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SYFY WIRE Action & Adventure

How Michael Bay used coolness factor to recruit actual California Highway Patrol for 'Ambulance'

The high-octane action thriller is now streaming on Peacock!

By Josh Weiss
Michael Bay on the set of Ambulance

The allure of starring in a Michael Bay action film is a powerful thing. Not just for established Hollywood A-listers, but for public servants as well. Speaking with Empire (the magazine's latest issue is now on sale) about his most recent high-octane thriller — Ambulance — the filmmaker known for crafting explosive blockbusters recalled how he was able to recruit real officers of the California Highway Patrol on the first day of principal photography.

"I see five Highway Patrol [cars] roll up, and they all know who I am," he said. "They go, 'We love your movies, sir, let's take some pictures.' I'm like, 'Yeah, we were just supposed to shoot some inserts of the ambulance driving on the freeway. I would love to put you guys in the movie.' They go, 'Really?' [I say] 'Yeah. When you do a chase, how do you do it?' [They reply] 'Well, we'll dog with him, we'll move in an out, we'll switch lanes.' I go, 'Really? Awesome. So I'm gonna give each of you a mic, and a walkie talkie.'"

This proved to be a genius move on Bay's part. In addition to securing a chance to work with experienced veterans of real-world highway pursuits, he also got to shut the road down for free via a maneuver known as a "rolling block" in which "one car starts to sweep across the the whole freeway and real cars stop and the freeway just shuts down," the director explained. "We're running at 90 miles an hour on a live freeway. My assistant cameraman, the focus puller, goes, 'This is awesome, this looks so real.' It was real. So that's how you get free production value."

Based on the 2005 Danish film of the same name, Ambulance stars Jake Gyllenhaal (Spider-Man: Far From Home) and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (Watchmen) as a pair of bank robbers who are forced to hijack a medical vehicle after a heist goes terribly wrong. As if being on the run wasn't bad enough, the duo must also contend with an injured police officer and the paramedic (Godzilla vs. Kong's Eiza González) attempting to save his life in the back of the van. The film is streaming now on Peacock.

After years of shepherding the multi-billion Transformers franchise along, Bay returned to his '90s-era roots with a larger-than-life action movie grounded by relatable stakes and characters. "I think we fantasize about crime," he added. That's why crime is so interesting to watch on movies and TV. We think, 'What would it be like to get away with it? What would it be like? Oh, I'd be smarter. How'd you screw that one up?' You know, I think we all plan crimes. 'They still rob banks? How do they get around all the Plexiglass?' I do like a good heist movie. I tried to keep it grounded and intense."

Ambulance takes that fanciful daydream and throws it onto the big screen, showing us just how messy it would be in practice. "I'm used to shooting these big blockbusters where it's got a zinger at the end of the scene," Bay said. "This doesn't have that because it's real. What I love is when you start assembling the scenes and start putting [composer Lorne Balfe's] cues on it, all of a sudden the tension starts building. And that's what's really cool. I had confidence in this movie. It doesn't have to have a zinger. It has to just slowly build at times."

The movie was produced by Bay, William Sherak (Scream), Bradley J. Fischer (Shutter Island), James Vanderbilt (Murder Mystery), and Ian Bryce (the Transformers franchise). Michael Kase (Songbird) and Mark Moran (Pet Sematary) are executive producers. Chris Fedak (Chuck) penned the screenplay.

Ambulance is now available to stream on Peacock.