Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Interview: Mark Ryan the voice of Movie Bumblebee

Sure, his speaking part wasn't exactly the most prominent of Transformers characters in the 2007 live-action movie. But Mark Ryan played a much more prominent role in the making of the film than you or I would have guessed. Besides that, it appears we're going to hear a lot more from the actor with the prospect of Transformers 2, 3+ to come! We had a chance to interview the man behind the 'vocal processor' of everyone's favorite yellow and black striped Autobot. So sit back, grab yourself a cold glass of Energon and enjoy all the insights into the making of the greatest action film in the history of theater! (Well, that's our opinion anyway!) Thank you for your time! What a thrill to get this chance to "chat" with the guy who helped bring Bumblebee (and other Transformers characters less directly) to life! So lets start at the beginning. How early in the film making process did you become involved? What can you tell us about your audition? Did you go in and do every different voice you have in your repertoire or was it more like, "here's how I think Bumblebee... should be portrayed."

Mark Ryan: Michelle Lewitt (Casting Director) called me in to see her about this time last year. She was looking for a British actor with theater experience. Michelle's office sent over some slides and I was sworn to secrecy. She told me I needed to be prepared to read several character parts all at the same time! She taped me doing several characters from the scenes I'd been given. I was eventually booked to begin work on the set a couple of weeks after that.

Originally, I drew character voices from my own childhood favorites and threw in a few other actor voices just for fun. I used my own voice in a deeper register for Optimus with just a dash of “Warf.” I also tried variations of Sean Connery, Captain Pugwash, Slim Pickens, Winston Churchill, Sam Elliot and I may have even thrown in a mutated Dalek at one point, in honor of Terry Nation.

I eventually dropped the Dalek mutation as it only had a limited range of emotional vocal inflections and made my eyes water. However, nothing's forgotten and I still use it to speak to telemarketers so they think they've been forwarded to voicemail!

My first day of shooting was in late July in a suburban area of Los Angeles. Michael Bay was very gracious and open and showed me the animatics so I could see how it would look and what he was shooting for. During the scene outside Sam's house, I looked at the monitor at Prime's POV as seen from the “Russian Arm” camera and thinking: “This is going to be hilarious!

What was your reaction to how you had been cast? (surprised/excited/disappointed...?) I imagine you worked very hard to land various roles. Was there any sense of disappointment when you found out you'd play the star of the film who only speaks two short lines at the very end of the film?

Nope! No disappointment. I'd really enjoyed my time on the set and in post production and I was pretty sure Peter would reprise the role of Optimus. I was actually very happy with the decision, as I really like Bumblebees as he's portrayed in the movie. Those types of decisions never disappoint me, anyway. I've been doing this for a long time and I've learned to bring my best game to a project, enjoy the work and then get on with the next job.

Of course there's always Transformers 2! :) With over 150M in its first 6 days... Bring on the sequels we say! Have you been approached to reprise the role of Bumblebee?

No comment! To be honest, I was surprised at how they chose to portray Bumblebee's voice. Growing up, I always thought of Bumblebee as the most youthful Autobot. His playful, young, good humor side to compliment Sam (Spike/Buster...) Witwicky. Hearing a British accent come out of the 'mouth' of Bumblebee was a new twist. The accent suggests a butler or a chauffeur type relationship, rather than "best buddy." What can you tell us about what you and the makers of the film were going for with this characterization?

Mark Ryan: Don't forget the character of Bumblebee has already been through a horrendous and bitter planetary war and has watched many of his friends and comrades sacrificed in tough and merciless battles.

From the beginning, I thought of him more as the protective “big brother” in a deadly alien school playground, type of relationship.

I also thought of him as being more akin to our young men and women currently serving around the globe. They've already seen and experienced more hard-edged real life in a few short years than most folks do in a lifetime.

As ex-military myself, I preferred the concept of the older and wiser “NCO” who takes the younger and less experienced “raw recruit” under his wing to protect and teach through example. I'd experienced that role and the accompanying humor and responsibilities while serving myself, so I could relate to those particular dynamics.

Interesting! That's a new take with (good) points I had not considered. hm...

I understand you did voice work for a lot of the other Transformers characters so the human actors would have someone to play off of while filming. That must've been a blast! Tell us about your on-set role and how you came to be involved in this capacity.

I was originally hired to do just that. I was there to help the actors get the best out of their dialogue by bouncing the drama off another presence. You have to tune into the rhythm and pace of the delivery and place the lines accordingly and try not to screw up their performance! The camera's on them and they're the money! I don't think that Shia ever said the same line the same way twice, which really brought the dialogue to life and made it so spontaneous. I just had to be on my toes.

Other than that, my usual companions were five alloy poles with red lights on top. (And sometimes the full-size, Optimum prop head) Sometimes I could even tell which pole was which Autobot! I also spent some time with ILM's Visual Effects genius: Scott Farrar and onset sound maestro: Pete Devlin. It was also nice to work with military consultant: Harry Humphries, again.

In your MTV blog you stated, "I knew most of my material would either end up on the cutting room floor or would be voiced by someone else, so it was easy to relax and just play with ideas and the humorous elements." I'm wondering if there were any ad lib items or funny moments you were involved in which did make the final cut?

I think most of the Autobot lines are pretty close to the original script but we did have fun trying out alternative lines around the house, especially with the electrical cable gag. Before Transformers, I hadn't heard of Shia LaBeouf. Steven Speilberg described him as, "a young Tom Hanks" and after seeing the film (and various interviews) I have to agree. Shia did an outstanding job. He's funny, likable and I couldn't be more pleased with who they cast to play Sam Witwicky. How would you describe your experience working with him? Is he as nice of a guy off camera as he seems on film?

Mark Ryan: Shia is a fine and focused actor. He's simply brilliant and very grounded and aware. He's very professional and he knows his way around a big set. His comic timing reminded me of Robin Williams and he's going to be a huge star!

So what's it like working for Michael Bay? I hear he's kind of a wimp. (Kidding, of course!) In an interview, Peter Cullen said of him, "...This guy (Michael Bay), I mean wow! If you put him in uniform, he could command an army!" How would you describe your experience working with him?

Michael Bay is a creative genius! He's very focused on the set. He's very energetic and pushes hard but he definitely knows how to get it in the can. When there's $150 million on the line, you better believe you need to keep moving and shoot efficiently. Michael's crew is a world-class operation and a well-oiled, professional machine. He knows this and he's very loyal to them. I'd worked with people previously who had done several productions with him and they all said the same thing.

I really respect that loyalty aspect about him and his stand on filming Transformers in the US. It's a piece of iconic Americana and I'm glad most of the work stayed here in L.A.

So you've set the internet abuzz with talk of you having recorded lines for Bumblebee to be included with the DVD release of the film! Absolutely outstanding, congrats! So, did you get to voice other Transformers characters for the Transformers 2, DVD "prequel" or was your role strictly Bumblebee?

Only Michael Bay and the writers really know what they might do with a sequel and they're not talking. I actually don't blame Michael considering the battering he's taken from some fans. But he's proven to have been totally correct in his artistic choices and the film is a worldwide movie phenomenon. You can't really argue with that!

You know, Transformers fans are passionate and volatile. The downside with message boards is that you tend to get a handful of vocal negative opinion writers that 'squalk' the loudest. For every nay-sayer there are 10 people thinking, "I'm going to wait and see" and don't put their opinion in writing. The upside is that we have a nearly insatiable appetite for good Transformers fiction (and great toys!) That, and I think the movie's end result turned out more closely reflecting the original material.

I'm thankful for films like Lord of the Rings. Financially successful and proved to Hollywood that staying true to a certain amount of the original material is a formula that works. I think Michael Bay, put his signature on the film but remained true enough to the original concepts that worked. In the end, the vast majority of fans are happy.

Anyway, wow. Mention of a Transformers 2 gets the adrenaline of the fandom flowing!Is there anything else you can tell fans about your up coming Transformers projects? What parts did you audition for?

I think, while the producers were trying to keep faith with the spirit of the 80's show, some fans kept forgetting that it's a 2007 movie adaptation for an international audience. Completely different rules apply and both film techniques and CGI effects have evolved beyond all recognition since the 80's. I guess I'm just learning how intense some Transformers fans can be and I'm sure they cannot wait for any news about a sequel. But I really don't know anymore than that and you'll just have to wait for the DVD release!

"Bring it!" :) Are there any other questions you'd like to be asked about your involvement on the film? (I'd be happy to pretend I came up with the question all on my own!) :)

<>Mark Ryan: What's next?

We'll be announcing a new Graphic Novel project with Mike Grell at ComicCon in San Diego. It's called: “The Pilgrim” and it's a dark and complex story based on actual events and historical figures in the psychic warfare and intelligence field, set both in WW2 and today.

Sounds fascinating. Now, with your name permanently etched in the annals of Transformers lore, fans will be paying close attention!

We want to sincerely thank you for all your time, talents and insight to share with the fandom. Can't wait for Transformers DVD, as well as sequels 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and beyond!

For more info and feedback on Mark Ryan, visit his personal MySpace Page.

All our best,
-Lukis Bros. -

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