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Behind the Scenes of TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES:
Cowabunga! They’re Teenagers, They’re Six-Foot Tall
Mutant Turtles, and. . . They’re Ninjas!!!
By Tom Snyder, Editor
The new reboot of TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES is perhaps the most delightful surprise of the year so far. The movie is great summer fun, with lots of humor, exciting action and heartfelt, morally uplifting moments.
MOVIEGUIDE® recently attended a press conference with two of the movie’s stars (Megan Fox and Will Arnett), the director, and its three screenwriters.
Question: Megan, were you a fan of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and what does it mean to you to bring it back to audiences?
Megan Fox: I was a big fan, as a kid. I had an older sister that was really into the movies, so I got into it because of her. I also watched the cartoon. I’m not going to claim that I read the comics because I didn’t.
Question: Did you have any turtles or pets, as a kid?
Megan Fox: I didn’t have turtles because you have to keep them in cages, and I was always really against that when I was little. I had a a stray cat, and I named her Candy. I thought she was magic. I love cats and dogs. I’ve had ferrets, pigs, birds and all kinds of things. I’m an animal person.
Question: Megan, you got to kick some butt in this movie. Did you have to go through any fight training?
Megan Fox: We did initially start out doing some kickboxing and kickboxing training, and they would teach me on site. We had an incredible stunt team, so they would teach us, as we went along. I was pregnant, so I couldn’t do all of the stunts while I was filming. What I couldn’t do, we had an amazing stunt girl that would do the serious stuff for me, but I did what I could. . . .
Question: Megan, your character in this movie is a journalist, and you’ve had some experience dealing with journalists, in your career. How did that change your perspective?
Megan Fox: I’m not trying to tell you guys that you’re becoming obsolete, but everyone with an iPhone is a journalist in their own way now, especially because we live in a tabloid culture. When you watch CNN, and they’re giving you news based on tweets that people are sending out, you realize that society is really changing. The collective public have a really big voice now that they didn’t previously have, and they’re influencing the trajectory of how we are socially with one another.
Question to Megan Fox: How do you know how much to give away, and how much to keep to yourself, when it comes to the media?
Megan Fox: I clearly haven’t learned that lesson. I’m probably the worst person to ask. I like to be open and honest. I hate being disingenuous. But, I’ve also learned that, because of what [journalists] do, so much of what I say gets sensationalized. You have to report on scandal because that’s what people are hungry to read. So, even when I’m trying to be straightforward and honest and my comments are innocent, inevitably they get turned into something salacious.
Question to Megan Fox: You’ve acted opposite Transformers and Turtles. What’s it like to act opposite non-traditional characters?
Megan Fox: When we were doing Transformers, Shia [LaBeouf] and I were just screaming things at the sky. We had no references, at all, at that point, because how can you when you’re dealing with 30-foot robots? But with this one, we had four actors that were really, in what I consider a stroke of genius, cast by Jonathan [Liebesman] because they were perfect for their roles and really embodied them. Because they were so good, they helped make me a lot better. So, whenever you have the opportunity to work with real people, that’s always helpful.
Question: Jonathan, what makes the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles still popular, after more than 30 years?
Director Jonathan Liebesman: I was a fan of it in South Africa watching the cartoons and the movies. For me what was so cool were the personalities of the turtles, the fact that they were created as these absurd teenage mutant ninja turtles, but were so relatable. I remember when I met Kevin Eastman [one of the original creators of the characters], he was camped out at Brad and Andrew’s offices [the producers, Brad and Andrew]. He told me they were created as sort of a parody on superheroes. The fact that they were so absurd makes you sort of interested, but the fact that they’re so relatable keeps you interested.
Question: Jonathan, with respect to the special effects and the CGI, and what could be done 20 years ago versus today, what other elements figure into the development [of the franchise]?
Director Jonathan Liebesman: It’s not only the special effects. Because [Michael] Bay [of the successful TRANSFORMERS movies] was involved, it allowed us to have an amount of money to create a scope and have special effects that we had seen successfully done in movies like PLANET OF THE APES and allowed us to keep that bar raised. I think the real challenge of the movie is something that I would have to give credit not to myself but to people like the writers, because they didn’t allow the technology of get in the way of the characters’ charm, which is what made me a fan in the first place. There’s a huge group of people that keeps me from helping me and the producers from keeping the technology from getting in the way of the charm. So, no matter how advanced filmmaking gets, I think the movies people enjoy the most are the ones that are able to restrain and keep the story in the forefront. I had a team. . . helping me do that.
Question: How did you determine the line of what was too dark versus what was too light?
Director Jonathan Liebesman: This is where a guy like Bay is super helpful. Because he reacts to things very instinctively. We could show him something and he would say, “Oh, that’s too creepy” or “That’s too light; that’s not enough.” He was always the gauge. I’d get a bunch of designs and bring them back to Mike and we would gather. I remember a particular trip to Miami with the writers. . . but, basically, he helped guide us to where we were. What I love about the designs we have is what was important to Mike is that all the turtles were all distinct, which is unlike the cartoons or the previous movies. From his experience with TRANSFORMERS, he wanted [people] to be able to tell the different characters. We made it our mission to try to give each [character] physicalities that would dramatize in a physical way their personalities. Essentially, Bay helped keep us on that narrow pathway between what’s too dark, and what’s too light.
Question: [To the Writers, Producer, Director] What did you think about taking the turtles to the 21st Century? What were your thoughts?
Writer Andrew Nemec: Part of it was just what do kids have today? You know, they’re teenagers who have found their materials as part of the refuse in the sewers. So, for us, it was really just looking around and looking at kids today and being like, what do they have? Giving those objects and hoping to create a space that sort of replicated what a teenager’s bedroom looks like.
Writer Josh Applebaum: Knowing however much we were updating them, and however much new technology they were using, however much their look was being updated, as long as the core of the brothers stayed, as long as they were having each other’s backs, their personalities remained intact, it would always be honoring the franchise and who these characters are.
Question: Megan, you’ve said that you had a crush on Michelangelo, growing up. What was it like to actually get to have scenes with him?
Megan Fox: During shooting, we played around with that. There was a Raphael/April connection, and then it turned into a Michelangelo thing. That’s totally up his alley. That’s who he is. Mikey’s always been girl crazy. That’s his personality. I’m happy that it turned out that way. Also, Noel [Fisher], the kid who plays him, is a really talented actor. He steals the movie. In my opinion, it’s Mikey’s movie.
Question: Jonathan, you cast the gorgeous and talented Megan Fox, but her character, April O’Neill, wasn’t overtly sexualized in this movie. Was that intentional, and, if so, what was the intention?.
Director Jonathan Liebesman: For me, it was [the intention], because Megan’s obviously incredibly sexy and I don’t think you need to. It was important not to make a huge point out of trying to hide anything. But, I don’t think that’s, for me, what Megan’s about. When I met Megan and got to know her, what comes across to me is someone who’s much smarter than people give her credit for and who knows that there’s literally more to her than meets the eye. That’s something I really wanted to put into April O’Neill. I wasn’t very interested in sexualizing her. They’re there to see the Ninja Turtles, and April’s our window in. I wasn’t interested in sexualizing April O’Neill, and I think she’s [Megan’s] sexy as is.
Question: With all the action hero movies this summer, do you think people were craving for more goofier heroes?
Director Jonathan Liebes: That’s a very timely question for this weekend. Because GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, which is that exact thing, is gonna do great and I think we’ll do great next week. There’s a definite place for serious superhero movies. I love Batman movies, and, more in the middle, you have Iron Man movies, but I do think when you have something like TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES, it is a parody. It’s just supposed to be fun. That’s what Ninja Turtles are. It has no pretense to be anything else. And, that’s the charm of Ninja Turtles.
Question: This question is for Will. So, what’s your favorite Ninja Turtle memory?
Will Arnett: I have a few, at different stages in my life. I had a younger brother who was really into the Turtles, years ago. And then, right before I met [for this film], my young sons organically started really getting into the Turtles. I sensed that there was something going on. They were talking about the Turtles, and I realized they were watching on Nickelodeon the new animated Turtles show. And then, I started seeing their friends wear Turtles t-shirts to school. It was pretty remarkable to see an entire new generation respond organically, and not pushed into it, entirely discover them on their own and fall in love with those characters, in the same way. I thought that was pretty remarkable. So, by the time I did meet [on the film], I was really familiar with the whole mythology.
Question to Will Arnett: What was it like to do your first big action movie? How did you enjoy that experience?
Will Arnett: I really enjoyed it. On every level, it was certainly a departure for me, and I learned a lot from Megan, in the process of making this movie. Because Megan has done these big blockbuster movies, there’s almost a certain, a different language that you speak in these kinds of movies. I remember being on set and watching one of the monitors with Andrew Form, and seeing Megan in the shot and the camera kind of moved in on Megan and I remember looking at him. When you see Megan in certain frames and there’s a lot going on and a lot of action, she kind of makes you think of big summertime action blockbuster movies. There’s a lot going on, and everything’s kind of breathless.
Question: This is for the writers. Could you talk about writing the script and if there’s any specific inspiration or iteration of the Turtles that inspired you guys or laid the groundwork for what you guys were doing?
Writer Evan Daugherty: I was 6-years-old when the animated series came out, so I kind of missed the graphic novel. So, for me the animated series and the first few action films, that’s what the Ninja Turtles are to me. But I tried to infuse a little bit of that energy in the work I did on it.
Writer Josh Applebaum: The original graphic novel. . . . It was that, and the first movie in ’91, those were my touchstones.
Writer André Nemec: And, I think the inspiration, the fact that it’s a story about brothers, it’s a story about family, at the end of the day. That was sort of a driving principle, and something we wanted to live by.
Question: That’s similar to what I wanted to know, about the character of Shredder. Were you inspired by a particular iteration of that character? Or did you want to do a brand new Shredder?
Writer André Nemec: The idea was to do a brand new Shredder. We knew we were going to use Shredder as the bad guy. Then, Jon, to his credit, developed Shredder out, to be this awesome version that we had never seen before.
Writer André Nemec: There are actually a lot of different origin stories of Splinter [the turtles’ mentor], Shredder and where the turtles came from. We decided it was up to us to tell a new origin story.
Question: Megan, were you attracted to this role because April is a strong female that isn’t overly sexualized?
Megan Fox: First of all, I don’t mind doing that stuff. That’s been a part of being an actress in Hollywood since the beginning. I don’t feel ashamed or like I can’t be taken seriously while also wearing a tank top. And if you don’t take me seriously when I’m wearing a tank top, that’s your problem, not mine. But I was attracted to this because I was a fan, as a kid. I really wanted to do this, and I got the opportunity to go in and have a meeting. It was Valentine’s Day. I went in, and the three of us were in there for five hours at Paramount, for my first meeting. Brian was texting me, “It’s Valentine’s Day. Where are you?!” And then, I got home and sent everyone emails saying, “You know what? It’s okay if you don’t cast me. I understand. I just want you to know that I’m going to be in the audience regardless.” I really campaigned to get this, because I was a fan. I was afraid, at the same time, because you don’t want to ruin something that you’ve loved and be a part of its downfall. I was terrified of letting people down, but I had to do it because it was iconic to me, as a kid. I just feel lucky to have gotten the opportunity.