There are a number of different kinds of vehicles on the downtown Los Angeles street where Transformers is shooting: there are the ones that have been tossed about in whatever explosions and battle have torn up the road, and there are the Autobots in their vehicle form, clustered near the center of the block. There’s a third set of vehicles, though – military humvees and jeeps which contain not just regular army but Sector Seven. A special ops unit, Sector Seven are the guys on the human frontline against the Decepticons, and from the looks of them – ragged and bloody – things aren’t going that well. The group of journalists on set see them jumping off their vehicles and getting ready fight, as well as reacting to a giant jet that passes overhead. The jet – I’m assuming it’s Starscream – will be added later, and a giant robot will be added in the place of a big tall pole that’s being held in the middle of the street. What’s added now is the green smoke that the Decepticons use to scatter the human populace; the Sector Seven guys get enveloped in it.
In between set ups we get a chance to talk to two members of the assembled military: Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson. First up is Josh:
Can you tell me who you play?
I’m a Captain in the Special Forces in the Army.
What’s your character’s name?
Captain William Lennox.
Can you talk about the character and how he gets involved in fighting giant robots?
Well, it just sort of happens and they’re not expecting it of course, which I think is part of the beauty of this script; it’s set here and now and it’s current and it deals with stuff that is actually going on. We’re over in Iraq coming back from a Special Ops mission when we first encounter them and the reason, I guess – I don’t know how much I can tell, but I know that part of the reason is to take out communications. So yeah, we run across them sort of accidentally and then from there we kind of figure out how to take them down. We try everything that we have to sort of penetrate them or disable them a little bit and we finally figure something out. We come back here to help out. It’s pretty cool. I’m having so much fun.
Were you a big fan of the original cartoon and toys?
Yeah. I look at these things now and I’m going to collect all these toys. Like you can see that truck is going to be a toy. So just to be out here and to see all the art alone on the Transformers and how it sort of evolved and just to be a part of it is great. It’s definitely a movie about the robots for sure, and I’m stoked to be able to be on the screen with them. I mean, you can look at here and you can only imagine what it’s going to look like when the Transformer takes the place of that big pole.
Is it true that you did boot camp to prepare for the military part of it?
Yes. Well, I wouldn’t really call it a boot camp because I had heard about military movies and how they put these guys through the ringer and try to harden these pussy actors, basically, which I categorize myself as, and so I tried to get into shape for it before I went in. So for three or four weeks I was trying to get into cardiovascular shape and everything and when I got there it was more or less and intensive on – Ft. Hood, it’s basically the training ground for all the soldiers in the Army before they head over to Iraq. So it was more or less an intensive learning about the preparation and the way they sort of live and everything else.
And then the guys that you’re working with, some of them are real soldiers?
Yeah. Those guys are all the real deal, all of them there except for Tyrese [Gibson]. They’re all Navy SEALS except for one of them who is a Ranger. You learn a lot from those guys too. You develop a real appreciation for those guys. I mean, these kids are like seventeen or eighteen years old, men and women who are about to go to Iraq and that’s real. So that was something that was pretty valuable to me.
Have you seen any of your scenes with robots in them?
A little bit. I saw the opening sequence from when we were over in White Sands when we first encounter the Transformers. It was still sort of rudimentary, but it’s pretty amazing, the amount of technology here. This is beyond anything that I think that they’ve done as far as CGI and making it photoreal. They said that this was going to be more photoreal than anything that they’ve done yet.
Are you satisfied with your reactions?
With my reactions? I don’t know. We’ll see. I don’t know. We’ll see. That’s my biggest fear. I just don’t want to suck because you never know if what you were looking at was right, how tall it was or whatever. I mean, you didn’t even know how it looked at the time you were doing it, but they seem satisfied and so I guess that’s good enough.
How much of the stuff do you have where you interact with the physical robots?
Quite a bit actually. Quite a bit of it. Everything that we did in the beginning is fighting these things. Even though you don’t see them they make it feel like you’re actually at war though you don’t see what you’re fighting. So it felt as if it was happening with the bombs going off and dust and everything was flying everywhere. So it felt real and you could feel where it was coming from and stuff like that. I did see a little bit of that cut together and it looks pretty wicked, really wicked.
What sort of harms way has Michael put you in?
Jeez, the first few weeks was pretty intense. He goes as hard as any of us and so you can’t really be soft. You have to be on the set and ready to go whenever and it was like a 120 degrees out in the desert out there and that just kind of made it feel more real. Mostly it’s been a lot of bombs. A lot of bombs going off in your ear. At one point, he was like, ‘Dude, you have to lower your pitch. Your pitch is too high.’ I was like, ‘What do you mean?’ I pulled my [earplug] out and I realized that I was screaming at the top of my lungs, like giving order at the top of my lungs because of these ear plugs. So there was one day that was pretty rough on me, but otherwise he’s a lot nicer than his reputation. He really is.
Do you look forward to getting back to a TV show after all of this?
We’re shooting it now at the same time. I worked last night until 1:30 and then I came here this morning, but it hasn’t been bad. I thought that it was going to be a lot worse because I knew that there was going to be an overlap of about three months, but this three or four week period now will be good because we’re working all week now on Vegas and I come here on the weekends. Hey, it could be much worse. I would much rather have too much work than no work at all.
So do you work much with Shia at all?
A fair amount. Like I said, the first few weeks he wasn’t there. It was mostly just the military team and now that we’ve all kind of come together we’ve met up at Hoover Dam and a lot of this final battle stuff is with him and we kind of work together and he sort of takes the thing that he has to – he does his heroic thing here.
Has there been any talk about your possible involvement with the sequel if there is one?
Of my involvement? As far as I know, yes, but I mean, it’s up to them and however they do it afterwards. Part of the contract was to do two, but as you know they can go any way that they want in the second one.
Do you get to ride in any of the Transformer cars?
You know what, I actually haven’t ridden in any of them. We do the dune-buggies all the time. I really like the truck. You should see the Decepticons, they’re really bad ass. They’re just mean. It’s different from before. I think that the people who sort of designed all of them made it really cool again. I think that people are really going to dig it. I hope.
What scene are you shooting today? What’s going on now?
Today is part of the final battle scene. We think that we’ve got them and the Decepticons deceive us.
They wouldn’t be Decepticons if they didn’t deceive, I guess. Some time after Duhamel, and after a couple more takes (one of which was when Bay moaned that these extras were killing him) we had a chance to talk to Tyrese.
Were you a fan of the toys growing up?
Loved them. My mom – I just talked to her the other day and she said, ‘Well, I guess it wasn’t bad that you missed homework all that many times after all.’ Now I know all about the movie. All they can do is give me my lines. I know everything about Transformers, the Decepticons, everything. It’s all good.
Since you’re an expert on it, what are they doing right and what are they doing wrong as a fan of the original?
While we’re filming this? I think that the only thing that people are going to be disappointed in, and it’s all over the internet already, but that Bumblebee is not a Bumblebee. It’s a Camaro. Other than that I think that Michael Bay and [Steven] Spielberg – when you think of the idea that they put their heads together for one film when they’re both doing incredibly well by themselves, and so I don’t really think that between the opinion of Spielberg and Bay that you could ever go wrong. The beautiful thing for me is that sometimes, you know, they’ll get a director to do the first one and then he blows up and decides not to do the second one. So the beautiful thing is that I know that both of them will be a part of the sequel, but if Michael Bay decides to go do something else we still have Spielberg. There’s nothing like that.
How much fun are you having dressed up as a soldier and fighting giant robots?
You talking about running up the streets at things that aren’t there? I love it, man. This is the biggest thing that I’ve ever done, ever, as far as being an actor. It’s a dream come true to work with Michael Bay. When I was doing 2Fast 2 Furious they were filming Bad Boys II in Miami and I remember that I went to the set to visit Martin [Lawrence] and Will [Smith] and they were schooling me on the $20 Million Club. I went to the set and it was big for me. It was like, ‘Damn, that’s Michael Bay.’ Now I’m on the set working with Michael Bay.
Are you making $20 million though?
No, no, not $20 million.
What kind of work is harder, singing or acting?
Singing. It’s much harder. It can take like three days to do one song.
Have you seen any of the footage that you’ve shot yet?
Oh yeah, oooh. Ooh. This movie is something. This movie is going to be something.
What’s the scariest thing that you’ve had to do?
You know what, as soon as I think that I’ve topped it all we’ll show up and it’s like, ‘Wow.’ All I can say is that everything is much bigger and much greater and much grander than you could ever imagine every single day. This is actually medium compared to what we’re used to seeing when we show up to the set. It’s like big and huge and crazy. This is the biggest thing ever, man. It’s almost like there is no limit to the things that they can go buy and do with this film.
Can you talk about working with real SEALS and real Rangers?
Oh, man, it’s crazy. The crazy thing is that we had actors in the film that were dressed up just like us and they’ve already died. They actually got the SEAL guys still alive. So the SEAL guys made it and the actors that were playing the SEALS died. They’re gone. I guess that they were able to put on a believable death which is why they had to go.
Who is your character in this, and who is Josh’s [Duhamel] in the film?
Well, my character is basically – Josh is our captain and I’m a combat controller. So we’re like the yin and the yang. He’s telling everyone who’s on the floor around us what to do and I’m telling everyone in the air what to do, all of the B2 Stealth Bombers and all of the helicopters and Black Hawks and Medi-vacs and whatever else, they’re all going under my command. I’m the CCT. Combat Controller.
Any internal conflict there in the film?
Oh, no. We don’t have any internal conflicts at all. There’s not one moment in this film where he’s going to decide to do something and I say, ‘Why would you ever do that?!’ No, we’re not at odds. We’re having a good time.
So do you have a favorite Transformer?
Yeah, Michael Bay. He’s the greatest Transformer of all time.
Did you care much as a fan who would be the voice of the Optimus or Megatron?
I didn’t really get that far into it. I’m a fan of the thing, but I’m not going to go on the internet and have an argument with someone about the possibility of it being a new Megatron voice or a Decepticon voice. It’s all good. I told Michael Bay, I said, ‘I got a nice voice. What’s up with me doing a little voice over work? I won’t tell no one.’
Did he go for that?
He just laughed.
And you get to run around with some big guns?
Yeah, big guns. Boom, boom.
Do you get to ride in any of the Transformers?
No. That’s messed up.
But the Army vehicles are kind of cool, aren’t they?
Oh yeah, I love it. I love it. We’ve been having a good time. This will be the biggest film of 2007. I guarantee it, no questions asked, and I’m just honored, very honored all over again to be a part of this. There is no one day that I show up to this set like, ‘Alright, I’m used to it. I’m here. I’ve arrived.’ It’s a big deal everyday.
Did you have any scenes with Anthony Anderson?
Is he just doing a cameo role?
No, no. He has a little more than a cameo. He’s probably worked all of fifteen days so far from what I know.
And have you done any screen time with Jon Voight?
Oh yeah, it’s my honor. I call him pops. That’s my pops. Jon Voight it subtle. He’s very subtle. He’s one of those types of guys that if you do a scene really well he’ll just look at you when no one else is looking and do like this, and then when he turns away you’re like, ‘Yeah!’
Have they told if they’re making an action figure of you or not?
Oh, man. That would be nice. Maybe they can draw me some muscles I don’t have.
How did you survive the heat out the in desert?
Oh, I barely did, man. That was a problem. It was a lot of work, a lot of work to be out there making that stuff happen in that hot sun. One day it was a hundred and twenty four degrees and we were in the white sand dunes and so the sun was beaming off of the ground and it was heavy on your eyes. So it was a big challenge working out there, but we were out there for four days. We shot at least, probably, twenty five percent of the movie there because he works fast, man. He probably do thirty or forty setups a day. He’s got camera angles everywhere that you can think of. He’s not going to miss a beat. That’s why my appreciation for him as a director just went through the roof. If you look around at everyone on this entire street that’s here because of this film and he knows what everyone on this entire street is supposed to be doing on this film including the camera people and including the lighting and all of us as the actors and it’s hard. I know some directors who can’t even handle this amount of actors let alone a cast and a crew and know everything. He don’t miss a beat. He can tell you what you did wrong through the smoke.
Who’s been your favorite Transformer to see?
I can’t say. Don’t even try that. You think that you’re slick!
Are you working on a superhero film?
Superhero? I don’t know. Why did the microphones get so close [everybody had pushed in trying to make sure they got his quote about playing Luke Cage]? No. Right now they’re doing a rewrite of the film and John Singleton has me at the top of the list. I’m not full on committed to the project, but it’s something that I’m extremely interested in. I met up with Neil Moritz a few times about it. I met with Avi Arad a few times about it and we’ll see what happens. It’s not my movie for the record, but it something that they’re really interested in me being a part of and I’m interested in being a part of it. I think that we’ll be able to determine if John Singleton and me and whoever else is going to be on the project or not – they’re still waiting on the product. We can’t do a movie without a good bible. What are we going to read?