Coming out this week from Paramount is the upcoming Transformers prequel spin-off Bumblebee, which stars Hailee Steinfeld, John Cena, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Angela Bassett, Justin Theroux, John Ortiz, Jason Drucker, Pamela Adlon, and Stephen Schneider.
Directed by Travis Knight (Kubo and the Two Strings), the film will take place 20 years before the events of the first film (Transformers) as the titular Autobot takes refuge in a small California beach town and crosses path with teenage girl Charlie, who learns of his true nature.
On the run in the year 1987, Bumblebee finds refuge in a junkyard in a small Californian beach town. Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld), on the cusp of turning 18 and trying to find her place in the world, discovers Bumblebee, battle-scarred and broken. When Charlie revives him, she quickly learns this is no ordinary, yellow VW bug.
Angela Bassett is voicing the cherry-red Plymouth Satellite Decepticon called Shatter, with Justin Theroux voicing Dropkick, the Decepticon who transforms into a blue AMC Javelin. For Bassett, it’s her first time in her career where she plays the villain.
Blackfilm.com spoke exclusively with Bassett on voicing Shatter and being in a “Transformers” film.
It’s not that often you do voice characters. How did the role come about for you?
Angela Bassett: Well, my manager gave me a call and said that they were interested in me voicing the character. They sent over one sheet of what it looked like, told me that Shatter would be the first time they feature a woman as a robot in the series, in the franchise.
And that she was also the antagonist in the story. All that was very interesting and intriguing and an opportunity. This is something different from where I normally find myself. So I said yes.
Have you watched all the previous Transformer films?
Angela Bassett: I have to admit to you that I have not. Not as of yet, no. I’m familiar with the first one but everybody has their varying taste. This one idea that it was an origin film, it had more emotion. It was grounded in the emotional story. That’s the kind of thing that is attractive to me. Of course I have an appreciation for voice films and the audience that they serve. But for me, the type of roles that I am drawn to are the ones that deal with just the emotional development of the character. So the opportunity to bring those to two genres together in a compelling way, that’s what interests me.
What goes into voicing Shatter, you know? Did the producers want you to do something with your voice, as you go in the booth, or was it just reading just the script?
Angela Bassett: Well, I mean it’s reading the story, understanding the story. Understanding the dynamic of good versus evil, of what the character wants, wanting the information. How are you going to go about getting it from the person? Hunting someone down, maybe being a little bit conniving and deceptive. Those are things that you deal with in all script, and everyday life. The idea of conflict. So it’s not as if because this is action packed it’s something so very different from human nature. That it’s unrecognizable.
I don’t recall you playing a villain before. Is this something new for you?
Angela Bassett: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, yeah it is. It’s something that I want to do more of. I want an opportunity at. It’s provided that. Usually the characters I’ve played have been relatively noble. They have been autobiographical in nature. For me it’s always about trying to insert myself in different scenarios and situations. And characters. Not just singing the same song.
Have you seen the full film? To get a sense of what you did on camera? At least in the booth?
Angela Bassett: Yes I have. I absolutely love it. It’s one I can’t wait for my kids to see, I can’t wait for audiences to check out. I love the nostalgic feel of it, the sense of it. I love the music element of it. Hailee and the work that she did, she’s the first female protagonist of this Transformer universe. She did a magnificent job. I love her strength, her vulnerability. The relationship that the director did with a robot and a human. And how it was just grounded in reality. I thought it was magnificent. I’m very, very pleased. Especially since I tend to go for my dramatic fare, comedic films as apposed to action. But that’s my husband’s thing. He loves the action movies. He’ll say to me often, “you know I gotta go get my fix.” You know enough of these dramatic comedies. So I think I got something for him…there’s something for him in this as well.
He’ll enjoy it. My daughter, who’s very sensitive, will enjoy it. My son, there’s something for him. So all around home run. Far as I’m concerned.
You’ve had an amazing year. From Black Panther to Mission Impossible Fallout to this movie, along with your TV series 911. Is this the hardest you’ve worked ever in a given year, in terms of promoting not just your TV series but your three film projects?
Angela Bassett: It sort of comes in cycles. I think I recall there being another time where it was a lot of promo action, but this certainly was one of the banner years for sure. For sure.
What do you tell actresses, who look at your background and see where you’ve gone and what you continue to do, how you can have the best of both worlds, film and TV?
Angela Bassett: You know what, just as an actress it’s about acting. It’s about finding characters that you can have some relationship with. That rings true to you. There’s some authenticity. I try to do things that satisfy me artistically first and foremost. I think as long as you’re true to that, that authenticity comes in and speaks to audiences. So if they picked up on that, and then inspired by my journey, the work that I’ve done and where I find myself, it’s because I’ve always made it a point to say yes for the right reasons. Because I’m again, passionate about this, and I want to stay true to it.