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Michael Bay reflects on working with Shia LaBeouf as ‘Transformers’ turns 15: ‘He had a tough upbringing’

·Senior Correspondent, Yahoo Entertainment
·2 min read
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Action. Crashes. Explosions. Bayhem. "Awesome."

Of all the words that come to mind when you think of Michael Bay, "fear" is not typically one of them.

But the veteran director admits he was worried head into his first go at Transformers, the mega-franchise that stomped into movie theaters 15 years ago starring Optimus Prime, Megatron and a couple of young up-and-coming actors named Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox.

"It was scary. Because if the robots didn't look dead real, [the movie would not have worked]," Bay told us during a recent interview promoting his spring heist thriller Ambulance (watch above). "But we broke a lot of visual effects ground on that."

Bay says he gained confidence after showing some early footage to a football-playing friend of his ("I surround myself with normal people, people not in the business," the filmmaker explains.)

Like many folks on the internet and still nascent-social media platforms, Bay's friend Mike was skeptical about the idea of turning Hasbro's beloved Autobots and Decepticons toy line into a live-action movie event.

"He goes, 'Bay, I don't know about that Transformer thing,'" Bay recalls. "We're having a beer, I'm like, 'Yeah, I know. It's a little scary.' Then I showed him the first scene, Scorponok jumping out of the desert, right behind Tyrese. I showed it to him. He goes, 'Oh, OK. Alright, I get it now.'"

Audiences got it, too. Transformers was the fifth highest-grossing movie of 2007, taking in $709 million worldwide. It has since spawned six sequels and spin-offs, including next year's Rise of the Beasts.

"It was a fun ride," Bay says. "You see the joy of the audiences around the world."

The film is also notable for turning LaBeouf and Fox into movie stars.

Despite a pattern of troubling behavior, including multiple arrests, LaBeouf eventually became something of a critical darling due to acclaimed performances in films like American Honey (2016), Honey Boy (2019) and The Peanut Butter Falcon (2019). But his career flatlined in 2020 after a series of disturbing allegations made by his ex-girlfriend Tahliah Debrett Barnett. The singer, known as FKA twigs, sued the actor for sexual battery, assault and emotional distress. The lawsuit claimed LaBeouf was also abusive to another ex-girlfriend as well.

LaBeouf has since taken an acting hiatus and sought inpatient treatment.

"Listen, he was a kid," Bay says when asked about his experience with LaBeouf, who grew up poor in Los Angeles with a father who battled alcohol and drug addictions.

"He was a kid when I worked with him. I sort of fathered him. A couple times he acted up but he's a very talented kid. He really is nice… He had a tough upbringing. But he's a fantastic actor," he said.