In Hollywood’s dark hour, when box office returns are down for the year and cannot be totally saved by Jedi Knights, Fantastic Foursomes, Batman, or even, Lord help us, Tom Cruise and Steven Spielberg, the film industry looks to one man to help turn things around. A paladin clad entirely in denim. A savior who makes the most irascible agent look like a pussycat in a field of unicorns. A visionary who understands the finer points of big explosions and even bigger breasts. Yes, extreme times call for extreme men. Men like. . .Michael Bay.
”I always say, F— the critics,” says the director, with a toothy grin. ”That’s what Bad Boys II was, a big f— you to the critics. I just said, ‘I’m going to make it so big and so loud and so over-the-top that the critics will hate it and the audience will come anyway.’ I knew critics would hate it and I knew it would make $100 million.”
So rest easy, citizens of Tinseltown. This may just be the perfect guy to bring home some box office this slow summer season. And if not, there will at least be serious explosions along the way.
”I went to bed at 8:30 last night,” yawns Michael Bay. When asked for clarification on whether this was a.m. or p.m., the night-owl director raises his eyebrows in shock. ”At night! I’m tired.”
It’s an exhausting business, blowing things up. Bay should know. In his storied career with superproducer Jerry Bruckheimer he has blown up battleships, asteroids, Alcatraz, several Miami neighborhoods, respected indie actor Steve Buscemi, and a fairly sizable swath of the sovereign nation of Cuba. All this destruction has led to a well-deserved reputation as a box office rainmaker and a crass entertainer of teenage boys. And today, on the eve of the release of his new movie The Island, the 40-year-old Los Angeles native finds himself most famous for being two things:
(1) The self-proclaimed youngest director to gross a billion dollars worldwide.
(2) The single most critically reviled man in moviedom.
So one can imagine Bay’s surprise when he picked up the phone in February 2004 to find the grand rabbi of Hollywood, Steven Spielberg, on the other line. Not only that, but the legendary director told Bay — Yes, him! Michael Bay! — that he thought he was talented. That he had just read the perfect script for him. That he wanted to produce it. The screenplay arrived on Bay’s doorstep that night with a thud, a sprawling 140-page futuristic head trip called The Island.
”It was a script that went out [for sale],” says the man behind The Rock, Armageddon, and Pearl Harbor. ”It didn’t go out to the town, of course. Steven got it first. So everyone in Hollywood that says that agencies don’t hand stuff out first to Steven? They’re lyin’ to you. Anyway, he says, ‘I want you to read it tonight. I’ve got to have an answer right away.’ I finished it at 3:30 a.m. I think the scene that really hooked me was when they execute this pregnant woman.”