This weekend, I had the pleasure of speaking with the talented British actor and stuntman, Mark Ryan. He’s recently known for his work on the Transformers films.
Mark serves as the on set voice actor for all the robots during filming. In addition, he provided the on screen voice for Bumblebee in the 2007 Transformers film and Transformers Beginnings (a special edition animated prequel to the first Transformers film). Mark is also the on screen voice for Jetfire in the Revenge of the Fallen.
NaShantá: You’ve been doing voice work for all of the Transformers live action films so far?
Mark Ryan: Yes. I worked on all three films. I actually am the guy on set who is all the robots. When the robots are in scenes doing dialogue with the actors, I get to do lines with Shia LaBeouf and all the other actors. We sometimes use Peter Cullen to do his dialogue, but there’s obviously some times when things have to be ad-libbed or read differently to get different timing. So I’m lucky, I get to play everybody on the set.
Nash: How did you manage to get that gig? Did you audition to be every robot?
Mark: I got a call from my agent, and he said “DreamWorks is putting together a project. It’s very hush hush, top secret. They’re going to send you some dialogue, and they want to know if you can do all the voices at the same time. They want you to read an entire scene, but doing different voices for each character.”
Nash: So you didn’t know what you were auditioning for at the time?
Mark: Nope. I didn’t really know what it was. But if DreamWorks or the casting people want to see you, I’m one of those people who thinks if it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be. I’ll just take a look at it, and if I can do it, then I’ll say yes. If I can’t do it, I’ll say no.
So I went in to meet the casting people, and we did the scene. I read all the different characters in different voices. They did specify that they wanted a British actor with stage experience, so they could animate the part. A couple of weeks later, I got a call from Michael Bay’s office, and that was it. That’s how I got the gig.
Nash: Right now are you working as the on set voice actor for Transformers 3?
Mark: Yeah, I’m working on the third film as well. They’re out in Chicago at the moment blowing up the city.
Nash: I went downtown one weekend they were filming, to see what I could see on Michigan Ave. Were you in Chicago also?
Mark: No I haven’t been to the Chicago set. I’ve been working here in Los Angeles. I don’t think they needed much dialogue during the destruction of Chicago. I don’t think anyone would have heard it anyway (laughs). I guess, maybe when they come back to L.A. I’ll rejoin, and I’ll do some more.
I also do the post production dialogue as well. They have to lay out a scratch track. That is the track that’s used to time out the scenes. That way the guys that are rendering the CGI know how long the scenes are going to be, how the robots are going to move, and all that kind of stuff. So I end up doing a lot of work in the post production phase as well.
Nash: You also voiced the character Jetfire on screen in the Revenge of the Fallen. How did you manage to get that particular part on screen, since you were voicing so many of the characters on set? Did they say, “We really like what you’re doing with this character, we’re going to give it to you?”
Mark: Since there was so much dialogue on the second film, I went in very early on in the beginning. I actually laid down about 40 pages of robot dialogue. I didn’t know what sort of aircraft Jetfire was actually going to be, but Michael gave me some direction on how he wanted him to sound and what sort of character he was. I guess that must have stuck in his head, because he liked it.
When we got to the post production phase, I went in again and he said, “Alright, I want you to do this one again, but I want you to make him more cranky, more noble…he’s sort of an aging knight in shiny armor.” So we worked on it, and I think in the end there was actually more dialogue added then there originally was. Jetfire then became what he is now.
Nash: That’s pretty cool. What about Bumblebee? Will we hear anymore of his actual voice in the next film?
Mark: Well even if I could say, I wouldn’t (laughs).
Nash: Oh come on! (laughs) I think I remember him having maybe one or two actual lines at the end of the first film.
Mark: I had a couple of lines at the end of the first movie. I didn’t know they were going to use it. You have to understand the way that Michael Bay likes to work; he likes you to ad-lib stuff. So I’d done lots and lots of lines, and all kinds of different things. During one of the sessions he wrote out some lines and gave them to me to read. I tried a couple of different voices, but I really didn’t know it was for Bumblebee, because in the script I had, Bumblebee didn’t talk. I remember saying these lines, but I just stored it in the back of my brain.
It wasn’t until towards the end where they were actually cutting film that they called my agent and said, “We’d really like to use the lines that Mark did for Bumblebee.” I said, “I would love to take Steven Spielberg’s money, but I didn’t do any lines. He doesn’t talk.” So we went back and forth until finally they got the audio and played it down the phone for me. I remembered it, but I never thought it would be used for Bumblebee.
I’ve been able to do Bumblebee’s voice for some of the games and some of the special edition DVD stuff now. I’m very happy to say Bumblebee is in my life. He’s a great character to be associated with.
Nash: Out of all the characters you’ve voiced on set, which is the most fun to portray?
Mark: They’re all fun. I can honestly say though, that I did have the most fun doing Jetfire in the post production phase. I was allowed to play with the vocal range a bit. Michael was very clear about how he wanted him to be, and he allowed me to have some input as to what types of ad-lib stuff we threw in there. So Jetfire, for me, was one of the most fun and satisfying characters to play both on and off set.
Nash: What other projects are you working on?
Mark: Mike Grell and I are doing this graphic novel called the Pilgrim, it’s distributed by IDW. That’s another reason why I’m coming to Chicago Comic Con, to promote that project. Mike is an old pal of mine; he’s one of the most creative talents and artists that I’ve ever worked with.
I’m also really looking forward to coming back to Chicago. I haven’t been in about 10 years. I’m excited to meet the fans. I’d also love to stop by the Kingston Mines if it’s still there. I think it’s one of the best blues clubs in the world. That’s a quick plug for them (laugh).
Fans can meet Mark Ryan at Chicago Comic Con August 20 – 22, 2010 in Rosemont, IL
[AUTHOR’S NOTE: Being a huge Bumblebee fan myself, I couldn’t resist telling him about my car, the Bumblebee Bug. He thought it was pretty cool, and even offered to take a picture with my car at Chicago Comic Con. So I’m going to try my hardest to make that happen.]