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.
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