Last summer, I got to visit the set of Transformers: Age of Extinction (read my set visit report here!), and I was lucky enough to sit down with director Michael Bay and stars Stanley Tucci and Mark Wahlberg to talk about the film, in theaters today.
First, my interview with Bay:
Do you feel reinvigorated on this one?
Bay: Yeah! I’m having a really good time on this.
It feels like it’s a new movie?
Bay: Yeah, it really does. And I really love working with Mark [Wahlberg]; I’m glad we could do this together. I think these two young actors I’ve got are really, really good. Working with Kelsey Grammer.
You should get Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in the sequel, for 5.
Bay: Yeah, right?
He’s really great at showing up in the fifth part of a franchise.
Bay: During Pain & Gain, they both took me aside and were like, “Hey, so, are we going to be in Transformers?” “Hey, Mike, how about Transformers?” Yeah, it was fun.
We’re starting to get hints of what it’s about, we know that the plot is on lockdown, but Lorenzo teased some father-figure elements…
Bay: You’ll get some of the sense of that … but they are not easy movies to do. [laughs] Today’s easier.
It’s not a bad slow day when you’ve got all these explosions going on.
Bay: Yeah, but you know, yesterday was 200 extras, a lot of them don’t speak English. Great extras though. … Sometimes it’s easier for me to operate […] down where the robots are, you know?
What were you getting on the hand-held camera?
Bay: I was shooting robots in the yard. [laughs]
Are you shooting digital or film?
Bay: We’re shooting Red. We mix it, but now what we’re doing is, we’re the first movie to do IMAX 3D, the new digital camera is a million dollars. It’s a crazy, crazy camera.
I wouldn’t want to hold a million dollars…
Bay: No, it’s good.
You were a big film guy though…
Bay: I am. I love film. I’m still shooting on it, but the reality is that the labs are basically all shutting down, and there’s basically one lab. Fujifilm doesn’t exist anymore. Kodak, they’re bankrupt. Know what I’m saying? They’re not maintaining their film cameras now. It’s, sadly, over.
So since you’re shooting on digital, do you have any kind of animatic that overlaps while you’re looking at the shot?
Bay: Oh, no, you just kind of memorize it or whatever. I don’t actually look at my animatics a lot. They’re very elaborate, but I burn em in, and I bring notes.
What made you want to come back and do another one?
Bay: The real truth? I went to the ride, and I saw a three-hour line. It was around the fuckin’ block. You see all these kids and families, and then I went to the one in Singapore, and I’m like, “Fuck!” To just hand this over to somebody? You know what I’m saying? What I want to do is really set it up and … the bottom line, if someone would take it over, you would get a director who doesn’t do a lot of these movies, you’ll probably get a B star, you know what I’m saying? So, on Pain & Gain, it kinda came together. We started working on a script, and then by bringing Mark on this, that’s what made it fun for me. It’s a better way to set it up. And we redesigned all the robots, everything is new from top to bottom. You come into the franchise, you have to redesign everything. … It’s overwhelming because you have to start in August, designing, all the way to the shoot.
Do you feel like you’re approaching this differently?
Bay: We’re trying to do a lot of different stuff. This is not as different, but there’s a really funny character, this guy who’s fighting in here, he’s called Hound. He drips bullets. He’s literally got every gun known to mankind. He’s grizzled. He’ll fight when you tell him to fight, and he’s fighting down to the very, very, very last round of every gun, all the way down to a little Swiss Army knife. [laughs] He’s a really funny character. The robots on this one have more character.
Do you feel pressure to always have to outdo yourself?
Bay: Yeah, in action you want to do new stuff, try new elements.
You did some shooting in Texas didn’t you?
Bay: Right. I wanted to go back to more down-home. They wanted me not to go to Texas, and I said, “Fuck it. I’m going to Texas.” There’s a shot of Texas because there’s no more down-home place, you know what I’m saying? I wanted this really simple life … the idea was to start with an innocent, simple life and they’re just going on a ride that takes them to such a different world. My thing was, you can’t just … we couldn’t go around just replacing the kids, you know what I’m saying? So my idea was to backdoor it, kind of like have the father who’s a thinker, you know, Mark, and then we’ll introduce the kids that way. No matter who you brought in, they’re just going to compare him to Shia [LaBeouf], and Shia was just like lightning in a bottle, because he’s just that … back then, he was just that funny … he was the only kid who could do stuff like that.
Was it during Pain & Gain that you got the idea to use Mark?
Bay: We didn’t know exactly. We were toying around with different story ideas. But I knew that I wanted to go with the father-daughter thing. So I knew that, but Mark was the one who brought it up.
When you’re in the zone on production here, what do you do to zen out? Do you have any time to chill out?
Bay: I took a nap. [laughs] Take a nap. I learned that from Ridley Scott; take a nap. Steven Spielberg; take a nap. Just go to the trailer and take a nap.
I’m interested in your process. What’s a day in the life of Michael Bay? Can you walk us through it?
Bay: I dunno, we’ve got a lot of stuff going on. We’ve got three TV shows, Ninja Turtles, another small movie Almanac. And we released The Purge this summer. It’s divided up in my company by different people handling different things, you know? So, I could go to Black Sails, but I was watching dailies and art direction pictures and things like that, so there’s a guy there I communicate with.
Are you going to do another small movie after this?
Bay: Maybe. I had a fun time doing that.
Do you know what it might be?
Bay: The only non-fun thing was that I tried to save money and bring in some people that were inexperienced … that’s a bad idea. [laughs] Never doing that again. You know what I’m saying? Try to give people breaks and …
Any idea of what you might want to do?
Bay: I don’t know. I don’t know. There’s an African elephant thing that keeps … I always wanted to do one of those stories.
Next, I had a chance to speak with Mark Wahlberg, who plays Cade Yeager in the film.
You’re a tinkerer and an inventor. How different or new is this for you as an actor?
Wahlberg - It’s very different. But I enjoy the idea of playing the dad. I hadn’t really envisioned myself playing that, until recently. But I enjoyed it; I am a dad, and I’ve got four small children. But my oldest is a girl, and the whole thing about having to deal with a boyfriend and all of those things are things that I think about all of the time. And of course just having the chance to work with Michael on a movie like this where I know I can still have a lot of room and freedom to kind of develop the character and make it my own. Like we did on Pain & Gain – he trusted me to do my thing, and we had a great collaboration together. So it’s been a great experience.
What kind of action to do you get to do? You have this cool-looking gun.
Wahlberg - Well, I have this kind of ridiculous futuristic spaceship gun that I’m carrying around. But I just have to trust Michael’s vision, you know, and just focus on the human element of it all. And thank God I did Ted; now my imagination allows me to see a little bit further. And, you know, I just have a lot more confidence as an actor, so having to pretend on such a big scale is not as nerve-wracking.
How was it to meet Optimus Prime?
Wahlberg - It was very exciting – and even more exciting for my kids, because they got to get inside the old truck and the new one.
You did bigger movies like this a while ago. How eager were you to return to filmmaking on this scale?
Wahlberg - You know, I loved the fact that I made a lot of movies recently where we shot no more than like 35, 40 days. But in this one, we’re on, what, Day 43, and we’re not even half done yet. But it’s a big story, and obviously something that I’m excited about. I haven’t done it for a while, and my kids are really excited about it. And it’s just different; I’ve gotten to a place where I don’t have to be so crazy about waiting around. The big stuff is easier to deal with at this point in my life. But I did purposely get away from it for a while.
Do you feel like you’re coming into an existing family, or creating a new one?
Wahlberg - Yes and no, because obviously it’s a lot of the same people that worked on the first three. But it just feels like a different movie, too, and it feels like that to everybody. But they’ve been very, very nice to me and welcomed me with open arms. And actually a lot of these people worked on Pain & Gain as well; Michael usually works with the same people.
How much do you feel like you’re shouldering any sort of responsibility for this movie’s success?
Wahlberg - I try not to think about those things (laughs). But like with everything I do, I try to do the best job possible; obviously, being a producer and a businessman, I understand. But you can’t think about those things. I know I’m in a great space creatively, and like I said, Michael and I have a great relationship both on and off the set. He really trusts me to kind of do my thing, and bring what I can to the story as a whole and to my character. And to the other characters around me, working with the younger kids, having the experience that I have, and being willing to work with people.
Do you like doing your own stunts?
Wahlberg - No, I don’t in particular. I just do what’s asked of me. I’m too old to be a thrill-seeker now, and people who say, “Oh, I’m such a badass – I do my own stunts,” they spend an hour in the makeup chair and another hour looking at themselves in the mirror.
Does this feel like a standalone movie, or the launch of a new series?
Wahlberg - Well, they’ve talked about doing more. When you make a deal on a movie like this, they’re definitely going to want to negotiate those things in advance. And obviously whether or not that happens depends on the success of the movie, so the audience will dictate that.
Do you feel like this film can stand on its own?
Wahlberg - Absolutely! Absolutely. I’ve been in the editing room with Michael, looking at a lot of the stuff, and nobody does what he does better bringing the rest of it to life. When the Autobots come alive, the robots are really there with you on screen. And all of the stuff that I’ve seen has been incredible so far. The idea was to make it better – there’s no doubt about that, not just say, okay, we’re going to milk this thing for everything it’s worth. It’s about trying to make it better. But again, I have a lot of responsibility with what I’m required to bring to the table, but I’m excited about that. I always get excited about the opportunity to do something great and challenging myself. Like when I had the opportunity to just work with Denzel Washington, I was like, this is great – I get to go at him. We’re going mano-a-mano, and who better to go at it with than to give a showcase of what I can do. I don’t usually get too nervous about things after being in prisons; it’s like, this is not something to be nervous about. It’s something to be excited about.
Are you going to be on the soundtrack, since you sang “The Touch” in Boogie Nights?
Wahlberg - You know, I was joking around and we were on this big, alien spaceship, and it looked more like a stage. And I was standing there with my wardrobe person and all of these women who work on the film were like below [where I stood], and I just started feeling like, oh shit, I’ve got to start rapping. So I was telling Mike, “Dude, I’ve got to do the title track for the soundtrack.” And he was like, “you’re not serious, are you?” and I was like, “No!” But if he asked, of course I would.
Maybe I could ask him to ask you.
Wahlberg - You can ask him, but I don’t know if he’ll go for it. He likes it to be his own idea.
I know him a little bit.
And finally, I spoke with Stanley Tucci, who's Joshua Joyce in the movie:
Did you feel slightly typecast because everyone knows America loves Stanley Tucci in a supporting role?
Tucci: No because it's a great role. I was more than happy to do it. To be typecast in great roles does kind of misuse the word I think but no I was very happy to, if it had been a role I'd done before then I maybe wouldn't have been interested but it was something kind of new and really fun, you know what I mean? Sometimes making movies isn't fun and to play a character like this in a movie like this is fun.
We wouldn't expect you to be in something that wasn't great.
Tucci: Well, you haven't seen them all then.
How does Michael Bay make that fun?
Tucci: He never stops screaming at you and that is really fun. No, he has so much energy he loves what he does and it's infectious, it's great.
Sounds like you must have a lot of interaction with the robots themselves….
Tucci: I haven't had that yet, but I will later on, we're not quite there yet.
In addition to the character you want to play, what is fun about coming into a huge production like this?
Tucci: Michael has a great crew and they're very accomplished, so you're working with very accomplished people, from the camera operators to the special effects, I've never seen such efficiency and energy.
Do you have any good Michael Bay stories so far?
Tucci: If I did I couldn't tell you them. Just that he's very funny and he loves a good laugh and that's kind of the great part of making the film.
Are you playing it more straight or is it a comedic role?
Tucci: It's sort of both. Like all of Michael's movies there is a seriousness to it and then suddenly it turns into funny stuff, that's the great part as actors that we are able to do that.
What's your favorite Michael Bay movie?
Tucci: Armageddon, I like The Rock.
You've done a bunch of sci-fi and fantasy roles recently; is that a bi-product of the roles becoming more interesting or available or what you're going after?
Tucci: I think it's the Zeitgeist of the times, it's what is available and is there and if the role is good in that movie then that's what you do. It's important to try to mix things up and I've tried to do that over the years, where you go do an independent film then you go do a drama and then a comedy, science fiction so if you can mix it up that's great but I do think there are a lot of these movies being made now, you go where the work is but they're fun. The Hunger Games is like the greatest gift ever.
Do you have to do a lot of work to make it challenging for yourself or is it on the page already?
Tucci: For the most part it's on the page, you know you always are inventing things and collaborating with the director but if it's not on the page the stuff doesn't make it far.
Do you have more fun with the action or playing with your characters?
Tucci: It's all fun. The action stuff is as anybody will attest, it takes a long time but when you're there and you're doing it and you go into that take and you run and everything is blowing up around you and you're diving onto something it's actually incredibly thrilling and you feel like a kid again. Like a kid who used to play and pretend all those things would happen and now they're actually happening.
How serious do you approach the role, whenever we talk to Michael Bay it's like a kid playing with imaginary toys… is there a way you approach it in knowing that?
Tucci: Every role is approached in exactly the same way, you have to make it believable and that's all. Acting is really serious.
Do you have a preference of evil vs. good?
Tucci: Nope, just depends on the role. How well is it written, how well-realized is it?
Are you a bad guy or a good guy in this?
Tucci: I can't answer that.
You make robots…
Tucci: What can I say…
Who are you making robots for? Michael Bay?
Tucci: For you guys. For the world.
Will you get your own action figures?
Tucci: I don't know, I don't know about that. It would be fun though. When I was a kid. I wanted to play with real girls but they wouldn't let me. I don't know about action figures.
How do you like working with Wahlberg?
Tucci: Oh, Mark is great, a wonderful actor. I did a movie with him five years ago and he's just lovely, I'm a big fan of his.
Presumably a different dynamic here than in Lovely Bones?
Tucci: Oh yes, yes. Very different. We have fun in this one. I won't rape and kill his daughter.
Now forever for your reels you'll have the slo-mo Michael Bay action thing.
Tucci: I know I'm so excited I can't wait to see it.
You've got to do the gun dive…
Tucci: I don't know if it's in there but I've got to get that in there.