One of the most surprising delights of 2018 was Bumblebee, a Transformers prequel spinoff that completely reimagined the franchise. While many fans have been excited by the return of G1 designs and Cybertron action sequences, the heart of the movie is the relationship between the titular B-127 and his human companion, Charlie, played by Hailee Steinfeld. The actor has been a regular screen presence since her breakout in 2010's True Grit, and last year became a tentpole star with Bee and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.
Screen Rant recently caught up with Steinfeld to discuss the experience of starring in a Transformers movie, how Bumblebee changed during development, where she sees Charlie going next and, in another universe entirely, the future of Spider-Gwen.
Before you signed on, what history, if any, did you have with the Transformers franchise?
I'd seen a few of the movies. My older brother Griffin is a racecar driver and mechanic, and so when the first film came out, he was talking about wanting to see and I remember us seeing it together. And that was my first introduction to it.
Your brother's a mechanic? What did he make of your mechanic skills in Bumblebee?
He helped with... all of it. [laughs] I say a lot of it, but all of it. I actually had him on set with me while making this movie which, not only was one of my favorite experiences I've had, that I've been able to share with my brother. But selfishly I was able to have him there as my mechanic encyclopedia. So any time I was confused or unclear about something or wanted to make sure the exact car part we are talking about was accurate, I just wanted him to make sure everything lined up and he's somebody I trust with all of it. And he was right there to make sure everything I was doing was authentic.
That's so cool. The relationship between Bumblebee and Charlie is right at the heart of this movie, and that's a really big acting task - you're forming a bond with this big, CGI, metal creature. How did you do those scenes where you're really emotionally conversing with Bee? When you're interacting with him, how was it getting the right level of emotion while also getting the practical side done?
Well, it definitely unlike anything I've ever experienced. The hardest part was constantly questioning if it was enough or too much, without knowing. Of course, you can watch back but then it's like, what exactly are you looking at? Me talking to thin air! So, starting the process, Travis created a place that felt safe and at home. It was just, obviously, where we were, when we were there, it was very quiet. And him and I, long before we started shooting, did enough work in creating enough backstory for this character. So that always, obviously, is a tremendous help when it comes to, getting there on the day, feeling like you've done the work, then just allowing yourself to just be there and in the moment, with whatever you have - or in this case, whatever you don't have - to work with. So, yeah.
How long after shooting did you get to see Bee in the space?
Well, one that thing was incredible about Travis was that, with his background in animation he was really able to paint the picture as we went along. He was building pre-vis as we were going, depending on the scene, so that we could get an idea. For example, the scene where Charlie and Memo are in the kitchen with Bee - the aftermath of his house destruction - he mapped that all out on a computer first, just to have, like you said, the idea of what it might look like with him involved.
One of the technical things in the movie that's not CGI, is the music. The music is so important, so ingrained into the movie - the way The Smiths goes into the soundtrack and costumes and the set dressing and the story arcs is so involved. Did you have music on set to key into the emotions, and otherwise how did Travis get you up to speed with what he imagined the soundscape of the movie to be?
There was a lot of music played on set, for sure. Especially, obviously, when it is played in certain moments and spoken about in the film. It was so nice for me. Music has always been such a huge part of my life and a huge part of me as an actor. It's what keeps me grounded - when I'm on any movie... I've unintentionally created a playlist for almost every film I've done of what I listened to throughout to keep me in certain mindsets. With this film, it was built in for me. Everything - I want to say about 90% of what was in the film was originally scripted, which is always helpful. Because I've done films where you think you know what's playing in the background of what you're doing, and it ends up being something completely different. But for the most part, we had what was scripted, music-wise, so that was very helpful.
Most importantly - are you a fan of The Smiths? Were you before, are you now?
Moreso now than I was before. I think I have a real appreciation for them now, and I feel like they, in ways no one else did, capture that real teen angst and I feel that personally, and I feel that in the movie.
With the ending, one of the biggest payoff moments when you fix the car and Charlie's driving down the highway, which comes technically after the credits - it's after Travis' credit and the scene with the Autobots. Was that ever part of the movie proper, or was that always an after-credits bit with the main ending being Bee's departure?
As far as I know, yes. It was always that way where the bit where I fix the car was over the credits.
What's also cool about that ending is that, while this movie's part of a massive franchise, you have the amazing luxury of telling a single story. But, Travis has said he's imagined you in a sequel. Are you signed up for more Transformers, would you like to return in a Bumblebee sequel or a Transformers movie of some form?
I would, absolutely. If it means having any kind of experience like I did making this one, I would love to do that again. I think what's so exciting about these films is that we make them for the fans. And if they choose to like it and want to see more, then that's when we go back to work. That's the exciting part. But yeah, of course, I would absolutely love to be part of this sort of thing again.
And, as an actor, do you have anywhere you'd like to explore in Charlie, where you'd like to take her next?
I feel that we've had very few, I guess, in-depth conversations about where she could possibly go in the future, but I think for me, without having spent much time thinking about that, I do feel that she's one person at the beginning of this movie and a completely different and better human by the end. She's grown so much in such a small amount of time, she's learned so much. I mean, even then, at the end, I felt though she's got so much more to learn, so far to go, so much more to say. And I'd be very excited to see where and what that is.
One thing I've seen reports of is how the movie evolved as it was made. Did any part of Charlie's arc change, could you should any light on that?
Yeah, sure. A lot of Charlie's arc was definitely figured out before we started filming. There were a lot of changes made in the beginning, as there are naturally, but I do I feel that discoveries were constantly being made while making this movie, about this character, about her capabilities, about her knowledge of certain things. And something that was so great about Travis and really the rest of the cast, I felt we all had this foundation that we built together, and when we'd show up every day, the possibilities were endless, and we could run free. Travis allowed for that, the producers and other filmmakers allowed for that. So a lot of room for discovery was made throughout.
What would you say is the biggest thing that you brought to Charlie that wasn't in that original script?
Oh boy. Thinking back now. I think... this is one of those things where you study for a test and you ace it the next day, and then the day after you forget all the answers... Walking down memory name, it hasn't even been that long but I need to refresh my memory. Working, I think for this, I have to say Christina Hodson wrote an amazing story of a young girl that felt very real and very honest. Kelly Fremon Craig also contributed to the script, who I worked with on Edge of Seventeen. I do feel that everything that I brought to this character was, obviously made on my own in discovery during, but all stemmed from what was on the page in the beginning. It was really was pretty perfect.
The movie has tremendous reviews across the board, it's been a shame to see it's box office legs a little slower. It opened quite slowly compared to the other Transformers films. Do you have any feelings on that, could it have been released at a different time?
Looking at the history of Transformers box office numbers, they were released at different times of the year. They may have obviously been publicized differently. I think that with this film it was a little harder getting people to realize is this a film that Transformers fans can find everything they know and love in the Transformers franchise, it's very very character driven and has a lot of heart and a lot of soul. And I think that that's what people are learning after they see it. And so, here I am, spreading the word. This is a film with a lot of heart and soul. If that's what you're looking for, you can find that as well as what you know and love from Transformers films.
We've talked about big movies coming out at this time, you're also in Into the Spider-Verse. Having these two, big movies out so close to each other - what was the experience of that like?
That sort of thing, for both films. Into the Spider-Verse, the making of took place over the last couple of years. I was working on Bumblebee at the same time, going back and forth with sessions for Into the Spider-Verse. It's one of those things where you hear they're coming out with each other, you have no idea of what the end result of either one is - you're at that point where you haven't seen them. To me, it's like, "this is going to be the best holiday season ever. I've got two films coming out, it's going to be wonderful, I'm so excited for people to see them. These are two stories that mean a lot to me." It really was all very exciting, and of course having them out so close together now, it's equally as exciting. It really is an honor just to have two films that are doing so well, and that means so much to me.
Gwen will get her own spinoff/sequel with the Spider-Woman Spider-Verse movie. When did you find out about that?
Honestly, when we all did. That will be absolutely incredible to explore the capabilities of this young superhero.