Currently in theaters from Paramount is the 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.
For Lendeborg Jr., who made his feature debut starring in Creed II director Steven Caple Jr.’s The Land, the rising is starting to appear in more mainstream commercial films that will increase his visibility. Having appeared in Sony and Marvel’s hit Spider-Man: Homecoming with Tom Holland. the Dominican Republic native will next appear in Robert Rodriguez’s Alita: Battle Angel with Rosa Salazar.
Blackfilm.com spoke exclusively with Lendeborg Jr. about his role in Bumblebee and working with Hailee Steinfeld.
How did the role come about for you?
Jorge Lendeborg Jr.: Dude, honestly, the audition, it went out to me. I guess it saw my agents and my managers, and just went in for it. Whoever else auditioned for the role, and they just saw I was fit for it. They called me back for a call back, and after that, they thought I was the guy.
This is a new film, but it’s part of the Transformer franchise. Have you seen all of them already? Especially since Bumblebee has been a part of it?
Jorge Lendeborg Jr.: Nope, I’ve seen like the first three. But I really, really enjoyed them because I was like 14 when the first one came out. So I still consider myself a big fan of the films, even though I got away from them for a little bit there. But I’ve seen Bumblebee. I like that one.
The good thing about it is that this is supposed to be Bumblebee before everything else happens, so this is something totally different.
Jorge Lendeborg Jr.: Yeah, what I like about this is we’ve already seen some shades of Bumblebee, but we get to now explore the origins of a fan favorite Transformer, and to really show him in a heartfelt story and in an emotional story. So yeah, it’s an exciting prequel of sorts.
How would you best describe your character Memo?
Jorge Lendeborg Jr.: I would describe Memo as a dependable, nerdy, confident guy who fights for what he wants, and is a good hearted person.
Most of your scenes are obviously with Hailee, so how is that chemistry like? When you’re working together it has to be shown on the screen, so we the audience can see that these two people are connected even though your characters don’t connect initially.
Jorge Lendeborg Jr.: It’s a testament to Hailee leading the film and then really just being open as far as I got into the set. And yeah, we do, as the only people who were our age on set, we definitely talked a lot, we could relate a lot, and I feel like that really showed itself on the movie screen.
How much physical work did you do because that’s a lot you’re doing in there? It’s part CGI, but you also have to do some running, and a lot of exertion, so how much did you work out for this?
Jorge Lendeborg Jr.: It wouldn’t be a Transformers film without some running and explosions and jumping and physical work. I don’t know if you saw it, but there is a scene where I have my shirt off and you can see that I was in pretty decent shape. There was a lot of stunts, a lot of practical stunts, something that harbored back to what was popular in the ’80s as far as how the filmmaking process was. It was a marathon of a shoot for sure. So there was definitely those things involved.
You mentioned the ’80s, and this movie has a lot of throwback, music, shirts, and obviously, you weren’t then. We’re talking 1987, so as you did this movie, did anybody talk to you about the music of that era, or did you have to go back and say, “Okay, this music was cool,” or, “This shirt was cool?”
Jorge Lendeborg Jr.: Kind of. To be honest, not that much research. I was like, they’re going to put the music later, I’m just going to be into what I’m into, which is like Hailee and like my nerdy habits I guess.
When it comes to Transformers, it’s always about the cars. So growing up, and I know you said you haven’t seen all of them, which of the Transformer cars did you either grow up with or do you favor now?
Jorge Lendeborg Jr.: The Camaro. The Camaro was hot. Everybody where I went to high school bought a Camaro right after the movie. There was like 18 Camaros on the school parking lot, and I’m like, “Whoa, which one’s me?”
I saw The Land, and I see where Steven (Caple Jr.) is going, I see where you’re going. For every actor and director, there’s always a grind to get that next project. How has it been for you? Are you getting the calls? I know you mentioned your auditioning, but is it becoming harder or less harder getting work?
Jorge Lendeborg Jr.: I feel like there are definitely new obstacles that come up. Obviously, they might be more interested in me, but at the same time that’s when I got to be the most mindful of my work. I feel like the more work you do the more of a microscope there is on your work because people tend to put you in a box at times. So I’m mindful of choosing great work, it’s something that I think I’ve done a good job at in my short career so far. Going from The Land, which by the way, thanks for watching. I learned so much. And Steven is an incredible director. He taught me more than people let me know. And he’s a fantastic director.
But going forward, yeah, I’m mindful, man. I got to make sure that I show myself in the best light. Now that people are starting to recognize me just because I’ve planted myself in pretty good films, I would say, popular films. I got to make sure that the work continues to push forward, to be better, to grow.
You mentioned Steven, but talk to me about working with Travis. I’ve seen his Laika films, what did you pick up from him as you made this film that when you go on to your next project you can say to yourself, you can take something that you learned from Travis and go, “Okay, in working with Travis, this is what I learned that I’m going to take to my next project?”
Jorge Lendeborg Jr.: I feel like Travis, the care he has for characters. I feel like he tells wholesome stories, things that are pure and innocent in a way, kind of like the … In his aura and how he operates, feels very much like the Disney films or Pixar, and obviously, the Laika films. Not to forget, not to get too cynical in your art. So I guess that’s a big takeaway from Travis.
What’s next on your plate?
Jorge Lendeborg Jr.: Actually, I’m in the middle of filming this movie right now in Miami called Critical Thinking. It’s about a couple of kids from a tough neighborhood who go on to win nationals in chess. Mind you, these kids are kids who have a school system that doesn’t work for them, families and home situations that don’t work for them, and shows … It’s kind of like a hood movie, but it shows also that kids of color are also entitled to intellectual work. That it’s not just basketball, it’s not just rapping, and this and that, but that people are of color are intelligent. That we have more interest in different things. And even with many things not working in our favor, that we can still excel in. And even when we’re not on even ground, that we can win.
Who directed it and who’s in it with you?
Jorge Lendeborg Jr.: John Leguizamo is the director of the movie. Michael K. Williams is in there, Rachel Bay Jones, Angel Curiel, they’re all part of the film, really fantastic group. Obviously, John is a pioneer as far as Hispanics and Latinos working in Hollywood. I wanted to take the film because I wanted to learn from arguably one of the best character actors ever to do it. And he’s there, and I think it’s going to be a special movie just because of the energy that he brings to the project.
At the end of the day, there’s always a million reason to go see Bumblebee, but what’s your main thing to tell people why they should go see the film?
Jorge Lendeborg Jr.: Honestly, I feel like the reason is because life sometimes is tough, and movies to me, were a big escape. I feel like movies are expensive and coming from not always having money myself, I pride myself in making movies that might make somebody’s situation a little better, at least how it did for me. So what I hope people take away from it is a really enjoyable experience because sometimes it gets hard to come by.