Most actors cast as franchise leads in a summer blockbuster can expect big roles, but the literal opposite happens to the actors in the massive Transformers franchise. Because when it comes to size, the human stars pale in comparison to the massive stature of the giant robots that appear on the screen.
But there’s no denying the star power of such roles – the first Transformers movie launched the career of Megan Fox and Shia LaBeouf – so it’s safe to say that the latest chapter in the now seven-movie saga will push Hamilton and Judas and the Black Messiah stars Anthony Ramos and Dominique Fishback to bigger heights when Transformers: Rise of the Beasts rolls out to cinemas this June.
In his franchise debut, Ramos plays an ex-soldier Noah Diaz from Brooklyn, who left the army to take care of his sick little brother. In the early parts of the movie, we see Noah’s neighbourhood, and what life was like for him in Brooklyn before he got unknowingly involved in a war between various alien-robot factions and inevitably, saves the world. Much like Noah, Ramos is also a 90s kid from Brooklyn and according to the actor, the similarities between them were intentional inputs.
“I put a lot of myself into [Noah]. I mean, from the street that we say Noah was from, I was from that street, Wilson Avenue. I’m from the neighbourhood. All of that, you know, going all the way down to talking to [director] Steven [Caple Jr.] about what bridge in New York to shoot on. I was like, ‘Yo, shoot on the Williamsburg Bridge!’ because that was the bridge that I used to go over to get to where I live where I grew up,” said Ramos in an exclusive interview with Geek Culture.
Viewers will remember Ramos in the Broadway musical Hamilton and subsequently in musical movie In The Heights. Most of his works were – in one way or another – musically inclined or were voice works as seen in A Star Is Born and The Bad Guys. And while he did have a role in action flicks Godzilla: King of the Monsters and The Honest Thief, Rise of the Beasts marks the first action-adventure of staggering scale that the 31-year-old actor will be leading.
Starring alongside Ramos is Fishback as Elena Wallace. Fishback is best known for her roles in Judas and the Black Messiah, Netflix’s Project Power and most recently in thriller-drama Swarm. The characters Fishback plays from project to project vary from a mentally deranged superfan to smart-aleck teenager and Rise of the Beasts’ Elena definitely brings new colour to the canvas that is her growing career.
Elena is an intern at a museum who despite being made to do menial tasks like press officewear and fetch coffee, is incredibly smart and perceptive. She shows a keen interest in history and artefacts that when a strange-looking statue lands in the hands of the museum’s curator, her curiosity got the better of her. As the saying goes, curiosity kills the cat and much like Noah, Elena finds herself helping to save the world from a world-devouring entity called Unicron.
“What drew me to the role is her heart. We all as people, we get an opportunity, like a calling in our lives and some of us are brave enough in the moment to take it and some of us are not and I think that’s what Elena faces. She is into her books and she really cares about that, and her imagination runs wild, but I don’t think she takes adventure head-on,” explained 32-year-old Fishback in the same interview.
“And then the call happens and she’s brave enough to take it and I tried to be brave like that. So yeah, I was excited. And I was excited to just, you know, there’s very few people in the world that get to say they met Bumblebee or Optimus Prime and there’s only a small number and we get to be those people, which is really magical. It’s immaculate if I do say so myself!”
While Elena and Noah serve as the movie’s main human characters, Tobe Nwigwe’s Reek is a supporting character that provides the most laughs at the start of the movie, and in the movie’s post-credit scene. Unlike Ramos and Fishaback who already have notable projects to their names, Rise of the Beasts is Nwigwe’s first-ever acting gig such that when he learned that he got a role, the rapper-turned-actor thought it was a prank.
“Well, it came through e-mail for us from Paramount and I thought it was a lie. I thought I had pranks going on in my e-mail but once I found out it wasn’t, I was extremely excited and I just thought it was incredible. And then once they told me I was actually gonna be able to come with my entire family. I was like, ‘Okay. I was all set!’” shared Nwigwe.
“And like, Paramount went out of their way to make sure that I was comfortable throughout my entire first experience and I don’t know if it’s normal but it just seemed abnormal.”
Rise of the Beasts, as the title suggests, places a heavy focus on the beasts a.k.a the Maximals, from the Transformers: Beast Wars animated series who make their live-action debut, appearing alongside their allies the Autobots and the movie’s villains Unicron and the Terracons. But that doesn’t mean the human characters are not of importance to their battles.
In most large-scale, universe-ending flicks that can see humans play second fiddle to the action, as their involvement is often inconsequential or just purely annoying (coughShiaLebeoufcough), Ramos and Fishback point out that every character introduced in this giant robot movie, including the human ones, is not without reason and that it was their utmost importance that both Noah and Elena are helpful and useful allies to the Transformers and their battles.
“Listening to the audience and the fans, you’re like, ‘Okay, cool like, how do you make the humans matter then? What is the purpose then? And we really, really cared about that so if it translates that’s amazing,” said Fishback.
“I mean, just the story, you know, and how there’s no character that’s lost. There’s nobody in the movie for no reason, right? Everyone has a reason, everyone whether it’s the smallest to the biggest, right? But everybody is part of the plot. Nothing is in this movie for no reason,” said added Ramos.
He then laughed, “It’s Transformers but you’re gonna need the humans!”
Transformers: Rise of the Beasts rolls out on 8 June 2023.