Zack Ward Talks The Transformers

What can you tell the readers about the character you play in the film?

Zack: I play Donnelly, the wise ass Boston smart mouth of the Ranger squad. We start off in-country, in Iraq, coming home from “wet-work” behind enemy lines. Donnelly is like the Bill Paxton character form Aliens.

What exposure to the cartoon and toys did you have growing up in any?

Zack: I like the toys but couldn’t afford them as a kid. I didn’t care for the cartoon as I thought the animation sucked. I did take my little brother to see the animated movie when he was about 5 years old and that was cool as hell. Interestingly, my ex-step-uncle, Mike McHugh, was one of the original designers for Hasbro on the Transformers. So it was destiny.

What attracted you to the film?

Zack: Usually I turn down $200 million dollar films produced by Steven Spielberg as I have a brain tumour!!….. Are you kidding? This will be the next Star Wars, remembered for decades, geeked on by a new generation of nerds and now I am one with their nerdiness. I love doing stuff like this. It’s like being a kid and playing super hero, only the guns, helicopters, F-117 Stealth bombers, F-22 Raptors, and tanks are real.

The film seems to have a much harder edge than the source material, would you say that this is a more serious and dangerous film than the source material on which it is based?

Zack: Definitely. Michael Bay quoted Steven Spielberg’s reaction to the dailies (daily film clips) saying “it reminds me of Saving Private Ryan”. In any film you have to raise the stakes for the audience to care and the audiences don’t watch Shirley Temple try to save the orphanage by putting on a play with her pals and saying “ oh, fudge”. That’s not real anymore. Since Vietnam became prime time there is no innocence if there’s a television. You have an audience that sees death and girls gone wild and Enron, if you dumb it down, they ain’t gonna pay $10 bucks a pop to sit in the dark.

That’s why I think the Transformers has such a smart following, something I just learned last year, story. In the original Transformers cartoon, Optinmus Prime dies, and that was a big story risk considering the core audience was watching He-man and Thundercats. But that humanizing aspect of the story, the fact that a character could die, made everything so valuable, like life. That’s what they did with the film. Now I can’t get specific, Non-disclosure agreements and such, but the writing of the film is solid. Good stories that mix with action, catch phrases and real moments that make you care and suspend your belief. I’m looking forward to the second one, knowing Spielberg, it’ll be smart.

What was working with Michael Bay like and what were some of your fondest experiences on the set. How does Michael compare with other Directors you have worked with?

Zack: Working with Michael Bay was like that scene in Talladega Nights where Jimmy Bobby gets in the car with the cougar. You just got to face your fears. Seriously though, Michael Bay is a consummate perfectionist who knows what he wants at all times and if he doesn’t you do and if you don’t then you’re in trouble, so why weren’t you doing what he was about to think he wanted you to do? And…Action!! Kinda like that.

Working with real Navy Seals and Rangers, training as a squad and getting a small taste of their reality was great. You always had someone to lean on. My character is a SAW gunner, (Squad Automatic Weapon) big fucking machine gun. Tiny, who is a real ex-navy Seal, was a real SAW gunner and would teach me tricks of the trade, usually by calling me a wuss if I ever put the gun down. In 119 degree heat a 20lb machine gun gets real heavy real fast. But, I cowboyed up. It was kinda like camping with guns and giant robots.

The film looks to have a lot of action in it, what scenes can you tell us about that you enjoyed filming, and how was the experience working with elements that would have to be added later via CGI?

Zack: CGI is easy to work with, it’s a long green stick with a tennis ball on the end and that is “the monster”. Luckily, we were working with the best, ILM (Industrial Light and Magic). They’d show us a computer image of the “monster” right before a scene so we knew what the audience would be seeing and MAN, was it cool. Sometimes it wasn’t CGI, it was real. That’s a big thing Michael Bay likes, reality. He kept the CGI down as much as possible. All the explosions, planes, tanks and half the robots are real. The environment was another character in the film. We shot at white sands in New Mexico, outside, hot as hell. Not a studio with green screen. And it makes a difference for the actors, crew, and audience.

Did you have a chance to meet Steven Spielberg while doing the film and if so, how was that?

Zack: Didn’t meet Spielberg on Transformers but I did meet him on High Incident, a cop tv show he produced back in ’97. He and I actually hung out for about 20 minutes, talking about high school pranks we used to pull. I was just a guest-star but I had an idea for a script revision and once I felt bold enough to ask if I could pitch it, he agreed to listen. It was simple, my characters side-kick was an actor from New Zealand and had a thick accent. My suggestion was that I give him some of my lines and therefore letting the audience become accustomed to his accent before we had the big rape scene and everything devolved into screams and mayhem. Mr. Spielberg liked it and called the director over saying, “Michael, Zack has a really good idea for a script change”. Of course it was the scariest moment of my young life, but it taught me the world. To this day, this is my litmus test for people in the industry. Not if they’ll listen to me, as I’m, more often than not, wrong, but if they’ll put their art above their ego