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TRANSFORMERS- Bumblebee voiced by Mark Ryan
Exclusive: ACTOR MARK RYAN IS THE VOICE BEHIND BUMBLEBEE IN 'TRANSFORMERS' - PART 1
The ROBIN OF SHERWOOD actor tells all about being the robot stand in during actual filming of the Michael Bay movie
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.
STAY TUNED FOR PART 2 OF OUR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW