Ramon Rodriguez may well be one of the new kids on the Hollywood block but he’s getting considerable attention for his latest turn as Shia LaBeouf’s sidekick in the latest Transformers adventure that unleashes this weekend and the young actor is just taking it all in as he discussed with Paul Fischer in this exclusive interview.
Question: Tell me about the process to be cast in a Michael Bay movie. I mean, what is the process?
Rodriguez: Well, you know, my process is, I’m sure, very different than a lot of people. I actually went on tape in New York, and then Michael Bay flew me out to LA. And I had a reading with him in his office in Santa Monica. And literally for an hour and a half, he had me running, jumping, and diving in his office. I mean, jumping behind furniture, hiding behind the chair, rolling over the desk. I mean, it was an insane audition. I left completely drenched in sweat, and – but I guess he just wanted to see if I could handle the physicality of the film, you know? Because a lot of this movie, I’m running and jumping and looking up at Optimus. Which is – there’s nothing there, and you’re yelling at Bumblebee and there’s nothing there. It’s – you kind of feel like you’re losing your mind. But at the end, the end result is amazing. So, it’s pretty cool.
Question: What is your best take on the character, Leo, that you play in this?
Rodriguez: My best take?
Question: How would you best describe him?
Rodriguez: Well, he’s – you know, conspiracy theorist. Runs the Web site, ” TheRealEffingDeal.” You know, he thinks he knows everything about aliens, and he thinks he just – he thinks – he’s so confident that he knows everything that’s going on. He’s got this Web site, he’s got these kids working for him. And then when he comes face to face with these robots, he freaks out, and he loses his mind, and he goes on this huge adventure with Shia’s character all over the world. And he just wishes he had nothing to do with them. He goes on this huge adventure.
Question: There are two things about this movie that are really striking. One is that, unlike the first one, this one takes the audience on this international journey.
Rodriguez: It does, absolutely.
Question: How important is geography in the way that you work on a movie like this? And how does it help define your character?
Rodriguez: Well, I mean, yeah. For the movie – I mean, the fact that we actually got to film on the pyramids – that’s huge. I mean, they haven’t filmed out there in over 30 years. And Michael Bay gets military acceptance from anything. I mean, he gets to film on the pyramids – nobody gets to do that. It’s crazy. We flew on Blackhawk helicopters to Jordan, and we landed in Aqaba, and then we went to Petra, which was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen in my life. You know, it’s just huge. And I think location for this, specifically – I mean, a lot of this story takes place in Egypt. So it’s really crucial. And the fact that we got to actually film on the pyramids makes it even more authentic.
Question: Michael Bay is known as one of these very quiet directors, isn’t he?
Rodriguez: Right. Yeah. He’s really quite. I mean, he’s very soft-spoken.
Question: Very soft-spoken.
Rodriguez: A gentle soul. He’s like a butterfly.
Question: [LAUGHTER] How would you compare him to other directors you’ve worked with?
Rodriguez: Tell me you’re kidding. Please.
Question: Of course.
Rodriguez: I was gonna say. Cuz – no, I mean, he’s just – he’s fast-paced. You know, we call it Bay-os and Bay-in, because it’s just – you know, he gets on set, and all of a sudden things just start flying at you and exploding, and you’re running for your life. I mean, it’s – it’s intense. You know, 12-hour days. We shot for six months. You know, and the cool part is that he actually has a great sense of humor, and he incorporates comedy in his films, which is always a lot of fun. Because if you have explosions the whole time, I think the audience goes numb. You know, having comedy, that kind of brings people back in. And reels them back into the story. And he loves improvisation, which is really cool. And I got to improvise a lot with Shia.
Question: How was that? I mean, are you good at improv?
Rodriguez: I love improv’ing, man. I think it’s great. You know, it doesn’t get any more organic than that. And we were able to do that, and – a lot of the scenes that we improv’d, especially in the beginning and the dorm room scenes – I mean, the writers would be writing everything we were improv’ing. And that actually became the dialogue of the movie.
Question: Tell me about working with these Transformers. I mean, you’re reacting to a lot of visual effects. What are the challenges for that, for you as an actor?
Rodriguez: Well, I mean, the funny part is that there is no visual effects, and there’s no robots. We are acting to poles with tennis balls on top. Huge poles, 35-foot poles. And if you’re lucky, you might get a face on top of that. You know, Optimus’s face, or Bumblebee’s face. It’s so strange. I mean, it’s really weird. You feel like you’re losing your mind, you know, at first. And you’re like, ” Okay. This is weird. I’m talking to a pole, and then the voice is coming from somewhere behind me that’s talking back.” I mean, it’s really weird. But once you kind of get past that, and you learn to kind of – you know, they gave me some cool tips of how I can physically help the robots come to life. If I jump towards the pole, or if I jump back from the pole, or if I push towards the pole, it actually allows the robots to come to life post-production. So then you get to be a little bit creative, and use your imagination.
Question: Did you have a vast imagination when you were a kid?
Rodriguez: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. I mean, I would – you know, my Mom would be upstairs listening to me playing with my toys, and I’d be making all these sound effects, and literally one day she was like, ” You need to turn the TV off.” I was like, ” It’s not even on.”
Question: That’s funny. Is that why you became an actor?
Rodriguez: No. And I didn’t want to become an actor at all. You know, it all happened through basketball, which is really strange, but an interesting journey. I did these Nike commercials, and that’s what got me in front of the camera. And then through the Nike commercials, I got a couple TV gigs. Law and Order: SVU, and Rescue Me. And then I got a great part on a great show called The Wire on HBO. And that was kind of a breakthrough part for me, on a really – on a very high-quality show, very well-written show. And from then on, just continued – you know, working and hustling small independent films. And then Pride and Glory, and Pelham One Two Three, and now Transformers.
Question: Tell me about Exit 19.
Rodriguez: Not much to say about it, because it was a pilot that never got picked up.
Question: Do you get disappointed by the politics, I suppose, TV?
Rodriguez: Well, what’s funny is, if Exit 19 would have gone, I would have never done Transformers. So, everything happens for a reason, man.
Question: Now, when Paramount asked me if I would be interested in talking to you, they said, ” After this movie, he’s gonna be the next big thing.” I mean, do you take things like that seriously at all?
Rodriguez: I don’t take any of that stuff too seriously, you know? Because first of all, you don’t know what’s ever gonna happen. You can’t predict. Nobody can predict anything. you know, all I have control over is when I get on the set – you know, I hopefully have prepared a lot. And I usually do. I take that very serious. And I can only control the work that I do on the set, you know? What I do in front of the camera. The rest, you know, happens as it goes. And y just kind of take it as it comes. And honestly, I hope that from this film I get other opportunities to do more work. And that’s what I’m striving for.
Question: Has being in a movie like this opened up additional doors?
Rodriguez: I mean, it has. I’ve gotten some cool scripts, and it has – it’s kind of got some buzz going. But the movie’s not out yet. So nobody really knows yet. But when the movie comes out, we’ll see how people respond.