He is, with his stable of flashy sports cars, boorish behavior, and penchant for objectifying women, an ’80s teen movie villain at middle age, and this week, Hollywood filmmaker Michael Bay has found himself under intense scrutiny for the way he treated his star Kate Beckinsale during the making of his disasterpiece Pearl Harbor—which inspired a far better South Park parody song.
According to Beckinsale, “I don’t think I fit the type of actress Michael Bay had met before. I think he was baffled by me because my boobs weren’t bigger than my head and I wasn’t blond.” She went on to describe how, even though she’d just lost weight after giving birth to her daughter, she was told by Bay “that if I got the part, I’d have to work out… I just didn’t understand why a 1940s nurse would do that.”If that weren’t enough, while they were promoting the film, she said that Bay would constantly talk up the machismo of his male stars, Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett, while describing Beckinsale, one of the most stunning actresses in Hollywood, as follows: “Kate wasn’t so attractive that she would alienate the female audience.”Indeed, in a 2001 interview with Movieline, Bay said of Beckinsale: “I didn’t want someone who was too beautiful. Women feel disturbed when they see someone’s too pretty. I’m not saying Kate’s not pretty. When you look at Titanic, Kate Winslet is pretty, but not overwhelmingly beautiful. That makes it work better for women.”Michael Bay, 51, is the Donald Trump of Hollywood filmmakers. He is brash, boisterous, and views all women through the eyes of a testosterone-laden 13-year-old kid ogling his first Victoria’s Secret catalog (RIP). And like “The Trump Rule”—whereby Miss USA Pageant entrants were forced to flaunt their wares in front of Trump, who weeded out the ones he deemed less beautiful (a practice which allegedly reduced many women to tears)—Bay’s casting process is problematic, to say the least.
Back in 2009, The Observer’s Jason Solomons wrote about how Megan Fox got her role as midriff-baring Mikaela Banes in the first two Transformers films: “She told me she went to director Michael Bay’s house to audition and he made her wash his Ferrari while he filmed her. She said she didn’t know what had happened to the footage. When I put it to Bay himself, he looked suitably abashed. ‘Er, I don’t know where it is either.’”
Fox’s first role in a Bay film, however, came as an extra in Bad Boys II. She was 15 at the time, and if you thought the Ferrari-washing story was disturbing, well, think again.
“The first time I ever met him, I was 15 and I was an extra on Bad Boys II,” Fox told Jimmy Kimmel. “We were shooting this club scene, and they brought me in, and I was wearing a stars and stripes bikini and a red cowboy hat, and six-inch heels. And they took me to Mike and he approved it. And they said, ‘You know, Michael, she’s 15, so you can’t sit her at the bar and she can’t have a drink in her hand.’ So his solution to that problem was to then have me dancing underneath a waterfall getting soaking wet. And that’s… At 15. I was in 10th grade. So that’s sort of a microcosm of how Bay’s mind works.”
She was, according to Paramount at the time, fired from the Transformers franchise after the second installment—and following an interview in 2009 with Wonderland Magazine where Fox famously said of Bay, “He’s like Napoleon and he wants to create this insane, infamous mad-man reputation. He wants to be like Hitler on his sets, and he is. So he’s a nightmare to work for but when you get him away from set, and he’s not in director mode, I kind of really enjoy his personality because he’s so awkward, so hopelessly awkward. He has no social skills at all. And it’s endearing to watch him.”
But Fox’s camp spun a different tale, saying that the actress had “left the project on her own,” and The Wrap later reported that she left because Bay was “verbally abusive” towards her and “she had enough and decided to get out early.” Quoting anonymous sources, the industry blog also claimed that Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen star Isabel Lucas “chose not to join her co-stars on a publicity tour for the film because she didn’t get along with the director, who was described as being ‘too powerful’ and ‘not well-liked’ by the female talent community.”
Fox’s co-star Shia LaBeouf weighed in on the departure in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, saying, “Megan developed this Spice Girl strength, this woman-empowerment [stuff] that made her feel awkward about her involvement with Michael, who some people think is a very lascivious filmmaker, the way he films women.
“Mike films women in a way that appeals to a 16-year-old sexuality. It’s summer. It’s Michael’s style. And I think [Fox] never got comfortable with it,” he continued. “This is a girl who was taken from complete obscurity and placed in a sex-driven role in front of the whole world and told she was the sexiest woman in America. And she had a hard time accepting it. When Mike would ask her to do specific things, there was no time for fluffy talk. We’re on the run. And the one thing Mike lacks is tact. There’s no time for [LaBeouf assumes a gentle voice] ‘I would like you to just arch your back 70 degrees.’”
For Fox’s replacement, Bay cast Victoria’s Secret model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, who LaBeouf said was far more compliant, given her modeling background (Bay has shot several Victoria’s Secret commercials over the years). Her character is introduced in Transformers: Dark of the Moon with a 23-second shot of her legs before we even see her face:
Bay certainly has a type. His onscreen leading ladies are usually dressed all in white and vacillate between damsel-in-distress and vapid eye candy. They are also Trump-level tan, since Bay prefers his women to possess an orange glow. “I had been tanning a lot so that Michael would be happy with my skin tone,” Fox told Allure. “Every spare moment of sun that was outside, I had to be in it. It’s not going to happen again because of the damage and the possible skin cancer.”
Not that it’s the least bit surprising, but the first feature-length film Bay directed was the 1990 erotic documentary Playboy Video Centerfold: Kerri Kendall. The movie, starring Playboy centerfold Kendall, is billed as “one woman’s erotic, imaginative adventure.” Coincidentally—or not—Bay’s production company Bay Films shares a wall with Playboy production studios, and the director has been known to frequent the Playboy Mansion. A 2001 Esquire profile of Bay also revealed that, “[Hugh] Hefner himself was kind enough to send several delicious Playmates to a recent Michael Bay birthday bash.”
In that same Esquire piece, Bay casually parked his silver Ferrari into a handicapped spot. He lives in Miami, the fake tits capital of the world, on a street bearing his own name: North Bay Road. He’s been known to wear neon Nike sneakers that say “Bayhem” on the tongues, and recently boasted that his net worth is about “half a ‘B’”—the ‘B’ standing for Billion.
Sean Connery once allegedly called him a “fuckhead,” and he’s often described as a “douche” by angry geeks, but the unabashedly commercial Bay is also capable of excellence. The Rock, his pulsing summer action film, featured rousing set pieces, stylish shots, a booming Hans Zimmer score, and droll repartee between stars Nicolas Cage and Sean Connery (it remains a personal favorite); Bad Boys made Will Smith and Martin Lawrence big-time Hollywood names; Pain & Gun is pulpy fun; and the sappy Armageddon is and always will be a guilty pleasure for many. But all of Bay’s best films center on a prolonged dick-measuring contest between two (or more) men, while the women are mere ornaments.
“All the things I’ve done since my student films have always dealt with a male-male relationship and the quirkiness and the clash in that relationship,” Bay told The New York Times in 1996. “To me, in an action movie, the story is always the making of a hero, usually a wise old man teaching a young boy how to become a hero.”
Someone needs to tell Mr. Bay that there are plenty of female heroes, too.