Exclusive: TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON’s Don Jeanes Interview
TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON is poised to be one of the biggest movies of the year as the Autobots once again face off against the Decepticons, this time over a Cybertronian spacecraft on the moon. Actor Don Jeanes has a breakout performance, tackling the iconic role of legendary astronaut Neil Armstrong, who, in a fun twist on the Apollo 11 moon landing conspiracy theories, gets up close and personal with that spacecraft.
Daemon’s Movies talked to Don Jeanes about landing such a pivotal role, what it was like shooting Transformers: Dark of the Moon, and his web series Alpha Planet.
How surreal is it after years of paying your dues and working in food service to be the centerpiece of a trailer for possibly the biggest blockbuster of the summer?
Don Jeanes: It is very surreal. It is absolutely amazing. It really is. It’s a dream come true. That’s really what it is. That’s as simple and straightforward as I can put it, that it’s a dream come true. When I first saw the trailer I went to see I think it was ‘True Grit’. Me and my girlfriends were sitting there and I saw my face about twenty feet on the screen and I was like, ‘All right, I can die. I’m good.’
I have to say, I didn’t really like the second ‘Transformers’ movie, but seeing the Apollo 11 conspiracy theories turned on their head for this one, that’s pretty cool.
Don Jeanes: Isn’t that amazing? He really worked that conspiracy theory. I don’t know if you read any of my other interviews, but I did a lot of research. There are all these conspiracy theories out of here, and he’s like, ‘Oh, yeah? Guess what, conspiracy theory people, I have another one for you.’ It’s really cool.
How did this role come about for you?
Don Jeanes: It’s amazing; just Hollywood at work. There was a casting call. My agents submitted a hard copy headshot and resume. It said on the thing Neil Armstrong look alike and I didn’t know what project it was for. So I looked up pictures of Neil Armstrong and I got myself looking like him as best as I could because I couldn’t figure what he would actually do. So I thought, ‘Okay, maybe it’s like an interview with Neil Armstrong or something, or they want a commercial.’ So I put a button up shirt on and went in and got the sides. I was like, ‘Oh, wow. This is kind of crazy.’ There was a lot of guys in there that looked like all the astronauts.
I went over the scene in the hall and went in and read it once. She said, ‘That’s great. Mike likes it a little faster than that.’ I said, ‘Wow, okay.’ I didn’t know who Mike was, but I said, ‘Thank you for your direction. I appreciate that.’ I didn’t know the project, and then I read it again and she said, ‘Perfect,’ and that was it. After I got out of the audition I showed the picture of Neil Armstrong to my girlfriend and she said, ‘You’re going to get book it.’ And that was that. I got a call. It actually took a long time for them to get back, longer than usual. I can usually say within two weeks or a week you know whether or not you’re going to get it because they’ll call you, and this was I think two or three weeks before they called.
It has to be tough waiting for a call like that –
Don Jeanes: It really is. I’ve been doing it for a really long time and you just write it off. After you’re out of the audition you’re like, ‘I did my best. I showed up.’ I think it was Woody Allen who said that showing up is eighty percent, and then if you feel like you actually gave a good read that’s another ten, and then I think the other ten is purely what you look like. So, you just have to write it off after that.
Do you like researching your roles thoroughly before you get into them?
Don Jeanes: Absolutely. I mean, I’m quoting these guys now, but it was – oh, gosh, ‘No Country For Old Men’ – Josh Brolin; I saw an interview with Josh Brolin and he said we earn the right to play our character by doing the research and I think that’s what trumped up my theory on this the whole time. You can’t do enough research. The more research you do the better educated you’re going to be and a lot of the times I brought things to set, not quite to ‘Transformers’, but to other sets that I’ve been on that the people who are filming don’t know about the character and history of the role and their occupations. So it helps that a lot.
It would be hard to find a more iconic role than Neil Armstrong. Did that make you nervous?
Don Jeanes: Absolutely. He’s an American hero. He’s so cool. I just thought that I wanted to do this guy justice. I didn’t want people to think that with all these interviews and everything, like, ‘Yeah, I’m just as good as Neil Armstrong.’ The guy was the first man on the moon. So it was a little bit of pressure and that’s another thing that drove me to do as much research and as find as much video on him as possible, to go to the L.A. Space Museum and look at the spacecrafts that they used. He’s actually pretty reclusive, a very humble hero. He didn’t do many interviews right afterwards and has only really done one or two ever. So it’s hard to find video on him. I was trying to get his voice right for the moon kind of thing, but I didn’t want people to go, ‘What the heck is that guy doing?’ So there’s a little bit of him and mostly me in there.
How was the actual experience of making the movie?
Don Jeanes: Epic is the best word. Epic. We got to get fitted for the costumes beforehand and I saw how heavy they were and everything. So I started doing a lot of weight training just for the costume, like, in the sauna because the costumes are incredibly hot. We got these cool suits to put on under the costumes that have a tubing running through them and then they have a pump attached to them so that it pumps ice cold water all over your body all at once. When we got done filming we’d sit down and they pump this ice cold water in and then we’d go shoot another set.
The sets were so gigantic and massive and real. It’s amazing just to be on a movie of that scope because they are so professional and they do everything exactly as you would think it’d be, to a tee. The moon landing set was real. The Lander was real. Up halfway the spacecraft was real. It’s just a gigantic set, and then of course working with Michael Bay was amazing. I actually found him to be just a guy’s guy who talks to you like a man, like, ‘Lets get this done. I have a lot of things to do. So, here we go.’ It was just an awesome experience and I really had a great time all around, and everybody was so nice on set. I guess when you get to that level, too, they’re like, ‘We’ve got the time. We’ve got the money. Lets be nice to everybody and take our time.’ It was great.
You did a really cool web-series, too, called ‘Alpha Planet’. How did you get involved in that?
Don Jeanes: My really good friend Mike Darling who, and you mentioned the food service job earlier, we worked together way back in the day and we’ve just remained friends up until now. About a year ago he came to me with a script and he said, ‘Dude, I’m tired of sitting around. I wrote this script. I want you to be in it. Look it over and tell me what role you’d like to play and we’ll do a read through.’ I was immediately attracted to Luke Brodie because he has this villain aspect and I’d never gotten to play that before. I really wanted to try that out. So we did a read through and then we just started shooting. Everybody kind of pitched in and we’d go out once a month over the course of a year and shoot another three or four scenes and he would get it edited. He even got this guy in Italy to do original scores for it. He’s a master himself of just writing and producing and marketing. His girlfriend, I have to say this, we won’t say Mike’s girlfriend. We’ll say Mike is her boyfriend, how about that. Arron Fenton helped co-write it and helped produce it. So they both did an incredible job, and then of course all the other actors were wonderful and it just worked out.
A web-series doesn’t have the same budget as, say, a ‘Transformers’. How hard is to get such a high quality look on no money?
Don Jeanes: I’d have to differ to Mike on that one. He did so much research and he’s a self-taught cinematographer. He actually shot with about a $1,600 camera and did all the special FX himself. He just went online and researched how to make the special FX and made them. It was absolutely amazing. He did all that. It was just up to us to create our living world and make the characters as real as possible.
It’s left open ended. Is there a chance for more?
Don Jeanes: I would love to make more. I’ve had that question a few times, and I’d love to make more episodes. It’s really up to the audience. If we see such a large demand and outcry for more ‘Alpha Planet’ we’ll definitely try to make more. I think that Mike may have some scripts already written for a sequel. I’m not sure. That’s a little bit that no one knows. He may have some more scripts written, and if so and if he comes to me I’d love to do another go at them.
You also have a Sci-fi Channel movie coming up called ‘The Ascension’ with Corbin Bersen. Can you talk about that?
Don Jeanes: The Ascension’ was originally a two series movie, but has since been made into one movie. My roommate was associated with the first one and I met Bob [Stock], the director, that way. We were hanging out and having a good time and he said, ‘You know what, I got two and I want you to be in it.’ I did audition for it. It was one of those cool things where he just whipped out a camcorder one day and said, ‘Okay, lets start doing some scenes from the movie. Lets improv some stuff.’ He took that back to his co-producers and I got the role as Johnny Burns.
It’s a sci-fi, thriller, slasher film. An archeologist finds these artifacts on a desert island, brings them back to America, performs this ritual and accidentally opens this portal to another realm, releasing quote unquote the Dark Lord. Then, mysteriously all these suicides start happening in this small town and no one puts it together except Corbin Bernsen, our intrepid detective. I play the boyfriend to one of the girls who committed suicide. It turns out that the Dark Lord needs more souls to complete his plan and this is where our plot thickens. So we fight the Dark Lord to keep him from creating hell on earth. It should be a neat movie. Bob is also great with special FX and it should be a really cool run.
What’s next for you now?
Don Jeanes: I’m working on a play called ‘Jesus Hopped the A Train’ here in Los Angeles. I’m trying to get back to the theater for a little bit. It feels good to do a linear play every once in a while and to get in front of an audience and really just go.
In association with ‘Alpha Planet’ we’ve kind of formed this other production company called Indie Wood Collective. That’s basically almost a way for everybody associated to come with ideas, to write their own stories and take the lead on getting them produced with the help of Mike who’s going to shoot them. We’ll just all pitch in, get them shot and get them up. We’ve already shot one called ‘Uriel,’ for which I just need to do the voice over with Mike. That’s also going to go up on Mike’s website, redrobot.com, and then we’ve got another one and we just want to keep going that way.
Forming a collective is a smart idea –
Don Jeanes: I feel it was a good idea, and again, that was Mike’s idea and we used Facebook as our forum to keep it going. We have a little Facebook page to throw up ideas on. So it’s a real instantaneous thing, like, ‘Do you guys want to do this? What do you think?’ It’s pretty cool.
Transformers: The Dark Side of the Moon will be released to theaters Wednesday, June 29, 2011.
You can read all our Transformers: Dark of the Moon coverage here.
(Photo: Michael Rozman)