Note: This is the third part in a three-part interview series with Michael Bay. Check out the first two parts below:
Part One: The Future
Part Two: The Present
Continue on for part three...
“We were like punk kids doing that in Miami,” Michael Bay said when he began to reminisce about his feature directorial debut, 1995’s Bad Boys.
Bay was a seasoned music video director by the time he helmed Bad Boys, but as he went on to reveal to Fandango in our exclusive conversation in support of Transformers: The Last Knight, it was those first three movies of his – Bad Boys, The Rock and Armageddon – that truly helped shape him as a moviemaker and define the style of filmmaking he’d go on to become known for around the world.
In part three of our Michael Bay interview, we discuss three films that would arguably go down as three of the most entertaining action movies ever made. How does Bay feel about them all these years later, and which one does he wish he could do over again?
Long before Bad Boys would go on to become a beloved action movie and help transform Will Smith and Martin Lawrence into bonafide movie stars, Michael Bay was busy trying to convince the studio that it was even a movie worth making.
“They never believed in our movie,” Bay said. “[The studio] didn't believe in that movie because a movie with two black stars [had] never worked around the world.”
Bad Boys would go on to gross over $75 million worldwide and prove everyone wrong. “That was the very first movie that actually worked with two African Americans as the leads in the foreign market,” Bay said.
Even though Bay and his team knew they had something special with Bad Boys, no one else did. “I know the studio didn't believe in our movie,” he said. “They didn't treat us very well at all and we were just kind of on our own. They gave us $10,000 for a rewrite and I don't know what you get for $10,000. So we had to make a lot the stuff up.”
Bay credits his production hardships on Bad Boys with birthing the chaotic run-and-gun editing style that went on to become a trademark of his. It’s a little “sloppy and messy,” as Bay says, but there’s something visceral about it, bringing audiences closer to the action so that they feel it as they watch it.
“It literally was such a hard experience,” he said. “The crew kept telling me, 'Well that's not gonna cut, and that’s not gonna cut,' and 'You can't do it like this.' And I'm like, 'Well, I'm doing it like this.' So it was one of the first movies where it was cut very fast, the action. They all said, 'You can't cut that fast.' I'm like, 'Well, I am.' And now you see it imitated, but way back when I was cutting fast for a reason ... to hide the cheap art direction and to give it some energy.”
That energy is what’s kept Bay in the big-screen business for over two decades, and while Bad Boys was truly a labor of love that could’ve gone either way for all those involved, the director wouldn’t trade that experience for anything.
“I would never give it up in a million years,” he said. “It was a great experience with the guys and it's kind of like ... Will [Smith] had done one movie. I think he'd done Six Degrees of Separation. But it was really all our first kind of real movie and it was just fun to do.”
Bay cut his big-screen teeth on Bad Boys, proving to Hollywood he was more than a guy who can do music videos and Nike commercials. He was the real deal, and he upped his game by delivering another film one year later that, in this writer’s opinion, is his best film to date: 1996’s The Rock.
When you talk to Michael Bay about The Rock, you talk to Michael Bay about Sean Connery. If the director has a major takeaway from that film, it came in how working with the former Bond legend helped teach him how to work with actors moving forward.
“That was fun. Second movie. It was a good one,” Bay said. “Connery taught me a lot on that one.”
The Rock represents the kind of action movie we don’t tend to see much of these days. A completely original R-rated thrill ride about a dorky chemist (Nicolas Cage) who’s forced to team up with a no-nonsense ex-con (Connery) in an effort to stop a group of rogue ex-military men from launching a nerve gas strike on San Francisco from Alcatraz. Apart from featuring an all-time car chase scene through the streets of San Francisco, not to mention a terrific turn from Ed Harris as the film’s complicated villain, The Rock showed that Bay really had a knack for unexpected buddy team-ups, as the terrific chemistry between Cage and Connery is what truly elevates the film above the others.
But Bay was nervous about working with Sean Connery, and those nerves spilled out over their first scene together.
“First of all, he's a very tough actor and I had worked with many, many tough athletes -- some of the best in the world from Jordan on down doing Nike commercials,” Bay said. “So I was used to working with very tough people. But remember, I was very young doing that movie. I remember the very first day [Connery] is dressed dark in long hair and he's in an interrogation room. And I remember I was so scared to give him my first bit of direction. I said, 'Uh, Mr. Sean, could you do that a little less charming?' That was my first bit of direction to him, and he goes, 'Sure, boy.'"
Bay, who used to dabble in magic tricks growing up, thought it’d be fun to use some of his magic tools to orchestrate a plot point in which Connery’s John Patrick Mason uses a quarter to escape.
“So I'm shooting this myself,” he said. “I'm right down on my knees right next to [Connery] and I'm flipping this quarter like a little magic trick. And he's watching me and I just see him ... The camera's looking right up to his face and the quarter's flipping right in front of the frame. And he just had this smile on his face, like what the f**k are you doing? Somehow he liked what I was doing and he just kind of took me under his wing.”
Bay credits Connery with teaching him how to slow down his process and not attack a production with the same kind of immediacy he faced on Bad Boys.
“I didn't understand about rehearsal because, remember, I came from Bad Boys where we had no time, no money and literally for rehearsal it was like we had to do it really fast and then we had to start shooting or we would never make our movie,” he said. “So I thought I had to do that in The Rock whereas I had more money on The Rock. So he taught me how to slow down and rehearse the scene with the actors. He just taught me a lot. His work ethic was amazing. He's just a consummate actor. So whenever there's the young whippersnapper actors that are late or this or that or not focused, I always put my arm around them and I tell them the little Sean Connery story. “
Bad Boys snagged $141 million worldwide, but The Rock took in $335 million, again solidifying Michael Bay’s future as one of the most successful directors when it comes to making films for the global audience. By the time he was ready to make a third film, Hollywood was hooked on an end-of-the-world trend. 1996 saw Will Smith truly become a superstar with Independence Day, and two years later it was all about finding different ways to threaten the entire planet.
1998 brought two apocalyptic-centric movies in Deep Impact and Michael Bay’s Armageddon. It’d be Bay’s first film featuring a major ensemble, and one that would significantly up the $335 million The Rock grossed globally to a whopping $553 million, which was a lot of money in 1998.
Though Armageddon’s strength relied in its ensemble, like The Rock the film positioned itself between two major leads, one an older veteran in Bruce Willis, and the other an up-and-comer in Ben Affleck.
Armageddon is a difficult film for Bay because it’s the one he’d most like another stab at. Due to its release date being moved up and a visual effects supervisor who couldn’t finish the movie due to “something that happened in his family,” Bay was forced to put out a finished product that he wasn’t entirely happy with.
“So I'm a young filmmaker, my third movie, and I'm like, ‘Oh my god. I've got this massive movie on my hand,’ he said. “I had so little time to actually cut the movie. We were literally in and out with 16 weeks, which is an extraordinary short time to cut and finish a movie of that size. So if I could, I would've wanted to go back to that 70, 80-minute mark where I thought the effects just sucked. But that's life.”
Despite the fact that Armageddon continues to stalk Michael Bay (“It keeps visiting – it plays on cable every year over and over), he does take pride in the fact that it’s the one movie of his that makes dudes cry.
“I have so many fathers say they all tear up at that [movie],” he said, specifically referencing the relationship Will Patton’s Chick has with his son. (It doesn't hurt that the film comes with its own sappy Aerosmith video, too.
"You always wanna do [more] stuff," Bay added, riffing on the changes he’d make to his movies if given the chance.
“Listen, they basically rip the film away from the filmmaker as it is, you know? I think Scorsese always says, ‘You're never happy. You always wanna go back and revisit your movie.’ I think it's really true. You do. You can always fix stuff. You can always make something better, but there's a time when they rip it away and it's time to show the audience.”
For Bay’s latest film, Transformers: The Last Knight, that time to show the audience is now. The film is officially in theaters, and you can snag your tickets right here at Fandango.