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Rise of the Beasts director Steven Caple Jr talks about jungle robots

We spoke with the director of Transformers Rise of the Beasts, Steven Caple Jr, about his favorite Autobot, Pete Davidson's voice work, and shooting in Peru.

Rise of the Beasts: Steven Caple Jr interview

The time for Autobots is now, because we’ve got a brand new Transformers tale on the big screen. Transformers: Rise of the Beasts (out now) sees the Autobots go head-to-head with some fresh robot enemies in their efforts to get back to Cybertron.

With some serious A-listers voicing the new Autobots, Maximals, and Terrorcons, Transformers: Rise of the Beasts does not lack star power. And at the helm of the new Transformers movie, taking over the franchise from Michael Bay is Steven Caple Jr., who is also known for his work on the sports movie Creed II.

Caple Jr. has spoken in the past about growing up with the Transformers franchise, toys, and having a love for Beast Wars in particular. So when The Digital Fix sat down with the director of the new robot movie, we had to ask if he had a favorite Autobot.

“Man, right now, Mirage is my favorite Transformer,” he revealed, referencing one of the new characters voiced by Pete Davidson. “As I started to really create him, I’m like, ‘Okay, I’m able to voice this character, but also just bring to light some Autobot that hasn’t been in a franchise or been given that much of a platform or stage to be present.’ And just felt like it was a piece of me, you know, like in terms of trying to find the right comedy.”

“Optimus Prime, who was my favorite, is Optimus Prime as we all know, and you can only do so much to shift him because he’s already been established. And as well as Bumblebee, you know, you don’t want to veer too far off. What I’ve been able to do with [Mirage], and also what Pete Davidson did with him, you know, it was a level of funny, a level of trauma… and he’s just a really cool car.”

Rise of the Beasts: Pete Davidson as Mirage

Working with Anthony Ramos and Dominique Fishback on set, and with Davidson and others in the booth, it’s hard not to wonder about the clashes that arise in coordinating the different types of performances to create a singular big-screen spectacle. But for Caple Jr., providing flexibility for the actors was a key factor.

“Sometimes, when you’re with an actor, and they’re voicing a robot in this particular case, you want to make sure that there’s enough room for them to do their own thing,” he explained. “So in the edit, I tried to leave it as loose as possible, just in case. You know, Pete Davidson, who liked to improv, who liked to top his jokes, can maneuver a bit. It was tough because we cast him a little later, so I had to go back and change some of the facial reactions because of what he was able to deliver.”

Of course, it’s not just Davidson behind the mic. Peter Dinklage and Michelle Yeoh are also lending their voices to the new movie. And with each performer, a different technique was required.

Rise of the Beasts: Anthony Ramos as Noah

“Someone like Michelle Yeoh, you try to give a little bit more air and space to because when she brings it on a dramatic level, she really pulls you in. So she would talk a little slower, and if on set I did it really fast and Noah quickly said his line afterward, I would have to extend the cut out,” Caple Jr. added. “Peter Cullen, who plays Optimus Prime — he talks really slow when he gets into his big deep Optimus Prime [voice]. It takes him a while to deliver a line. And we’re trying to figure out ways to slow it down so we could have some room to play.”

Rise of the Beasts takes place in the ‘90s, with the first half of the movie taking place in New York, and the second half seeing the Transformers cast and characters travel to Peru. The two settings couldn’t be more different, and when we asked Caple Jr. which one he enjoyed shooting the most, he was torn.

“That’s a great question. The beginning feels like, naturally, more of my wheelhouse that I’m usually in, in terms of the grit and the layers of New York City,” he said. “It was tough to shoot in Peru, but man, it was beautiful. That experience of going to Machu Picchu, and Cusco in the jungles, and Tarapoto, and capturing it on a big screen? It probably takes the cake, shooting there.”

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Big space robots in the jungle? A cool idea, but one that poses a challenge when trying to achieve on a practical level.

“It’s tough to shoot for sure, when they’re as tall as the trees and you’re trying to find locations,” he admitted. “You’re like, ‘How can I fit eight robots in one section?’ That was really tough, but the fact that Machu Picchu has never been on a big screen before and we’re able to showcase that and have people experience it in theaters — that means a lot.”

Transformers: Rise of the Beasts is in theaters now.

Check out what we thought of the movie in our Rise of the Beasts review, or find out everything you need to know with our guides on G.I. Joe, Scourge, and the Rise of the Beasts ending explained.

Or, to see what else is out there, take a look at our lists of the best movies of all time and best science fiction movies you should watch.