A funny thing happened on the way to the fourth installment of the Transformers mega-franchise. Always impressive technically, never lacking in thrills and spectacle, the series has seldom featured very engaging characters (at least among the humans). But for the new romantic leads in Transformers: Age of Extinction, the producers tapped two actors with tons of talent and indie cred. Jack Reynor blew audiences away in 2012 in the lead role in What Richard Did (and will appear in the new Macbeth with Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard), and Nicola Peltz is a star of A&E’s Bates Motel and of this week’s highly anticipated Affluenza. The pair sat down with us recently to talk about stepping into the franchise mid-stream.
Paste: So, you guys are both indie darlings because of Jack in What Richard Did, and Eye of the Hurricane, and Nicola in Affluenza, so I think that this is a surprising turn to suddenly be a part of one of the world’s biggest franchises. How do you think the blending of the independent world and the blockbuster world will be perceived? How do you think that this will affect your work?
Reynor: Well, I think that in the last decade of Hollywood, and I don’t mean this for every film, but for most of the big franchises, there has been a kind of cookie-cutter formula in place. The previous Transformers movies set up such a high standard for us, but most blockbusters seem less concerned about performances than with superficialities. With this film, I think that Michael Bay wanted to fill it with a group of people that could really braid life into it, to make the film tangible and relatable to its audience. I think that’s the reason why they cast actors from the independent world.
At the same time, he wanted to hire people he thought could handle such a large franchise. Michael was very supportive of us in that way. Nicola and I, being new to this Hollywood way of filmmaking, supported each other an awful lot. We have a great relationship with one another. Mark Wahlberg was an awful lot of help to us too, and Stanley Tucci and Kelsey Grammer. Just to see these guys, these veterans of the industry, working in their own environment and seeing how they relate to Hollywood and how Hollywood relates to them informs our work ethic and teaches us how to proceed with our careers.
Paste: Any thoughts on that, Nicola?
Nicola Peltz: Yeah, you know, growing up, I was a big Transformers fan. So, when I saw that they were auditioning, I was excited to learn that they were casting a girl my age. Just to be able to work with such talented people—Mark [Wahlberg], and Stanley [Tucci], and Kelsey [Grammer], and Jack, and everybody else that’s involved—I look up to them all. It’s very exciting for me to be able to learn from them.
Paste: I haven’t seen the film yet. But, they seem to be sort of slating you, Nicole, into the type of role that Megan Fox and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley had played in the past. I certainly don’t want to criticize their performances in any way, but I feel that no one is under any illusions that either of them was cast for their acting ability. So, it’s impressive to me that they have chosen someone who has exhibited a real acting ability. Someone who has great acting chops, I’ll put it that way.
Reynor: The beauty of Nicola is that she is such a grounded and level-headed person.
Peltz: Thank you!
Reynor: She’s really someone who can handle herself on set. And, growing up with several brothers, it means she’s a real ballsy person. She can throw her weight around just like anybody else can. Mark and I gave her a lot of shit, but she can throw it back as well as she can take it. Her character is very different compared to the female characters in the previous films, as far as I’m concerned. She is very substantial. She is a tangible and relatable character.
Peltz: Thank you so much, Jack. You’re embarrassing me!
Reynor: The themes that her character engages with in the film are really great. It’s kind of a coming-of-age story for her. Her character is trying to step away from her father and her home life and step towards her future and her adulthood. That is at the very core of the film.
Peltz: Yes, and Tessa, the girl whom I play in the film, she’s in high school. She lives with her dad because her mom passed away, so I think it has a beautifully human element to it. Amongst other things, we had a lot of fun being able to play these characters.
Paste: Speaking of Mark, they kind of stepped it up in terms of the demonstrated acting chops of the supporting cast as well. With Mark, and Stanley Tucci, and Kelsey Grammer … it’s got to be great to be surrounded by those guys. Do either of you have a favorite between all of those people? Who did you bond with?
Peltz: I have to say, everyone involved in this film is extremely talented. They are all so nice. Coming to set made us feel like we were a family … like we were all rooting for the same thing, and that we were a team. Being on set and having that positive environment is really nice. We look up to Stanley and Kelsey and Mark. It’s good for us, because we are so young. It was great to be able to learn from them.
Reynor: Exactly. And, back to the point about why they cast independent actors—I think it’s one of those things that really diversified the production. It made it to where there were so many elements, so many great things about everybody individually, that it became interesting to get to know all those people one-on-one. It’s hard to objectify. Do you know what I mean? It was so diverse.
Paste: Now that I’m thinking about it, all three of those guys have done huge franchised blockbusters before, as well as smaller indie productions. I’m sure it was great to work with people who have also straddled that line before. And, I didn’t want my first few questions to make it seem like I thought the first three movies sucked. I don’t feel that way at all.
Reynor: Oh no. It didn’t seem that way at all! But I understand what you mean. This is definitely a departure from the previous three films. It’s very original, and I think that’s what you were trying to say.
Paste: Yes, it is. Thank you. That’s exactly what I was trying to say. The first three were a lot of fun, but I’m certainly looking forward to seeing a new level of emotional truth brought to this series. I’m looking forward to seeing if that can be pulled off.
Peltz: Thank you. You get to see it tomorrow!
Paste: Tell me about the challenges of coming into the middle of a franchise. Based on the cast list, it seems like many of the characters are new to the franchise, as well. Still, there is a vocabulary to the movie as a whole. The robots are familiar to everyone. How did you prepare? Did you feel like you had to immerse yourself into the previous three movies?
Peltz: Well, we grew up as fans of Transformers, so we knew the whole story. This one starts four years after the Chicago war. Together, Jack and I watched the first three movies. We felt that we should really pay attention to all the little details for our characters. But, ultimately, we knew them.
Reynor: Absolutely. It was one of those things where we had tried our best. Just before we started filming, we re-watched the first three movies again to sort of inform ourselves of the universe of Transformers and to focus ourselves there. But, like I was saying, this was such original material that we didn’t feel like we had a stigma, or that we were replacing other people. Like you said a moment ago, we tried to bring a level of truth to this movie, and to make it tangible and relatable to an audience on more than one level. Hopefully, that is something that we have accomplished.
Paste: Michael Bay is a very successful director, and a very personally controversial director. I would love to hear your thoughts on working with him, as well as any thoughts on how he may be misunderstood.
Peltz: Yes, I do think that he is misunderstood. He is such a genius. On set, his energy is through the roof. He has a very, very high energy. But, he always gives 110%. Every second, he is working. He expects that out of us as well, as he should. He is so passionate about these films, and that’s very exciting for us. Honestly, it is very exciting to meet a person in this business who is so honest.
Reynor: Yes; he’s not jaded.
Peltz: Exactly. He says what he means. I’d much prefer to have someone be honest with me, to tell me how he feels to my face instead of simply smiling and talking differently about me behind my back.
Reynor: That’s funny, because it reminds me of something my English teacher used to say. Michael is somebody who says what he means and means what he says. He is a man who is responsible for hundreds of people’s jobs. He is responsible for films that are worth hundreds of millions of dollars. There is a studio that expects him to release a film that meets their expectations, and that’s a pressure that he takes upon himself all the time. And yet, he is still able to find a passion for what he does. He’s always the most excited person on set. There are times when Michael Bay is on set, and he’s like a fourteen-year-old running around in a toy shop! (Everyone laughs.) It really, really, really was an incredible experience. I consider myself very lucky to be able to call myself a friend of Michael Bay. I respect the guy. I think he should be commended for what he does. He is truly an exceptional moviemaker as far as I’m concerned.
Paste: The majority of this article is going to be about Transformers, but I’d like for you to tell me about Affluenza and Macbeth. Can you preview for us what we should expect from those two films?
Peltz: Well, I’m in Affluenza, and I shot that when I was seventeen, so it was two years ago. It’s loosely based on The Great Gatsby, but it’s a modernized version. It takes place in 2008. I play Kate Miller. When you look at this girl, you think that she should be the happiest girl in the world. She seems to have everything she wants, but she’s a very broken person inside. Her family life is all messed up. It was really fun to play.
Reynor: And, for me, we’ve got Macbeth of course. It co-stars Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard, which was an amazing experience. I think that this film is going to be incredibly gritty and incredibly dark, as Macbeth should be. It is, for all intents and purposes, a horror movie. I think this will be a very original interpretation of it. We’ve tried to remain as true to it as we can, while at the same time coming up with original ideas to reinvent a lot of it, as well. I think that Michael has done that in spades. I’m very proud of my place in that film. I feel that it will be a really big hit when it comes out.
On top of that, I’ve got another independent Irish film coming up soon called Glassland, which was an amazing film to shoot. I had so much fun. I worked with Toni Collette, and her performance was truly amazing. I think it will be one of the keystones to her career. She was so incredibly brave in her performance. Her commitment was exceptional, and I feel that I should give her all the credit that she is due. It’s a film about alcoholism and the sex trade. It’s about economic difficulty in Ireland, and it will hopefully be one of those films that translates well to an American audience. It’s a film that I am very excited to see, and I hope that the audience relates to it.