Interviews & Articles
Were you a Transformers fan as a kid growing up?
SL: I was an 80's baby, born in 1986 and I initially got into Transformers not because of them per se but because there was a film back then that was Orson Wells last hurrah and I was a huge fan of his. From that, I was introduced to it and it was the male Barbie. Every boy had one. I was into them and Yogi Bear.
Movies have been based on great pieces of literature, great plays and now even songs. But what do we say about the industry when movies are based on a toy? Are we running out of ideas?
SL: Here is the thing. It is not that they made a movie out of the Ferbie or the Brats. This is not just a toy. There is a whole legend and lure behind it. Have you ever been into a tattoo shop and see somebody getting an X Box 360 tattoo? You do see them get Decepticon tattoos. It is more of a lifestyle than a toy. People are super passionate, almost STAR WARS fanatic. If you go on these web sites, they will post one TRANSFORMERS notice and within one hour, there will be 700 responses. The fact that it is the most downloaded trailer ever in the history of Yahoo is crazy. It is not just a toy.
So what is the toy's mythology? STAR WARS had a mythology.
SL: This does too. It is the ultimate power struggle and resembles STAR WARS very closely. You have the Decepticons and the Autobots. They are autonomous robots from the same lineage that have been created by artifact, called the All Spark. It is the life force. It is the classic power struggle story. It is the same vibe as the Force. It is funny how the nostalgia for the 80's has gotten everyone looking at stuff from that decade and that is why the Transformers are huge. The toys are just a bipartisan of the story.
Did they send you to a TRANSFORMERS school to immerse you in the back story?
SL: Yes, they had to teach us everything. When you have an audience that is this passionate, and if you say Tiger Patch wrong, they will think the whole movie sucks. If you use Autobots in the wrong context, they will not go see the film. It is over and you need those fans. As much as we ad libbed, we had to know how to ad lib in that world.
What Michael Bay film really influenced you?
SL: I loved all his films except PEARL HARBOR. I loved THE ROCK and BAD BOYS. I liked all his films except PEARL HARBOR because he was not being true to who he was.
Is your character a new creation for the movie?
SL: No, he was actually in the Orson Wells film and his was Spike Witwicky. He was only in a couple of the scenes. He wasn't a big presence in the TRANSFORMERS cartoon. Bumblebee was supposed to protect him because he was in cahoots with the Transformers. It has been beefed up for this film and his name has been changed to Sam because it would be strange to have a kid from this neurotic sheltered family have that name. A father who was a used car salesman and a mother selling beauty products would not name their kid Spike. There have been changes but essentially it is the same character.
The film looked like it took a lot out of you physically.
SL: It was the toughest thing I have ever been through. I had to work with things that weren't there.
How did you do it?
SL: You had to imagine and use sense memory and imagery. Jon Voight turned me n to these things and I couldn't have done it without that background. IT was all fantasy and playtime but I could never really grasp what I was supposed to be seeing. It was very tough.
Speaking of tough, how was it to work with Michael Bay on set because he is famous for yelling all the time?
SL: I needed that encouragement. I didn't want a cheerleader or someone who came up to me quietly and said, “We are thinking of blowing up this building and we might need seven actors to fall down. Can you do that?” We don't need that kind of director. That creates fear and while you might need fear sometime, you need someone who is going to get things done. Bay is that kind of director. He comes in on set and says, “Okay today, here we go. Let's get it done.” He has this General Patton vibe and you need that. He is the adrenaline junkie who embodies this type of film and you need that guy because he makes you feel safe. He knows everything about every explosion and knows how to make a bomb. He is well studied and it is his life. We had like a big brother/younger brother thing going on and so it was all good. You don't want to be on the other side of Michael because then it is not good.
Even with that protection, were there moments when you didn't feel safe? I am thinking of that scene where you are hanging upside down.
SL: Every moment I didn't feel safe but you are lying to yourself because you have to get through with it somehow. None of it feels safe. We could have easily shot some of the footage on green screen and it would have been safer. But Bay is an actor's director. He wants to make it as real as possible so it is reaction instead of creation. Instead of putting me in a room that has green screen and hanging me from a pole, he gives me the real thing. My reactions are then different and my emotions are then different. He thus hangs me from a building and yells `action.
How high we you actually suspended from that building?
SL: I was actually on the roof of one of the tallest buildings in LA 40 stories up on a wire. I had a waist harness and two wires and tow stuntmen holding me in place.
What is going through your mind at that point?
SL: Death! (laugh). But when you get off, you feel like a rock star. You start high-five Bay and everyone else. I never thought that I would ever be in this type of situation or in a movie this big and be an action hero. I never thought that.
But you have to realize in a film like this, the actors take the back seat because the Transformers will be the big stars of this film.
SL: Of course. I know that. There is no movie without Megatron and Optimus. You cannot steal their thunder. That is the movie and they are the stars. Aside from that, when you break down the human aspect, I never thought I would be the fourth banana. You never expect it but once you are in it, you fall to the wall.
Michael Bay describes this movie as a love story. For every young boy that enters this theater, they will never even notice that angle because they will be transfixed on the robots. Do you see it as a love story as well?
SL: Michael took this movie because of those moments and they are huge to him. It was about the girl he couldn't get and the first car experience. He vividly remembers them. He didn't get involved in this because of car crashes. He has done that. He got involved because of the other side of this story. In Michael Bay films, humor comes first then the action. Action will be there but there is a lot of humor.
I did like that moment when your girlfriend is searching your room and comes across your secret box. It does seem that every guy has a secret box in his room growing up that no girl is supposed to see.
SL: Exactly (laugh). Mike gave us a lot of freedom. That whole scene was ad-libbed and it felt great to be in a movie this scale and have some control. It was incredible.
How do you feel when people label you the next Tom Hanks?
SL: NO way. That is very flattering but it is like someone saying that you are the next Dustin Hoffman. There is one Dustin Hoffman. But actors are always categorized and I have been put in that box.
It does seem to be a good time to be Shia right now?
SL: I am 20 years-old and there are positives and negatives to all of this. The more movies you do, the harder they become. I do not want to be a personality. I want to be an actor and maintain the mystery but I have to sit here with you and give some of that up. I have always wanted to be someone else. You have never seen a Gary Oldman in the TRANSFORMERS or try and be a Christina Ricci and be dark just for the respect of others. I don't want that. I want the balance. I want the Tom Hanks. That is my goal. I am very blessed right now and in my life, things are good. I will have my low points. Btu I do plan on going to school. I do not want to be repetitive and I need life experiences because I will not have anything to draw from and I will just be a boring actor.
But as each big movie comes along, when do you decide to stop and go to school?
SL: I deal with this day by day. If Spielberg calls me up, then I respond to it differently. I need to take four years away and go to school. I look at Drew Barrymore. Here is a person who has an audience who has grown up with her and trusts her. That is a good thing and a bad thing. She cannot play crack head or a rapist. She cannot go and be in THE QUEEN because she is so trusted. She cannot be the villain. As an actor, you don't want to be known as the trustworthy guy. I want to go away and come back with a scar. You didn't look at Steve McQueen and think that you trusted him. He had this mystery, Johnny Depp has that now. He has a mystery.
We trust Tom Hanks.
SL: Yes, but he still has this mystery. You trust him but you know you can't trust him that much. There has to be something and that is what he has. He could play a crack head or a rapist and you would buy it.
That was quite candid. Most actors would be much more guarded.
SL: True. I could lie but this isn't me. This is a representative that you come and put on for the press. I am being honest but it is another performance.
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