An Interview with Mark Ryan
you like to interview Mark Ryan, the voice of Bumblebee?"
came the p.r. request in my inbox. I'd just seen Transformers,
and knew something of the plot. One of the running gags
had been that Bumblebee speaks through songs on the radio,
only developing a voice of his own late in the film. My
first instinct was to blow it off, then, but I'm glad I
changed my mind.
turns out that Mark had actually done most of the voices
for the robots on the set, so the live-action actors had
something to respond to, and had been present for and involved
in several phases of the Transformers production. Looking
into Mark Ryan's biography, I found an interesting guy whose
career has touched many areas I love. He's an official swordmaster,
brilliant at stage combat and fight choreography. He'd been
a regular on the BBC's Robin of Sherwood. Heck, he spent
a year touring with Eric Idle reliving the best of Monty
Python. Turns out he's even written comics for DC. How could
I not want to talk to this guy?
here goes. The result is an interesting look behind-the-scenes
at one of the summer's hottest films ...and more.
McCaw: How did you get involved in the
Transformers film in the first place?
Mark Ryan: I was called in by Casting Director
Michelle Lewitt who'd spoken with my agent Brian McCabe
about a mysterious new project looking for a British actor
with theater experience. Michelle faxed over several sides
of dialogue and I was sworn to secrecy. She advised me not
to learn the material as it probably wouldn't end up in
the final cut of the project, but be prepared to read several
parts at the same time!
It was a very relaxed meeting as I'd worked for Michelle
previously and she ended up videoing me doing several parts
from the scenes I'd been given. I really didn't know much
about the project and drew character voices from my own
childhood favorites and threw in a few other voices just
for fun. I'm not even sure if I was fully aware of the scale
of the production or who was involved in it at that point.
Derek McCaw: You did what I guess we'd
call "scratch" vocals for several of the robots
while filming took place. What did you do to finally convince
Michael Bay that you should be Bumblebee?
Mark Ryan: Bumblebee didn't talk in the
version of the script I was working from on the set. I'd
voiced the scene when the Autobots discussed how he'd lost
his voice, so at that point it was a done deal.
Later in the post production phase, Michael would often
throw in new dialogue ideas, especially humorous lines and
just say: “Try it like this or just say that!”
We did a lot of that and we were just like two kids having
fun with the characters.
one of these many sessions Michael gave me some new dialogue
that I'd never read before and we just played around with
it. We tried several character voices at different pitches.
I wasn't sure how it would be used but obviously I knew
by then the Bumblebee back-story. That set me free to voice
it with an understanding of the emotional weight of the
character and the dramatic effect it might have at that
moment in the story.
it my best shot but it was just one of many lines recorded
during those sessions to be used for dubbing and editing.
I'd genuinely enjoyed being involved with the project and
I'd had fun working with Michael and the whole team but
given the transient nature of the business and the size
and complexity of the project, I quietly decided to get
on with my life and promptly forgot all about it!
I'm not sure when Michael made the decision to keep the
material in the film but when they first called my agent
I actually told him it would be lovely to take DreamWorks
money but: “Someone's got their wires crossed. BB's
about the only character I hadn't voiced during the production
as he couldn't actually speak!” Brian said: “I
guess he does now!”
Then, Post Production boss: Rob Yamamoto called me up at
home and said: “This is you, right?” And he
played the stuff down the phone to me. I said: “Oh
yeah! I remember that now! I'd done a lot of variations
of dialogue that session, but yup! That's me.”
McCaw: How was it working with Bay?
Mark Ryan: The man's a creative genius!
He's very focused on the set. He's very energetic and pushes
hard but he understands every single element of a large-scale
movie production unit and the nuts and bolts of how to get
it in the can. It requires skill, drive, expertise and nerve
to pull it off successfully on this scale...And Mister Bay
has shed-loads of all those elements.
I've been on many large-scale sets and you better believe
that when there's $150 million on the line you need to keep
moving and shoot efficiently and plan every last detail
of any big sequence. Let alone the scale of action there
is in Transformers. It's a massive achievement.
Michael's crew and stunt team is a first class operation
and a well-oiled machine that pushes the envelope and goes
all out. He knows this and he's very loyal to them.
It does take a little time to tune into what any director
is seeing in his head. Michael was very open and showed
us the animatics, rough computer renderings of the scenes
so we could see how it would look and what he was shooting
early on, during the scene outside Sam's house, I remember
looking at the monitor at Prime's POV as seen from the “Russian
Arm” camera and thinking: “This is going to
be a very funny scene!” Just the concept of giant
alien robots trying to hide and be inconspicuous in the
back garden of a suburban house was visually very funny.
No leaking in the pool!"
In the postproduction phase and edit suite he was very relaxed
and just having fun with the dialogue and the characters.
I knew most of my material would either end up on the cutting
room floor or would be voiced by someone else, so it was
easy to relax and just play with ideas and the humorous
McCaw: As a "voice," how much
interaction did you have with the cast?
Mark Ryan: I guess I worked with Shia the
most. The guy is simply brilliant, very talented and very
grounded. We ran lines together with Megan before scenes
as dialogue changed even on the set. I was there just to
help them get the best out of their dialogue with the robots
by bouncing the drama off another 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! The
camera's on them and they're the money! No pressure, right?
But 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 just had to be on
I also really enjoyed feeding the lines to John Turturro
who ad-libbed a lot of funny stuff during the first encounter
with the Autobots. He's a real pro and I've admired his
acting style ever since To Live And Die In LA.
I told him so. It was a real treat working with him.
Other than that, my constant companions were five, very
long, alloy poles with red lights on the end. Sometimes
I could even tell which one was which Autobot! I did also
spend quite some time with ILM's Visual Effects genius Scott
Farrar and onset sound maestro Pete Devlin.
Derek McCaw: How would you
have approached Bumblebee differently if he'd still been
a VW Bug and not a Camaro?
I probably wouldn't. Don't forget he didn't speak in the
beginning, so I actually didn't think much about it. I was
already filming Robin Of Sherwood when Transformers
first aired in the UK so I had no set preconceptions about
the Autobots characters or vehicles. When I got the onset
job I obviously went away and did my research but I worked
mainly from the material I already had and the basic characterizations
that were established. The vehicles weren't set in stone
in my head though, which I think was an advantage.
however, remember the first time that Camaro growled down
the street and I thought to myself: “I gotta get me
one of these!”
McCaw: You've worked as a swordmaster,
so was your expertise used for any of the fight scenes?
Mark Ryan: Kenny Baits' amazing stunt crew
were already hard at work by the time I joined the production
but I knew Garret Warren and we did talk about styles and
various types of weapons the robots could use. Garret's
a great bloke and he did an amazing job. He
knew I'd faced the same challenge on King Arthur
of coming up with a lot of varied styles and types of fighting
imagery for a large cast of main characters.
always aware of stepping on people's toes though, so we
simply chatted over coffee and I threw out a couple of ideas.
The whole stunt crew did an amazing job and I hope they
get recognized at next years stunt awards.
Derek McCaw: Give me a scenario where
you could choreograph a fight - which two Transformers would
make the best swordsmen?
Mark Ryan: Optimus already has an “energy
sword,” so a bladed duel between Megs and Prime would
visually be a magnificent dramatic fight scene.
Derek McCaw: You spent some time touring
with Eric Idle on his Monty Python "revival" tour
- which was your favorite role in that?
Mark Ryan: That is one of my most favorites
episodes in this mad old business. Sitting on the stage
of Carnegie Hall with Eric's cheeky grin looking at me,
trying to make me laugh as he says: “Say no more!”
very proud to be able to say that I'm one of only two men
(the other being Peter Crabbe) who can ever claim to have
walked on those hallowed boards wearing a green sparkly
frock! Eric demanded he should be able to wear the only
red one! It's a treasured memory.
Derek McCaw: You've been up late, it's
been a while since anyone had dinner, everyone's pushed
to the limit - who's crankier, Eric Idle or Michael Bay?
Mark Ryan: Actually neither! Both gentlemen
are smart enough and keenly aware that the most vital element
in keeping your team or crew happy (and therefore be able
to drive then harder for longer without a revolution on
your hands) is a full tummy! I have to say Michael's craft
services are first class and dished up some of the best
grub I've ever tasted on a set.
caterers really are unsung heroes and work very, very long
hours. But it's vital to crew morale! Just ask any director!
Good and plentiful craft services are a wise and prudent
McCaw: Among your many talents, your bio
lists you as having written comics
not exactly Green Arrow, but it's got green, it's
got arrows, and it's got Mark Ryan in the picture,
back and to the left.
for DC. What did you do, and what attracted you to comics?
Ryan: Some years ago I wrote the 50th Anniversary
Graphic Novel Edition of Green Arrow with Mike
Grell. It was great fun and Mike's an amazing artist. We've
wanted to do something together ever since and we actually
have a new graphic novel project we'll be announcing at
Comic Con in San Diego next month. It's called “The
Pilgrim” and I've been developing it for a long time.
Mike's always wanted to do it, so we finally get to work
Derek McCaw: Assuming there's
a Transformers 2 (note: green-lit on Monday), what are your
hopes for Bumblebee?
Mark Ryan: I really enjoyed the characterization
of BB in this production very much. I think the writers
did a great job of making him human and humorous and yet
a stoical soldier with a sense of duty and self-sacrifice.
It would be great to explore the history that made BB what
he is and further develop the friendship and bond with Sam
as the Autobots adapt and overcome the challenges they will
face on their new home.
also voices more Transformers in the video game. I look
forward to catching up with him at Comic-Con.