Even for a fifth franchise installment, there are still a few surprises left in Transformers: The Last Knight. Vying for my top surprise would be the fluid-enough-for-summer-fun correlation between the Transformers and King Arthur, and the unlikely depth of Vivian Wembley, the film’s highly educated, socially awkward and vital-to-the-action leading lady.
Not that I’m surprised that Laura Haddock, who plays Vivian, could handle the role – she’s performed admirably in such films and TV shows as Da Vinci’s Demons, Upstairs Downstairs and Guardians of the Galaxy, where she played Peter’s mom, Meredith Quill, in both films. And who could forget her blink-and-you’ll-miss-it role as Autograph Seeker in Captain America: The First Avenger?
But really, as far as expectations go, Michael Bay films are known far more for explosions than their strong females characters, no offense to Mikaela Banes (Megan Fox), who was, among other impressive qualities, a hell of a mechanic. Still, Wembley is by far the most significant female role in a Transformers film since Fox left the franchise after 2009’s Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. And as an Oxford professor of English literature who suddenly finds herself as a vital link to the Transformers history on Earth, far different too.
But don’t take my word for it, take hers in the Q&A below. We had a chance to catch up with Haddock on the phone this morning, to get the full scoop on vital Vivian, how having a child (with Hunger Games star Sam Claflin) prepared her for a Michael Bay film set, how a James Gunn set is far different, and much, much more. You can catch Haddock in Transformers: The Last Night, in theaters now.
We’re you at all surprised by Vivian Wembley’s character when you first read the script?
I was really inspired by how tough she was, and how strong was, and the fact that she was really intelligent. I loved the sparring, more comedic scenes between her and Mark Wahlberg’s character, Cade Yeager. She’s a fighter, and she accepts this mission, and she fights until the end. And I think it’s really encouraging to have a woman running through the middle of the story with this huge, great big mission, and she’s not the damsel in distress, she’s as tough as the guys are. It was very encouraging.
She is the key to this mission, really. She is crucial. She’s been watched all her life by Anthony Hopkins’ character, Sir Edmund Burton, and they’re working out whether or not she would be strong enough to take on this mission and complete it. And she is, so he brings her in, and introduces her to Cade, and then they go off.
Did you know inside yourself that you were strong enough to take on this mission?
For sure, yeah. I’d just had a baby, and I met Michael [Bay] about five months after that had happened, and he said: “I hear that you just had a baby?” And I said “Yes!” And he said, “Great, that’ll make you really tough.” And I said, “Yeah!”
I felt very empowered. I was supported by my team, and the studio, and Michael. I was ready to take on the challenge. I really, really enjoyed doing all the stunt work and learning new skills in that area. I loved it. You’ve got to have a lot of stamina, because we were shooting, I think, up to about eight months. You’ve got to manage your energy levels and keep really fit, because Michael likes you to do all of your own stunts, as much as you possibly can.
What was the craziest stunt he had you doing?
Every day is crazy on a Michael Bay movie. The sets are huge. I was strapped up and hung from wires every single day, and we used the gimbal every day. And we used this kind of hamster wheel cage for a long time for one particular sequence in the movie. And obviously, there’s all this running. And Michael likes to work with a live, working set as much as he can, so you’re really running through explosions. It was a busy, busy time, stunt-wise.
It shows on the big screen, for sure. I was particularly impressed with Sir Anthony Hopkins running around.
Yeah, I mean, he’s got as much energy as the rest of us. He would get up every day energetic, ready to go. He loved every second of filming with Michael, and he was up for the challenge of doing everything that Michael asked him to do. He’s an amazing actor, and an amazing person to be around.
And a knighted Sir at that.
Yeah, but you would never know it. He’s so down-to-earth, and so kind, and he has an amazing memory for things. You can tell him something and he’ll remember it forever.
I’m wondering if the English background that you both share helped you connect with the King Arthur storyline that runs throughout the film?
I think we all did. We all put ourselves into the mythology of this movie, and Michael was so excited about telling this tale. Yeah, we all got really excited about it. I know when I was little, certainly, my kind of first introduction to King Arthur was when I was about six … And it continues to be talked and talked about at school in the U.K.
Probably not like this though, huh?
Not quite like a Transformers movie, no. [Laughs]
When you first saw that connection, what was your reaction?
It’s just the way Michael’s mind works, it’s like completely unique. He’ll come up with all these ideas, and he’ll want to tell all of those stories and find a way to fit them all together. And I think he did. And it was great fun, and it was energetic, and the tone changes throughout the film, and keeps people on their toes. I think it definitely worked. It’s a lot of fun, and I think the fans will love that going-back-in-time thing, exploring when the Transformers started, who was involved, and at what stage. It’s all just make-believe, and fantastical, and exciting, so …
And there’s a Transformers dragon!
Exactly, and there’s a dragon flying around, which is pretty cool.
Were you well-versed in Transformers lore before you signed on?
Yeah, I’d watched them all. I remember watching the first one 10 years ago, and thinking I hadn’t really watched that kind of action/adventure/sci-fi genre a lot before in my life, and that was the first movie that really opened the door for lots of other movies for me in the future. I loved it.
Why were you drawn to the film initially, do you remember?
I think it was the robots. I remember leaving the cinema thinking these robots are full of personality, it’s all about character, and they’re funny, and you sympathize with them, and they’re real characters full of real personalities, and I thought that was what was so fascinating about these films: that the robots weren’t just tin cans that you couldn’t emote with, they had real personalities.
Do you have a favorite Transformer?
Bumblebee’s traditionally my favorite, but in this particular movie, I love Cogman, he’s the British butler who’s got anger management problems. And I just thought he was a really fun character, really funny.
Is there a big difference between the Marvel fandom and Transformers fandom?
All I’ve really felt is the overwhelming support of the franchise, on both counts. The fans are so dedicated to each franchise, respectively. I think that’s the similarity; I haven’t really noticed too much difference.
What about the difference between a James Gunn set and a Michael Bay set?
Well, I think for me personally, when I worked on Guardians of the Galaxy, it actually felt very intimate, felt very small. James was very sensitive when it came to portraying the mother role in Guardians, so he made the set very quiet, and I never once felt the green screen or all the special effects. It was only in the theaters, when I saw the film, that I saw how enormous it was, because my experience was so small. He made sure I never met the actor who was playing my son until the cameras rolled on the actor’s face. He was just so sensitive to that storyline.
And then on the Transformers set, obviously, I was part of every single moving cog of this machine. I was part of all of it, and it’s enormous. It’s absolutely enormous, the Transformers machine.
Do you geek out yourself on anything?
Yeah, especially since I’ve just had a kid, I’m starting to see things through his eyes, and he can get so excited over the smallest thing, and so I think it’s rubbing off on me, and I can geek out over the smallest thing with him. For sure, when I did my first day on Transformers, I was giddy and just felt like a fan. And then you start to feel more and more comfortable, like it’s your home, and you’re just telling a story, and you’re part of the movie-making process.
MINOR SPOILER BELOW:
With Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and now this, you’ve probably starred in more predatory planet movies than anyone.
Well, if you say so. [Laughs] It’s pretty cool. I’m loving it. I’m really loving being part of this genre, this world. I’ve learned so much on both sets. I would love for it to continue, fingers crossed, because I’ve loved every second of it, and all the challenges that it’s thrown up.