that we couldn’t make a movie without Bumblebee™, Optimus Prime® and Megatron®,” says di Bonaventura. “After that we took a poll amongst ourselves, found out who were our favorites and then asked fans who their favorites were. From there we put a list together that encompasses most peoples’ favorite Transformers™. We know that people are going to feel, ‘Oh I wish they’d have put in that one or that other one,’ but there were only so many robots we could deal with in one movie.”
Shia LaBeouf is Sam Witwicky - (Username: Ladiesman 217)
When Shia LaBeouf first heard that a movie version of the beloved Transformers™ franchise was on the horizon, he immediately assumed the worst, but he wasn’t as worried as many who complained vociferously on Internet websites dedicated to lambasting the filmmakers. He was less concerned about which robots would be showcased and didn’t care overmuch about the specific vehicles or their paint jobs; he just hoped the big screen version would not lose the heart of the comic and the toy line, and wondered how in the world a live action movie would be able to make those amazing transformations so feasible in the world of animation.
“My childhood was ‘Yogi Bear’ and the ‘Transformers’ shows,” describes LaBeouf. “I was eight years old and I would play the tapes over and over again.”
His favorite Transformer™ was always Bumblebee™, with Decepticon Frenzy™ running a close second. When asked about the controversy over changing one or two of the vehicle models and updating some of the design aspects of the robots and their characters, LaBeouf is philosophical. “You have to keep up with the times, you have to update,” he says. “You can’t keep the story in the ‘80s. It might work for 25 hardcore fans, but for the rest of the world, you can’t portray Megatron® as a handgun. Cinematically speaking, you need to amplify the danger. Megatron® is now an alien jet the likes of which you’ve never seen before.”
There’s no American mythology,” he goes on to explain. “There’s no folklore, and for some, no religion. A lot of people in my generation didn’t even read Catcher in the Rye. But most of them know about Barbie®, Lego®, Tony Hawk and the Transformers™; it’s pop culture. The scary thing about jumping in to pop culture is you don’t want to sell out. But once I met with Mike, I saw that we weren’t going to make a film about some guy in tights and a cape. It was more a movie about the fact that we, as humans, don’t know everything; the idea that machines can, in a certain respect, overpower humans.”
During production, LaBeouf became close to veteran actor Jon Voight who gave him a book abut the theater. “In Greek, the word ‘theater’ means ‘the seeing place,’” LaBeouf explains. “People used to come to the theater to see something they weren’t experiencing in life; to see exaggerations on social situations, on mechanical possibilities, on the human condition. But every exaggeration begins in truth, which is what Michael and I talked about.”
When the two first sat down together, they discussed Sam Witwicky’s coming-of age-story and the dilemmas he must face when finding himself at the center of a war of two worlds. “It was never a discussion of technology,” says LaBeouf, “or ‘Let’s talk about the robots.’ The first thing we talked about was how to make Sam’s story real. How do we make the characters honest? How do we make the relationships work so that the audience can follow the story? Because if you don’t give a crap about the characters, even the animated ones, you’re not going to watch the movie.”
“Sam is just a normal kid,” says Bay. I didn’t want him to be the stud or the geek, just a normal Joe. He’s the type of guy who finds his edge through humor. He’s a little awkward, but you immediately like him.
“And like every guy, he’s consumed with getting his first car,” says Bay. “When I was growing up I had to save for my car fund and when I built it up enough my Dad was going to match it, just like Sam. I got a VW Scirocco and I had it painted at this place called Keystone Body Shop in Santa Monica, which coincidentally is the same building, the exact space in fact, where the edit bays in my office now sit. How bizarre is that? I remember walking in with my $900. Picking up that car was the most important moment, just like picking out the car for Sam.
“At the car dealership he gravitates to the Camaro®,” he continues, “because it’s got the slick wheels and a racing stripe and it looks semi cool, but we do give a wink to the VW when Bernie Mac tries to sell him the bug. But you know immediately there’s a connection between Sam and that Camaro®.”
“Sam becomes a messenger for the robots,” LaBeouf says. “He referees the entire situation between the Autobots® and the Decepticons®. He’s the human anchor for the movie so that you can have this outlandish plot of two kids in high school with no special skills, no cape, no big gun, who get the upper hand over evil robots, the government, hackers, everyone.
“Robots aside, Sam is very sheltered,” says LaBeouf, “he hasn’t seen much of the world, so he’s searching for an adventure. Of course, in his mind adventure comes in the form of a girl named Mikaela, but he finds out soon enough that his adventure is more than finding a girlfriend. When he’s first approached by Optimus®, it’s not something he’s ready for, but through the course of the film he becomes a man. Sam starts as a kid with no responsibilities and big dreams, but his focus changes. His friendship with this girl grows from a shallow infatuation to a very intimate relationship and he finds a best friend and a guardian in these robots.”
Di Bonaventura who knew LaBeouf from working with him on “Constantine,” believes the actor’s likeability quotient is enormous and allows audiences to root for him which is essential to the story’s progression.
“There’s no question that having grown up in the movie business Shia has learned how to make a character his own,” he says, “how to interpret the character’s choices and how to create the character’s inner world. For his age, Shia is beyond sophisticated.”
“Shia’s quite a sensation,” Voight agrees. “He’s the real thing.”
Megan Fox is Mikaela Banes
Constantly teased about her last name and the style with which she wears the mantle, Megan Fox is undeniably an all-around good sport. In her first leading role in a major motion picture, Fox was thrust into the limelight of a big action movie helmed by none other than the wildest action director ever, Michael Bay.
“Given that Michael’s name was attached to the script and that it was planned as a summer release, I knew the movie was going to be huge,” she says, “I just had no idea how much of a part I was going to play in relation to the whole thing or what I was in for,” she says with a wink.
Bay, along with his Platinum Dunes producing partners Andrew Form and Brad Fuller, had originally auditioned Megan Fox for their remake of “The Amityville Horror” (directed by Andrew Douglas). When she returned to Bay’s offices two years later to audition for the role of Mikaela, he saw something beyond her obvious beauty that complemented the character.
“Even though Megan’s relatively new to movies, she’s incredibly poised and confident, and it’s not phony,” says Bay. “I also liked that no one really knew about her, which can be scary when you think about giving such a big part to someone untested, but the pairing with Shia really worked. They had a great energy.”
“Michael Bay is kind of infamous,” laughs Fox. “But the more you are around him, the more obvious it becomes that he has this off-beat sense of humor. If he yells, it’s more about entertaining himself and ribbing you. He’s not a scary guy, he’s funny.”
“Michael’s a frat boy,” says her co-star LaBeouf, “and if you’re going to have a relationship with Mike, you cannot be the sentimental actor. You cannot be fearful. You have to hold your own and be tough if you’re going to play with that crowd. Michael needs people who can deal with that, who can hang in there and keep going, and Megan figured it out.”
“Michael’s a phenomenal director,” she says. “Audiences are coming to this movie to see robots, explosions, and jets and helicopters screaming overhead – they want to see action. Shia and I were just along for the ride,” she laughs.
As Mikaela, 20-year-old Fox plays the hottest girl in high school who is not engrossed in the usual girlie interests and pursuits. Instead, she is a thinker who, like Sam, is looking for the next adventure life has to offer.
“She’s from the wrong side of the tracks,” Fox explains. “She’s had a difficult family life and it’s made her tough. But she’s a sweet girl and when Sam is ridiculed by her boyfriend she sticks up for him and breaks up with her boyfriend over the incident; it’s all very melodramatic.
“Mikaela’s also a tomboy,” she continues, “she likes to work with cars, and she gets sucked into the whole robot world by accident. It’s like she’s stuck in the middle with Sam and she feels she has to protect him.”
Similar to their characters, Fox and LaBeouf bonded as friends under the pressures of a fast paced, demanding production schedule. “Shia is one of the funniest people I’ve ever met,” Fox enthuses. “He’s just naturally funny. Sometimes it was hard to get through scenes with him. And he’s so good at improv, he just gets funnier and funnier, which made it harder and harder for me to stick to the script and try not to laugh. Michael loves improv and I’m terrible at it, so I always want to stick to the lines, but I tried to make it work when Shia went off. It was pretty difficult to concentrate because he’s just so funny, and it doesn’t help when you can see the crew behind the camera laughing.”
Aside from keeping pace with her co-star, the most difficult task for Fox was keeping the film and her character believable. “How can you use ‘Bumblebee™’ in a sentence and connect to it?” she asks. “How do you make talking to a 40-foot robot realistic, especially when your character is the human thread that connects the audience to the story? It was our job to keep that balance, but for me it was the hardest part of the job.”
Growing up, Fox’s favorite cartoon was “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” with “Strawberry Shortcake” a close second. But like thousands of other kids, the actress was also engaged by “The Transformers” series. Not only was she familiar with the television show, she paid close attention to the comic books.
“I consider myself an artist,” she explains, “I’ve sketched and drawn from a young age and, of course, all children love cartoons, but I was taken with the animated series because of the illustration and the artwork.
“To be able to draw pieces that transform from a car into a robot is pretty incredible,” she continues, “and it’s not just the question of being a good artist, it’s the ability to conceptualize and design a mathematical equation.”
Fox’s favorite Transformer™ is Starscream®. “I’m biased,” she says, “because Starscream® is the coolest toy in the series. He’s just badass.”
Josh Duhamel is Captain Lennox
Josh Duhamel first learned about the film when he was meeting on Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes’ production of “The Hitcher.” Although he didn’t get that job, he did pique Bay’s interest and two months later received a request to read for a part in Bay’s and Steven Spielberg’s newest collaboration “TRANSFORMERS.”
“I couldn’t imagine trying to make a movie out of what I remember as a great cartoon,” Duhamel says. “But once I saw the magnitude of the military access we got, the special effects, the robot John Frazier and his guys built, the attention to detail, I knew I was very lucky to be part of this.”
Duhamel and his compatriots, including actors Tyrese Gibson, Amaury Nolasco and Zack Ward, attended a three-day boot camp, or basic training as it is termed in the Air Force, along with real-life soldiers who would be sharing scenes with them. Prior to beginning his military training, Duhamel took it upon himself to prepare as best he could and added a few pounds of muscle to his naturally lithe 185 pound, 6’3” frame.
“I tried to get into the best shape I could,” he says, “because I had heard all the stories from guys who’d gone through these things on other movies, only to find boot camp for us was an abbreviated learning experience to understand how to prepare for war – what soldiers go through and the amount of knowledge they have to absorb to be ready to deploy for places like Iraq or Afghanistan. I walked away with a heightened respect for the amount of preparation it takes to be a soldier.”
The group went through intensive gun training, but the most difficult part for Duhamel wasn’t shooting, reloading or handling his weapon, it was carrying it. Bay had the group running up and down inclines, climbing over obstacles – doing everything one would expect in an urban war zone – with the only difference being he wants it done over and over and over again, take after take, all day long.
“I’m carrying this 40-pound gun, wearing full body armor, the complete survival kit with magazines for this machine gun and all kinds of different stuff you need, and I’m running as hard as I can up the street, and I’m the leader of the group. I was dying after the first take! Then there’s take two, take three, and by the time we got to the fourth take, I could barely run,” he recalls. “It reminded me of running the 400-meter dash in high school where it felt like I was going to collapse and vomit. So whenever I could, I’d ask for the rubber gun. I’d pray we didn’t have to shoot in the scene so I could use that rubber gun. You look much more manly running up the street with the rubber gun,” Duhamel explains, poking fun at himself.
He was happy the production schedule began with the most physically demanding work. “It’s better to get the toughest part of any shoot out of the way first,” he says, “because that’s when we’re all the most gung-ho. So even though it was physically tiring, it was a lot of fun.”
Duhamel and his compatriots especially liked spending time on actual Air Force bases surrounded by real military personnel and equipment. Duhamel even spent the better part of one day at Holloman AFB training to take a ride with commanding officer Lt. Colonel David Moore in his T-38.
His day began with a physical at the base hospital after which Technical Sergeant Andrew Baker fit Duhamel with his own flight suit and emergency gear. Next Major Ronald Keller prepared Duhamel with class lectures, slide shows, physical demonstrations and time in a cockpit simulator before he was permitted to climb into the back seat. The other pilots in the squadron even gave Duhamel his own locker and call sign which Duhamel joked should be “Vomit Boy.”
“Egress training is really all about what can happen if everything goes wrong during the flight,” he says. “There’s all kinds of camping gear in your ejection seat and in your suit in case you land somewhere out in the woods. And, believe me, they make you feel like there’s a darn good chance that might happen,” he says.
On a serious note, Duhamel was able to imagine the view from a fighter pilot’s angle. “It really gives you an appreciation of what the real dudes go through. Try as we might, most of us can never even imagine what our soldiers endure, the chances they take and the danger they face daily. As actors, we try to become these guys as much as we can, but you just can’t fully understand war until you’ve experienced it first hand, so the best we can do is emulate them. I have tremendous respect for these guys.”
In terms of the Transformers™ themselves, Duhamel is impressed with Hasbro’s modernization of the toys since he played with the robots years ago, and he was even more excited when it came to the advances made by the film company’s art department.
“The Decepticons® are meaner looking and the Autobots® are just wicked cool,” he enthuses. “The people who come up with the concepts and art work for these things live in some other world to be able to think of this stuff.”
Duhamel spent a good portion of the production dividing his time between filming his hit television series, “Las Vegas,” during the week and spending his weekends on set finishing the film.
Tyrese Gibson is Technical Sergeant Epps
Like every other boy his age, Tyrese Gibson was not only a fan of Transformers™ action figures he was also a huge devotee of the television series. “I used to watch the cartoon every day when I got home from school,” he says. “Who would have thought a cartoon you loved as a kid would end up being such a milestone in your life as a grown man? It’s crazy how things happen.”
Gibson first heard about the project from his lawyer who also represents Michael Bay. Although the two had known each other socially, and had casually discussed the desire to work together at some point, neither the director nor the actor ever envisioned this particular project in their futures.
“On a personal level, Michael and I have good energy,” says Gibson. “He always said we’d figure something out, I just never thought it would be ‘TRANSFORMERS.’ Originally I was playing a smaller role but after a conversation between Mike and Steven, it became a lot more substantial and I was able to have some input.”
Prior to beginning filming, Gibson went through a serious bout of the flu which kept him bedridden up until the time he met his fellow cast mates for basic training. Once he arrived at Fort Irwin’s National Training Center just northeast of Barstow, California, he began the drills, but when he started to relapse, doctors forced him to miss the first three days of filming at Holloman. When Gibson rejoined Duhamel, Amaury Nolasco and the other members of the squad in the 120-degree heat of White Sands Missile Range, he slept whenever he could, but never escaped the teasing by his squad mates that can only come with the camaraderie of soldiers in arms.
“After all the warning and precautions I was given, I knew being out in the blazing sun in 120-degree heat wasn’t the doctor’s idea of taking care of myself, but I couldn’t miss more than three days,” Gibson remembers. “It was crazy out there. I went home drained every night. But it was one of the best moments of my life and I wouldn’t have missed it for anything. With everything we shot there, you could have made a whole movie, but it was just the beginning.”
As a Combat Controller, Sergeant Epps is one of the most highly trained personnel in the Air Force, and as a member of a Special Tactics Team that includes Captain Lennox (Josh Duhamel) and other several elite Army Rangers, he is responsible for leading those men into uncharted hostile territory, for reconnaissance, for establishing attack zones and to call in firepower should the need arise, along with a host of other duties too numerous to list. But most important, he and his fellow soldiers are the first line of defense when it comes to defending his country, her people and her allies.
To prepare for the role, Gibson spent time with an actual Combat Controller who was on leave after a tour in Iraq. In the Air Force for more than 20 years, Captain Ray Bollinger is a respected expert in his field and gave Gibson much of his technical dialogue for the desert sequences shot at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.
“I communicate with all aircraft,” says Gibson who can still recite his team’s site coordinates in his sleep, “The Blackhawks, stealth bombers, F22’s, they’re all on my wire. And it was a matter of running my lines with Ray because he knows the way it’s supposed to sound; he knows the speed of it, the cadence. The English can sound like Chinese when you’re speaking so fast, but once I became more comfortable in my character and understood what I was saying, it helped. I couldn’t have rehearsed my lines with anyone but Ray.”
Spending time with Captain Bollinger and the Navy S.E.A.L.s who were cast as his team mates along with the many service men and women from Holloman, Fort Bliss and other bases gave Gibson and his fellow cast members a real respect for the people who serve in our armed forces and in the military units of other countries around the world.
“Playing the role of a soldier, you realize that people are counting on you,” says Gibson. “As you learn your lines and learn what you’re calling in when you radio attack coordinates, you come to understand that your team and the people you’re defending are relying on you. As an actor, this makes you feel responsible to be as authentic in your role as possible; whether it’s delivering the dialect correctly or carrying a gun the right way, it means something, even though the story is all fiction.”
For Gibson, putting on the military garb helped him get into character. “Carrying the gun, wearing the heavy packs with all the equipment, the ammunition, you can barely breathe, but when I put it on, I become a chameleon, I am the character.”
Like many others, Gibson is attracted to the wise and powerful Optimus Prime®. He particularly likes the new incarnation of the multi-colored tractor-trailer Bay and the art department selected as Optimus’® alter ego. Gibson’s only wish for his favorite Transformer™ is that next time he will be hauling an equally vibrant cargo carrier behind him when he goes through his alteration.
He has a terse reply for die-hard fans who are unhappy with some of the film’s changes from the original cartoon, “Get over it!” he says. “I mean, I love Bumblebee™, but come on, it’s a much sexier car now.”
John Turturro is Agent Simmons
One of the few actors to receive the entire script prior to cameras rolling was John Turturro. But even before he read the piece, Turturro knew the toys well. The father of two sons, a 16-year-old and a six-year-old, he was put under a bit of pressure at home.
“My older son said, ‘You know you have to do this, you don’t really have a choice,’ and I said, ‘Well, I have to read it first,’ and he said, ‘No, you don’t,’” Turturro recounts, laughing.
His older son also made him aware of the enormous fan base already in place and helped him with a bit of research before he accepted the job.
When asked which Transformer™ he likes best, the actor will not play favorites. “There are so many and each is unique and fun,” he says, “it’s just great to see all the shapes you can make with them. I just can’t say that I have a favorite.”
Turturro especially enjoyed the process of developing his character and the scenes with Bay who could barely keep from laughing out loud when Turturro was on camera. “My character lives in this secret society that obviously influences his behavior,” he says. “Sometimes the humor is silly, and you don’t want that to be burdensome to the character you’re developing, so you do it until the humor just becomes part of the character. It helped that Mike and I were able to flesh out some moments that weren’t in the script, which is why it’s so important to connect with the director.”
“John and I had a lot of fun fighting against this unknown varmint,” laughs Jon Voight, describing his experience with Turturro. Not a response one imagines when two of the most well-respected actors of our time have the chance to work together, unless it happens to be on the biggest action film of the year. “I’ve really enjoyed myself because I had the chance to be creative and imaginative,” Turturro says. “Sometimes on big films, you don’t get the chance to do that. It’s been great to be able to turn one of the most famous toys into a mythology, to be a part of something like that. It’s a film that has something for everyone.”
“What a delightful, fine actor he is,” says Voight in all seriousness. “One of the fun things about working in film is that you get to work with people you’ve admired for so long, which is exciting. “
Actress Megan Fox found that Turturro was exceptionally helpful when it came to approaching the rather improbable subject matter presented in the script. “When I had trouble with the ebb and flow of a scene, he would open a different door and help us to change our focus to find another approach. And he did it in such a helpful way, such a nice way that it didn’t make you feel as though you were wrong in your original choices. He’s really a genius.”
Fox particularly loved Turturro’s impressions of other actors, crew members and even Michael Bay. According to her, the actor’s portrayal of Agent Simmons is done as an homage to Bay.
Jon Voight is ’Secretary Defense’ John Keller
Jon Voight was not familiar with Transformers™ toys, but knows that the toys and cartoon have been a favorite of kids for years and believes that this movie will only solidify the robots as a successful franchise for years to come. And even though he has a passel of granddaughters and only two grandsons, he thinks that girls will find the robots equally engaging.
When Voight first reads a script, he looks to make sure that the story works. “Does it have a cohesive beginning, a middle, an end?” he asks, “And where is the fun? Is there excitement whether it’s a serious piece or whether it’s a fantasy? That’s the real question.
“After I read the script, I told Michael, ‘This is gonna work,’” he says. “I also thought my part wasn’t too fleshed out, but then I realized why he wanted me to play it, to bring something of my own to the role. With Michael, every script is a work in progress.”
No matter how big or small the part, Voight always wants to contribute to any scene he is in. “Some people who’ve been around as long as I have won’t take roles if the piece doesn’t revolve around them,” he explains. “But I’ve done a lot of supporting roles and I know what it is to be the lead guy and want to have those supporting actors give you something to work with, so I expect that from myself. When they turn the camera on me, I want to be ready to contribute and I want to be there for the other actors.”
Voight was happy to see the filmmakers made the effort to keep military personnel available at all times when he and anyone playing military roles were on set. “It gives you a sense of what’s authentic,” he says noting the military representatives from the Air Force, Army and Navy, one of whom was always on set, along with Phil Strub, overseer of entertainment media for the Department of Defense at the Pentagon, who visited from time to time.
“I’m a veteran actor,” he says, “if you hang around long enough, you become one of those guys. I always try to be supportive of other actors because I know what they’re going through in most situations, and I’ll take advice from anybody. I’m not just the elder statesman. But I often feel like my role is that of the beleaguered patriarch, so there’s a little sense of that on the set.”
Voight’s fatherly manner toward the cast and crew, in combination with his own distinguished bearing, so impressed the real life soldiers working on set that fiction blurred with reality. “Some of the soldiers who worked in the Pentagon scenes would come up to my table at lunch,” the actor says. “I’d invite them to sit and talk and they approached me as if I were the actual Secretary of Defense. They respect the job so much they just naturally treated me with the same reverence.”
Voight would frequently huddle with his cast mates before being called to the set to go over scenes and discuss ideas. The group developed their own shorthand and some of the younger actors would consult Voight on their own.
“I have a lot of questions,” says Voight. “I always do. And I like coming up with ideas. I’m kind of like Michael in that way. I like helping the director because he’s carrying a heavy load, so I’ll give people some cards to play with. I like being collaborative.”
You could tell we were a happy family,” Voight says of the cast. “We all liked each other, which made for a fun set.”
He developed a special rapport with some of the younger cast members, too.
“Jon is the epitome of professionalism and class,” says Anthony Anderson. “He gives 100 percent every time. I see why he remains relevant in today’s entertainment industry and has been so sought after for three or four decades.”
An unlikely pair, mega-watt superstar rapper Gibson and gentleman Academy Award® winner Voight connected on a very personal level. “Jon Voight is my pops,” Gibson says. “He is such a mentor and father figure to me. When he hugs me, I feel like I am being hugged by my grand-pops because he has such a warm, loving spirit and he’s such a humble guy. When I would do a scene with him, he’d look at me and give me this blink and a little nod – it made me feel like I did a good job.”
Anthony Anderson as “Glen Whitmann”
When asked if he is familiar with Transformers™ action figures, Anthony Anderson will immediately break into song, “Transformers™, more than meets the eye, Transformers™, robots in disguise!”
“I can sing more of the song, Anderson says proudly, “I actually owned Optimus Prime® and Megatron®. I grew up watching the cartoon, that’s my era. When I heard there was a possibility of playing a character in the film, I was just excited at the chance to meet Michael and Steven Spielberg.”
Anderson is passing on the lore of Transformers™, teaching his children about his beloved childhood pastime. After bringing his young son to the set, he had a difficult time keeping his son’s focus on school rather than on accompanying him to work each day.
“The first day I walked onto the Megatron® set, I had my son with me,” remembers Anderson. “His jaw dropped. The art department did an amazing job bringing this creature to life, and it was only half built. I really have to tip my hat to them.”
A chameleon, Anderson has the ability to perform in classical theatre as well as urban drama, but is best known for his comedic roles, a talent he uses to great degree as Glen, a smart but surreptitious hacker who is a close friend of computer analyst and government consultant, Maggie Madsen.
Lorenzo di Bonaventura, who has worked previously with Anderson, is a big fan. “People don’t understand how much he brings to the party,” di Bonaventura says. “His ad-libs are smart and clever and completely unexpected; he’s a very instinctual comedian. But he’s also underestimated when it comes to his serious roles. Anthony was so compelling in ‘Hustle and Flow’; I hope more people recognize how talented he is.”
Di Bonaventura loves the idea of going against type in casting Anderson as the computer whiz kid. “Every preconception you have about the character is thrown out the window when you meet Glen at his grandmother’s house. He’s older than you think the average teenage hacker might be. He’s less nerdy. And he’s the total opposite of the hot guy you imagine as Maggie’s friend. He’s just a study in contrasts. Anthony is absolutely fresh.”
Anderson describes his character as a “computer genius-geek-nerd who is accidentally pulled into the government’s search for whatever is devouring all their secret system files and documents.
“Maggie, my partner in crime, brings in Glen to help her decipher an electronic computer language that the Decepticons® are speaking; she needs help, so she comes to the smart guy,” he says coyly.
“Glen’s nervous at first,” explains Anderson, “because he’s got a little addiction problem with hacking into highly classified systems like the Pentagon’s, which he’s done more than a few times. He can’t help himself, he’s drawn to it; he loves the excitement. He’s just never been caught before. But this time, he really doesn’t want to be in the mix with angry alien robots.”
Despite his initial reluctance, Glen cannot help but be spellbound as he begins tapping into the aliens’ communications, breaking their code. “Glen knows their innermost secrets,” the actor says, “but it’s frightening and disturbing. I mean, it’s Defcon 38. Talk about heightened security levels; we’re at fuchsia, man!”
Anderson’s favorite Transformer™ is Megatron®. “I like the bad guys now,” he says. “Growing up I liked Optimus Prime® and another one that was a big gun with a scope on it. I played with that guy until he broke.”
Rachael Taylor is “Maggie Madsen”
At 22, Taylor is relatively new to Hollywood having recently emigrated from her native Tasmania via Australia. “TRANSFORMERS” is her first American film and the first she had ever heard of the Transformers™ toy franchise. After accepting the job, there was some debate as to her character’s nationality – should she be American? Australian? British? The filmmakers finally opted for her native accent.
“Michael Bay was pretty adamant that she be an Aussie,” Taylor says,” and that was fine with me because it gives my character a point of view that’s authentic. But the film has such a global feel, it’s not exclusively an American or western film.”
Taylor likens her character’s circumstance at work with her own on the film. “Maggie can’t keep her mouth shut to save her life,” she says. “She tells the Secretary of Defense exactly what she thinks and then immediately regrets it afterwards. It’s not that she doesn’t speak the truth she just needs to pick her moments with more care.
“She’s a woman trying to succeed in a man’s world,” Taylor continues, “which parallels my experience shooting ‘TRANSFORMERS’ because it’s only Megan and me in a world dominated by men, all working for Michael Bay.
“Maggie trusts her instincts even if she doesn’t always have the evidence to support what she feels,” explains Taylor. “That’s the exuberance of youth and being excited by her job.”
Working as a consultant for the United States government, Maggie and her team are some of the best and brightest data analysts. Secretary of Defense Keller calls upon her group and others to help unmask the unidentified menace attacking the world. When Maggie realizes that the mainframe has been hacked, she calls the only person smarter than she is: her buddy, Glen.
The two actors first met at a rehearsal with renowned acting coach Larry Moss. “After two minutes Anthony had me in hysterics,” Taylor says. “Even Larry, who’s kind of serious, was in stitches. But more important, Anthony is such a good person. The first time I met him he said, ‘Baby, I’m not going to let you fall,’ which is an incredible sentiment for one actor to say to another. If we succeed, we’re going to succeed together; we’re going to have a good time and make this work. Anthony really took care of me.”
Glen and Maggie are an odd couple, to be sure. “But that’s what makes the match work so well,” says Anderson. “Opposites attract.”
Anderson says one of the reasons he and Taylor got along so well is that he spent several months in Australia shooting ‘Kangaroo Jack.’ “I’m familiar with the culture of Australia and that area of the Pacific,” he says. “America is similar, but there are still subtle differences and I understand where she comes from.”
July 3, 2007 The TRANSFORMERS movie is released in theaters!!!
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