I recently got the opportunity to talk to Mark Ryan about his involvement in the ‘Transformers’ franchise. Here, Mark talks about what it was like working with the cast and crew, his thoughts on 3D in films and what’s coming up for him in 2011…
Hey Mark. Thanks for taking the time out to speak to me – “Transformers: Dark Of The Moon’ will be in cinemas as of 29th June 2011. In this installment, the Autobots learn of a Cybertronian spacecraft hidden on the Moon, and race against the Decepticons to find it and learn its secrets.
Tell us a bit about your involvement in the movie…
For TF3 I was on-set voicing most of the robots during principal photography and in the post-production “scratch track” phase. For Optimus Prime’s on-set lines the sound crew sometimes used recordings of Peter’s early dialogue on the set, but I ended up doing some of it as the dialogue changed quite often. Peter Cullen did come to the set once, as I recall and it was an honor to be actually sitting there with Optimus Prime in person! Later, I also worked again in post-production at Michael’s studio on the dialogue used for composing and editing the scenes. I went back into the editing suite several times after principal shooting and worked with him trying out different dialogue and vocal tones and deliveries, throwing in lots of lines, both for the robots and other characters in the film. I don’t think any of that “scratch track” material survived into the final-cut but I am heard in the film at one point as an American soldier talking about “mini-drones!”
Of course, we should mention that you’ve played other Transformers, (such as Bumblebee and Ironhide) in the previous instalments and subsequent games – which out of them is your favourite Transformer to play?
Michael wanted Jetfire crotchety, noble and funny! So he’s still one of my very favorite characters and I got to throw in lots of lines for him. I borrowed the voice from my old mate Ray Winstone! I was also lucky enough to work with Alex Kurtzman on TF2 who’s a real gent. He was very happy with the odd slang British phrases I’d thrown in, so they stayed in the final cut. I’m very proud of that! Although I just had to re-voice “Bollocks!” for the US network TV version. I’m hoping they keep in: “Cobblers!” instead. But of course Bumblebee is everyone’s favorite Autobot and doing lines for him is always a joy. I personally wish they’d have kept in the Bumblebee lines for both TF2 and TF3 as I feel it humanized him even more and made a direct, empathetic connection with Sam but Mike Bay kept the radio gag in – so I guess folks love him either way!
What do you think it is about ‘Transformers’ that makes it so popular? I mean you have the toy line, the TV series and now the films….
I was pretty busy shooting ‘Robin Of Sherwood’ in the early 80’s when the show first aired in the UK so I had no preconceived ideas of how the Autobots would look or sound. I had to go back and do some research when I first got the on-set job in 06. I based the voices for that phase of the shoot on the basic character material I found on the net. But it was all pretty fresh to me and I think that helped bring a new flavor to the voices. I always believed though that ‘Transformers’ would connect with a wide international family audience. Michael Bay is a creative dynamo and understands what a summer blockbuster audience wants to see! He’s very focused on the set. He’s very energetic and pushes hard, but he understands every element of a large-scale movie production unit and the nuts and bolts of how to get it in the can. He also understands silly humor and has fun while working. That’s so very important. I’m very pleased he’s had the worldwide success and recognition he’s had. The creative Spielberg / Bay movie formula seems to have tapped into a highly commercial and international audience psyche.
’Dark Of The Moon’ stars Shia LeBeouf, and a newcomer, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley – what was it like working with the cast and crew on this instalment? It must feel like a family to you, with the same faces popping up again and again…
It’s a well-oiled and efficient machine alright and Michael Bay’s crew are the cream of the crop. I’ve really enjoyed working with Shia during these three movies as the guy is simply brilliant, very talented and very grounded. We ran lines together before scenes as dialogue changed, (even on the set) and he gave me lines to add into the Bumblebee scene at NASA to help him reach into the emotional well. I’m really just there to help the actors get the best out of their dialogue with the robots by bouncing the drama off another responsive presence. You have to tune into the rhythm and pace of the delivery and place the robot’s lines accordingly, trying not to screw up the actor’s performance or step on their dialogue! I don’t think that Shia ever said the same line, the same way twice! This really brought the dialogue to life though, and made it very spontaneous. I also really enjoyed feeding the lines to Francis McDormand, who is so wonderful and a very, very talented actress. She grabbed me very early on and said something like: “I’ve never done anything like this and I hear you’re the guy I need to stick close to…” I also enjoyed teasing Rosie Huntington-Whitely when we shot the scenes with Brains in the apartment. Both Josh and Tyrese are such pros and really nice guys just to hang around with. Ian Bryce is another “unsung hero” and is a calm and patient presence on the set. Ian takes all this enormous production pressure and responsibility in his stride, with good humor and pragmatic professionalism. Ian is a real gentleman. Other than that, my constant companions were five, very long, alloy poles with red lights on the end. Sometimes I couldn’t even tell which one was which Autobot! I did also spend quite some time with my old pal Harry Humphries, a genuine hero who brings the real military heat. Also sound maestro: Pete Devlin. Many thanks and a big shout-out to the sound team!
‘Dark Of The Moon’ has been filmed in 3D. What are your feelings on production companies using 3D?
I think folks thought of 3D initially as a fad but it depends on the way you approach and use it. I’ve seen a lot of other films in 3D and they looks like layered, fold-out, pop-up books, but I do think ‘Transformers’ will turn that around. I have a feeling that we’re on a major turning point for the way that 3D movies are seen and visualized. I was on the set of ‘Dark Of The Moon’ and I saw some of the raw 3D stuff that Michael did and it’s UN-believable! I went to see ‘Avatar’ in 3D IMAX and immediately felt that this was the future for THIS type of filmmaking. Not for ALL film making… but for this big blockbuster type. You’re IN the film. The IMAX 3D experience is without doubt mind-boggling. What Michael has done, I think, is taken it to another level. Not only are you in the film but it comes out to you as well. Check out the sequence with the wing-suited Special Forces guys flying off buildings in Chicago, this IS genuinely groundbreaking stuff. We filmed down at Cape Canaveral and NASA and just watching the crane shots they did in the VAB at NASA…. I looked at it on a 3D monitor and thought: “Wow!” At some point we’re all going to be sat at home watching a big screen and be able to experience it in 3D to SUCH an extent it really does feel like it’s happening in your living room. It may not happen for a few years, but I bet within five to seven years the technology will be there.
If you could choose a car that had the ability to turn into a Transformer, which would it be and why?
I’d be the Bumblebee Camaro of course! It’s a beautiful machine, especially the convertible. Bloody beautiful! I distinctly remember the first time I heard that Camaro come growling down that dark suburban street on TF1 and thought to myself: “Oh baby! This bad boy definitely isn’t Herbie.”
Let’s talk a bit about you Mark. What made you want to get into acting in the first place?
My love of theatre began when I was at Ellers High School in Doncaster. My music teacher: Phil Navas and English teacher: Sue Herbert really encouraged me to develop my creative skills including my writing. At that time, in a tough Yorkshire mining and horse racing town, it was not the usual career path for a young man to choose. I started touring the Northern Working Man’s Club circuit in the UK. It was a tough but highly enlightening showbiz baptism of fire, singing in venues like Batley Variety Club and doing extra work at Yorkshire and Granada TV in shows like ‘Coronation Street’, ‘Emmerdale Farm’ and ‘Crown Court’. My music skills came in really handy when I went to London and started working in the West End in shows like ‘Evita’ and ‘Edwin Drood’. We also filmed ‘Who Dares Wins’ for Ian Sharp during the final few weeks of my run as “Che” in ‘Evita’, and that was the beginning of making a break into film. I knew at the time that if I didn’t make a break from musicals it would be tough to break into more film work or TV roles in the future. So I was out of work for a year, turning down more musical work and waiting for something to come along in TV and when it did it was ‘Robin of Sherwood’! So I went from singing virtually non-stop for eight shows a week to four years of saying very little (and when I did speak it was in Arabic), standing around in black leather looking moody, riding horses about and chopping up Normans in sword fights!
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to get into the industry?
Wow! The business has changed so much over the last 30 years. I really wouldn’t know where to begin! It’s so tough now to break into the business and make a living. My best advice is give every opportunity you pursue 110% effort and you cannot lose. Whatever happens in life, if you give it your best, you will come away with something you can apply to the next opportunity or challenge if that one doesn’t pan out. Life is a learning process and in the words of Albert Einstein: “A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.”
What has been the most memorable moment or experience your career so far?
There are so many. It’s impossible to choose just one. I’ve been very, very fortunate to have so many memorable experiences in my career. Like the opening night of ‘Evita’ in London, standing on the stage of Carnegie Hall with Eric Idle and then The Hollywood Bowl with Stevie Wonder and Bonnie Raitt. Watching Stellan Skarsgard and Mads Mikkelsen doing their final fight 20 times over in ‘King Arthur’, while Keira Knightley flings herself gleefully into the action. Watching Martin Grace make an impossibly wide leap onto the Thames tourist barge during filming of ‘Who Dares Wins’. Flipping the sword into Richard Gere’s hand (first attempt) in the opening scene in ‘First Knight’. Meeting Buzz Aldrin on the set of TF3. Singing a duet with Tom Jones in Matador. Watching the surprised look on the armourer’s face when I striped and then reassembled a silenced Walther PPK (with my eyes closed) on the set of ‘Doomsday Gun’, because Frank Langella thought I might accidentally shoot him. Stopping Anthony Hopkins (before the “Sir”) in Wardour Street, Soho and talking to him about the differences between stage and screen acting for about 20 minutes in the rain. Hearing Alan Parker say; “Tell us another one of your funny stories” in front of Madonna and Antonio Banderas on the set of the ‘Evita’ movie. Without doubt, all three years of ‘Robin of Sherwood’! Hearing somebody say: “What does “bollocks” actually mean?” during a V/O session at POP Studios for TF2. Standing on the Launch Pad 39-A at NASA/KSC Cape Canaveral next to the Shuttle Discovery during TF3, before it’s final flight. Having Christian Bale come and find Roger Reese and I to introduce himself to us before we did the scene in ‘The Prestige’. Singing “God Bless America”, after the first performance of ‘1776’ in LA, the night after 9/11. Watching the Autobot concept cars rolling up on the Witwicky home for the first time on TF1. But ultimately the most precious and enduring gift the business has presented to me are the friendships, both of folks with us and departed, that have endured and survived over thirty odd years in this crazy old business. You know who you are…
What does a Mark Ryan day usually consist of?
It depends on what I did the night before! If I’m working on a film or writing a project and have a call I get up pretty early. If not I generally like to try to move one of the several projects I have going forward, even just a little, everyday. You usually can’t make it all happen at once, and if everything did you’d be overwhelmed. So I like to put positive energy into a variety of projects, making small steps with each project each day and keep up the forward momentum until something pops! I love this Thoreau quote: “I learned this, at least, by my experiment; that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” In the morning I also usually deal with any calls to the UK as they’re eight hours ahead, and then the afternoon is free for writing, meetings or V/O sessions. For relaxation I hike in the Runyon Canyon in the Hollywood Hills and visit the Robin Hood Pub in Sherman Oaks.
What’s coming up for you in 2011? …
John Matthews and I have another couple of publishing projects in development. One is called; ‘Hero Weapons Of Film And TV’ and is pretty self-explanatory and the other is a graphic novel based on ‘The Wildwood Tarot’ into which we’ve also dragged legendary comic artist and writer Mike Grell onboard. I’ve also written a documentary concept about modern Native American Indian cultures called ‘Tribal State’ about how the tribes have evolved over the last two decades. That’s in development right now as is ‘Salvage’, a show that is best described as ‘Dog: The Bounty Hunter’ meets ‘Intervention’. Hopefully we’re shooting a sizzle reel for that in late July. In the meantime ‘Wildwood Tarot’ is going very well on Amazon and we plan to do some signings and workshops including ones in New York and San Francisco. I’m also hoping to direct a small independent film written by Caitlin Matthews called ‘Mermaids’, from the book by fellow Yorkshireman: Robert Edric, before the end of 2011 or early in 2012. So no pressure then…
Thanks for the interview!