How does an actor work with a co-star who is a giant CG robot that they can't see on set? In our exclusive interview, two of the stars of Transformers: Age of Extinction explain how Michael Bay and a broomstick stood in for the Autobots and Decepticons during filming.
We spoke with Transformers: Age of Extinction actors Nicola Peltz, who plays Tessa Yeager, daughter of Mark Wahlberg's character Cade Yeager, and Jack Reynor, who plays Tessa's boyfriend Shane Dyson about playing opposite Dinobots, how Detroit was transformed into Hong Kong, and how the relationship between Autobots and humans has changed since the last film:
What was it like for you as actors working with characters who were largely CG?
Nicola Peltz: You know, I thought there was going to be more green screen than there was. The sets were real and all the explosions were real, and as an actor that helps so much. But when you are talking to Bumblebee or Optimus, it's a pole, like a…
Jack Reynor: A washer pole.
Nicola Peltz: Yeah, a Swiffer sweeper pole, whatever it's called. They put a cutout of Optimus' face or Bumblebee's face, and you just have to go for it. It may seem silly in the moment, but you have to go for it. You know, I trust Michael [Bay] so much and what he does with these films, it's just mind-blowing. So it's very exciting to see how he puts them together and what you are screaming at.
Jack Reynor: It's a thing we have to be aware of all the time, that it's great to have giant robots in a movie and all that animation and the explosions and everything, but at the end of the day, it has to be the human beings who sell all the action with their own terror and anxiety and all the different emotions that they have. And it is a difficult thing to pull out on the day, but Michael creates an environment whereby we can do that, and Mark [Wahlberg] was very helpful to us as well in particular.
Did you get to meet with the voice actors to develop your characters' relationships with them?
Jack Reynor: No, there's a really great voice actor called Mark Ryan—he's from the UK—and he came in to do some of the voices and that really helped in particular scenes. But a lot of the time, Michael will read it in himself and he runs around with this washer pole and stuff. It's kind of a crazy thing, but if you can get over the hilarity of the situation, it works.
Nicola Peltz: Yeah, there was one scene where I was in a car and, I think there's a picture of it, of Michael going like this [makes a motion like she is extending a broomstick] with a broom, like a green broom. And the other day, I saw the scene, and I was like, "Wow." It looked so real, and I was like, "That was you hitting me with a broom." What he does with the CGI and how he creates these characters, it's insane.
Then does your relationship with Michael Bay translate to the animated characters?
Nicola Peltz: No, Michael does it sometimes and random people do it sometimes, kind of just, whatever in the moment.
One thing we saw in the trailer is that a shady government agent trying to take away the Transformers. Do you see any metaphors for gun control in the movie?
Jack Reynor: That's a really interesting parallel that you're making there, [laughs] not one that we've ever really had to address or talk about. I don't know, maybe that's something that the producers were conscious of when we started to make the film; maybe it wasn't. For me, coming from the Republic of Ireland, that's certainly not a question that I'm fit to answer, maybe Nicola should.
Nicola Peltz: Well, myself, I didn't really think of it that way. I just went into it trying to play Tessa the best I could.
Jack Reynor: I think really at the heart of the relationship lies between Mark and Nicola and my character. And that's really the anchor for the whole film, and the Autobots for this movie will definitely come across as a little more jaded. They're tired of humanity and they're tired of our flaws, and I think that this film echoes and illustrates certain feelings that people are having in America at the moment regarding foreign policies and things like that, but it's also not something we really try and delve into an awful lot. We're just—Nicola and I for sure—are just making action movies for people to enjoy and be able to transcend for a couple of hours and just watch giant robots and explosions.
How was the experience different for you when the Dinobots were in a scene as opposed to scenes with just the Autobots or Decepticons?
Jack Reynor: They're all washer poles! [Laughs]
Nicola Peltz: Definitely reading in the script there's a Dinobot and making it up in my head and then seeing what that actually was, it was pretty badass.
Jack Reynor: You know what was one thing that I did find really interesting? For half of the film, before we ever came across the Dinobots—we didn't really come across the Dinobots until we got to China. But what was actually kind of an interesting thing was that the height of the washer pole for Optimus is here [puts his hand at one level], Bumblebee is like here [lowers his hand a little], Hound is like here [raises his hand]. All of a sudden, Michael starts to talk about these Dinobots, and you're looking up there [raises his hand as high as it will go]. Like, they're just so much bigger. And what's interesting is that you imagine them bigger—yeah, you can see them in the trailer—
Nicola Peltz: Optimus rides them and they're so much bigger than Optimus.
Jack Reynor: Yeah, they're gigantic! They're monumental in size.
Did you guys actually see the art or the animation of the Dinobots before your scenes?
Nicola Peltz: Michael has previs [pre-visualization], which helps a lot. You know, there's little drawings and then sometimes made into little cartoons of the action sequences and that really helps. I'm such a visual person, so seeing that is so helpful.
Jack Reynor: I don't know if I saw any Dinobots until the trailer came out really. I remember when we were going for costume fittings and stuff in LA, I remember seeing sheets with this kind of graphic design of what these things were going to look like and it was incredible.
How do you figure out how to react to something before you actually see it?
Nicola Peltz: Well, the previs, that really helps.
Jack Reynor: And your imagination. You have to let your imagination run wild.
Was this your first time working on such a big production?
Nicola Peltz: I'd never worked on anything this big before. The sets are amazing. You know, we were in the middle of Detroit and Michael made the sets look like we were in Hong Kong. It's mind-blowing. You're in Detroit, you turn one street, you take a left, and you really feel like you're in Hong Kong. That's what's amazing about these movies; it's that you have these tools and it's so much more helpful for the actors because it's so much more real.
Was it intimidating stepping into a saga where so much has already happened? Did you go back to the earlier movies to inform your performance?
Nicola Peltz: Well, I knew what happened because I'm a big Transformers fan, but it's a new story and it's a continuation. It's five years after the war in Chicago, but it's its own story.
Jack Reynor: And Nicola and I didn't feel the pressure of having to fill anybody else's shoes, because we're really very far removed from the previous films and it's a very different dynamic between humans and Autobots in this film. It's a whole different thing. It's a different animal, but it's going to be fun.
Transformers: Age of Extinction