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TRANSFORMERS- Bumblebee voiced by Mark Ryan



The ROBIN OF SHERWOOD actor tells all about being the robot stand in during actual filming of the Michael Bay movie

Published 10/11/2007

What do a giant robot from outer space (who disguises himself as a bright yellow Camaro on occasion) and a medieval Saracen who fights alongside Robin Hood’s merry men have in common? A good question – and the answer is Mark Ryan.

Besides voicing Bumblebee in the hit feature TRANSFORMERS and playing the outlaw Nasir in the cult TV series ROBIN OF SHERWOOD, Ryan’s background encompasses such varied accomplishments as originating the role of Magaldi in the original London West End production of EVITA (he went on to take over the role of Che), serving as sword master on Antoine Fuqua’s KING ARTHUR film and doing a stint with the British military.
“That’s one of the reasons why I still come up here,” Ryan says, indicating our Runyon Canyon surroundings in the Hollywood Hills, where Ryan, a native of Yorkshire, England, often exercises, toting his rucksack. “It’s a beautiful spot. One of the things I liked to do when I was younger was walk up in the mountains of Wales and I walked all over the place. I still go out to the hot springs just this side of Barstow. If you’re going to walk into any desert, if you’re going to walk into any place, you’ve got to be very sure of what you carry in, which normally is what you need to survive. People go, ‘Are you mental?’ They think there’s something crazy about this guy marching up and down these hills with a forty-pound rucksack. And I do it because it’s actually the most efficient type of exercise for me. And when you do it up here, you get this amazing view of Los Angeles, where ten years ago I decided to come and live, which so far has thrown so many interesting challenges at me. I don’t regret that I came here at all.”
The view incorporates many aspects of life, Ryan observes. “Where else, if you were going to do an interview, would you be able to sit and watch a soaring hawk? Look at that, isn’t that absolutely magnificent? And you can see all the way out westward to the Pacific Ocean, all the way to West Hollywood, all the way to downtown Los Angeles and the Hollywood sign. It’s kind of symbolic of desert hiking, which is why I do this. It’s just another kind of desert but such creative and beautiful things can happen down there.”
You can also hear the conversation of other hikers. A knot of them, purely by coincidence, are talking about – of all things – TRANSFORMERS, which they have just seen and hugely enjoyed. They’re totally unaware that the fellow sitting a few feet away was involved in the production and post-production.
iF MAGAZINE: Not unlike TRANSFORMERS, your story has a prequel and then it has TRANSFORMERS. Most people reading the credits think that what you do on TRANSFORMERS is really the voice of Bumblebee, but in fact, there was another level of involvement prior to that.

MARK RYAN: There was a lot of speculation about this on the Net, and I can say now exactly what happened. I got called by my agent Brian [McCabe], and he said, ‘Michelle Lewitt,’ who is a casting director I’ve worked for before, ‘has something which she wants you to go in and talk to her about, but she can’t tell you a great deal about it. It’s all top secret. It is for TRANSFORMERS, but that’s all I can tell you.’ I went to the meeting with Michelle, who was very pleasant, we’d seen each other many times, and she asked me about people I’d worked with in the past. She said something like, ‘So I guess you work well under pressure?’ I said, ‘What’s this all about?’ She said, ‘Well, I want you to read all of these [Transformer character] voices at the same time.’ And at that point – I think it was about five different voices in this script – so I did all these different voices during the course of the interview, and Michelle said, ‘Okay, try some other stuff.’ And I was dragging up voices from my childhood, I was doing Captain Pugwash – [does voice], voices that I knew and at one point [does Sean Connery impression] I even talked a bit like this. Did all kinds of different things and lo and behold, several weeks later, they called up and said, ‘Right, we want you on the set at such-and-such a time. We want you to be on the set and be all of the Transformers when the actors are doing their scenes, so they can have somebody to bounce off.’ And never having done anything like that before in my life or career, I said, ‘All right, let’s see what happens.’ I thought it might be just one or two days – they didn’t describe it as a long-term thing, so I went in and they presented me with the lines and the first scene shot [in this method] was the scene where the Transformers are around the house with Shia [LaBeouf]. And Michael Bay was great, he showed me the animatics and said, ‘Look, this is the shot, this is how it’s set up – because obviously, there are no giant robots …’ I know this is going to upset you, but when we actually shoot, there are no giant robots.
iF: I’m terribly disappointed.
RYAN: What there are is metal poles with red and green lights. And you have to try and remember which pole is which Autobot. So it was a fun night. We shot all night. And they just kept me coming back. I was mainly doing the Autobots, because at this point, the Decepticons had not been seen. So most of the scenes I did were with Shia and John Turturro, all the Autobot scenes. I ended up doing Decepticon voices later on in the post-production phase, but most of the stuff on the set was all Autobots – Optimus Prime, Ironhide, Jazz and the whole crew. Of course, not Bumblebee, because at that point, Bumblebee didn’t speak.
iF: What kind of voices were you doing on set?
RYAN: I tried Sean Connery a couple of times with Jazz, and we played around with different voices for him, because it was a specific type of character. Optimus was very – [deep voice] like this. He was very crisp and very clean. And Ironhide, I made him a Southern character. I just tried different voices and different tones.
iF: How do you play a character on-set when you don’t really know what the character looks like?
RYAN: It’s all about imagination. It throws some people at the beginning, because the actors are looking at a gray steel pole, so they’re trying to do their dialogue up to the face of the robot, but the voice is coming from somewhere else. So I had to try and find a spot where at least the voice was coming from the direction that they were speaking to the Autobot. Because when you’ve got five of them, it can make it complicated.
iF: Were you jogging back and forth to be where each of the Autobots was supposed to be in the scene?
RYAN: No, that would have made a lot of noise and I would have fallen over. You just have to have a good imagination. You just have to sometimes close your eyes and think of it and see it and say it.
iF: How was working with Michael Bay?

RYAN: Michael Bay knows every aspect of that set – lighting, grip, stunts, cameras. He knows it intimately and he’s worked very hard to have that expertise. I have nothing but respect for him. He was great to work with. He was very relaxed in the post-production phase and it was very easy-going. People who criticize him have usually never actually been on a large-scale set, let alone in that position. Well, listen, if you would really like to try doing this, go ahead. Go ahead and see what this is really like. It’s not easy and the pressure is incredible. He’s done an amazing job of seeing a vision and making it live on screen. You’ve got to drive hard, you’ve got to get it in the can and you’ve got to know how it’s all going to fit together. There are real time pressures to get very complex stuff, and sometimes dangerous stunt “set pieces,” completed. So it’s got to be a well-oiled and professional machine. For the most part, there was a lot of good humor. Michael stopped the entire set and gave Peter, the sound guy, a birthday cake, a nice personal touch in the middle of shooting. So he’s got some heart.


Reader Comments

Carn from Cambridge sez....

Bowspearer, I consider the Marvel UK series to be the definitive version of Transformers (always thought the cartoon was crap apart from a couple of voice actors and had some horrible mistreatment of characters such as season 3 versions of Galvatron and Grimlock) and the reason it could add so much more depth is that it clearly had more time and no budget to worry about so could develop even supposedly minor characters into something more (even when the character in question was based on a crap toy, Bludgeon for example). However I thought the live action movie was superb and a great way to bring the TFs finally into the 'real' world. And the movie is easily more 'G1' than any version of Transformers since the 80's and far superior to the kiddy trash anime versions we've had to put up with in the last decade. Hell it's even got me buying toys again as I think the movie designs are superb and a large amount of the toys produced for it are amongst my fave TF figures of all time and finally getting rid of the 'cutesy' traditional japanese look I had become so bored of. The movie works as a great action movie and introduction of it's 'realitys' version of the characters and for a first movie thats all it needs to do, just get the franchise rolling. Hell, even the Marvel Comic started off being extremely mediocre until it really hit its stride, the majority of US stories in particular were garbage until Furman took over for the big epic 'finish' after the nice run of stories he'd written for the UK version of the comic. Anyways, bring on the sequel. I wanna see them big robots on the big screen again.

10/13/2007 9:20:58 AM
Bowspearer from Australia sez....

Cluck-cluck, regarding your your claims of innocence regarding Bay and the script; the guy worked VERY closely with Kurtzman and Orci on it, so your claims of the scriptwriting having nothing to do with him are at best, extremely misinformed. As for your potshots at the cartoon, I'll agree with attacks on it regarding continuity and plotholes, however as far as characterisation goes, you're way off the mark. There were always subtle nuances in there which gave the characters a heap of depth. Yes it doesn't mesh with the comic, but it was meant to be a separate continuity right from the get-go with different writers working on each. Also, there are only 3 series of the cartoon with an additional 3 episode miniseries finishing it off, not 12 like you claimed. As for the comic, you clearly have no idea- it was NEVER a dozen issues long. In the US, it was 92 issues long (80 issues long with volume 1 and 12 issues long in volume 2 [Generation 2]) and in the UK it was 350 issues long (332 issues long in volume 1 and then 18 issues long in volume 2 [Generation 2]). The continuity of the comic was spot on, the characterisations were extremely deep and flawed with dialogue that was far from shallow and 2 dimensional. The movie, to give discredit where it is due, was one big "bait and switch" on fans by the production team, promised to be a movie based on G1 but in the end being one which is G1 only in its use of names of characters, which disregards the depth of the existing mythology, and which is ultimately some generic piece of trash that relies on heavy use of explosions and cgi to hide how inferior it is compared to the mythology as seen in the marvel comic.

10/12/2007 9:53:48 PM
cluck-cluck from Philly sez....

Ok, for all the people that complain- no, Michael Bay is not a great director. He is, however, very good at making senseless action films, which is what Transformers is. Secondly, he didn't write the script, and even if he had, what source material exactly are you talking about? The lexicogrophy of the transformers is not 100% clear, since the cartoons (all dozen or so series) and the comics (all dozen or so of those, too) feature the same characters, and similar premises, but never the two shall meet. And has anyone, I mean anyone gone and rewatched the G1 series? It was the same plot every week (the decepticons attack a hydro-electric plant), with 2-dimensional characters and 1-dimensionsal dialogue. The movie, given credit where credit is due, did feature the decepticons attacking a hydro-electric station, featured 2-dimensional characters, and with a slight improvement in dialogue. And if you don't like it, shit, don't watch it.

10/12/2007 7:38:03 PM
PR Filled fluff piece from Florida, USA sez....

Wow! Michael Bay is like unto a god! This si the best thing ever and he is the second coming of Jesus! Seriously, this a great interview and I can't wait to read some more of it. Only about 4 more days until the dvd comes out!

10/12/2007 9:06:58 AM
Bowspearer from Australia sez....

To me, the interview simply reads like a PR-based fluff piece. All this goes to show is how sad a day it is in film-making nd for film-goers, where all source material (anyone who wants to argue against this based only on the cartoon, has no idea of the extent of the source material that has extisted for Transformers) gets thrown out the window in favour of a soulless, flashy and explosion filled spectacle that still makes a heap of money. If you're reading this Mark, the reason why people have criticised Michael Bay in the context of this movie, is because he ignored the source material (in particular, the Marvel Comics run in the 80s/90s- and as a result the deep and great characterisations which existed) in favour of some generic alien invasion movie whose only real link to Transformers is the use of some names and trademarks, and that it has giant transforming robots in it.

10/12/2007 7:43:28 AM
Crystal from West Palm Beach,Florida sez....

this interview was great!i just can't wait for the dvd to come out!and i think bumblebee is awesome!and my favorite aoutobot has to be optimus prime

10/12/2007 4:33:38 AM
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