Actor Don Jeanes plays the pivotal role of legendary astronaut Neil Armstrong in director Michael Bay’s “Transformers : Dark of the Moon”. Though only a small part, “Transformers” is undoubtedly the biggest production the actor – who up till now was best known for his work in the web series “Alpha Planet” – has ever worked on. It certainly won’t be the last.
Huge leap going from a web series to ”Transformers”!? What were noticeable differences for you?
The main differences were really the intricacy of the sets and the amount of manpower. On Alpha Planet we did all of our shoots outdoors and although the recent wildfires in California gave the surrounding countryside the awesome scorched-earth feel we were looking for, well, we’ve all been outside before. On Transformers: Dark of the Moon the sets were shockingly realistic for being artificial. The entire moon surface was real, not green screen, and looked real even when you were right on top of it. The orbiter was incredibly complicated as well as the alien spacecraft you see in the trailer. Also, the creators of Alpha Planet, Mike Darling and Arron Fenton, wore many different hats, from director to editor to photographer to make up artists. On Transformers there were five guys to do one job, which ensured it would get done immediately.
Having said that, do the directors and crew involved in either film/s work any differently? pace a little faster on a blockbuster?
Yes the pace is a little tighter and more structured but when you get down to it, it’s still people communicating. That’s what struck me while I was on set. I guess I thought there’d be this magical difference but you still take direction from the director, still communicate your own ideas and still use the same process as an actor. There really is no substitution for human-to-human communication to get things done.
Let’s backtrack… how did you get the role of Neil Armstrong in ”Transformers”?
I look like him [laughs]. Really though, there was a casting call for Neil Armstrong look-a-likes, my agent submitted me and I got an audition. What’s funny is that I didn’t know I was going in for Transformers. The project was so secretive that we didn’t even get our portion of the script until we got to the audition. Once I arrived, I received my script and just had a few moments to look it over before they called me in. I got a call about three weeks later that I booked the part in Transformers: Dark of the Moon and was naturally beside myself.
I assume a lot of your scenes take place on ‘the moon’ – that we saw in the trailer – is it easy to imagine, despite the fake background, yourself in a place like that? How do you convince yourself you’re actually ON the moon?
I didn’t really focus on being on the moon per say but the fear of being so far away from humanity and alone. These guys traveled away from earth for three days before climbing in another smaller vessel to make the landing. What we don’t really think about when we watch the footage of the moon landing is that they still had to get off of the moon. Not only that but they had to link up with another space craft in space then crash land into the earth’s atmosphere. I layered the magnitude of all of that with the discovery of what you see in the trailer which would have been scary enough on its own.
I gotta ask, what do they use as stand-in’s for the ‘Transformers’ – mini toys, tennis ball on a string?
We were not given a line of sight but instead shown sketches of our scene and thrown into action. I believe much of the matching will be done in editing. It was a little bit of a struggle to think about the magnitude of the situation had it been real. However, in my process I find substitutions from my own life that carry equal weight to those in the script. Once I found the right substitution, things just fell into place.
Off-topic…You’re a boxer. How long have you been boxing for?
I started boxing in 2001 so about ten years. I had just gained membership in the Sigma Nu fraternity in college. At a chapter meeting an older member asked if anyone wanted to represent the fraternity in the annual college wide boxing tournament. Since I had a boxing bag at my house as a kid I figured why not and raised my hand. That began the six-month long road than won me my bout and got me hooked on combat training. I trained for the fight at Mike Trejo’s camp in Texas and actually got to spar with the flyweight champion. I’m still training and have also progressed into other areas. I hold a blue belt at Tiger Shulmann’s Mixed Martial Arts Academy in Manhattan, have trained at America’s First Maui Thai Academy in Van Nuys and continue to train under Toby Grear at True Warrior Fitness here in Hollywood.
Nice. And I see you’re also a motorbike rider. Have you played a role yet that’s similar to yourself?
Of course there is some of my own persona in every role that I play but have yet to ride onscreen in character. However, I did act in a motorcycle training video called Twist of the Wrist II. The ironic part is that I crashed on the way to set. I managed to film my scene but still have a scar on my elbow to remind me today.
Lot of great actors in ”Transformers”; anyone make a lasting impression on you?
I had the pleasure of spending most of my time on set with Cory Tucker who plays Buzz Aldrin in the film. Cory has had an amazing life and we had a great time trading stories on set. We remain friends today.
What’s next for you?
Look for The Ascension coming out soon. I play opposite Corbin Bernsen in this Sci-fi/thriller/slasher film. I’m also in the short film Ureil, the story of an Arc Angel roaming earth during the time of revelations.
“Transformers : Dark of the Moon” is out June 29
Photo Credit : Dana Patrick