Michael Bay on the Real Sun Gym Gang: "I Hope They Never See Pain & Gain"
Michael Bay reclines on a white lounge chair on a 14th-floor balcony at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel on Brickell Key. To the east, a sheet of piercing rain swallows Key Biscayne, thunder cracks overhead, and a lightning bolt shoots above the choppy waves. The sudden monsoon provides the perfect backdrop for the 48-year-old blockbuster director to talk about Pain & Gain, his dark passion project.
Michael Bay on the set of Pain & Gain last year.
Based on a three-part Miami New Times cover story of the same name, Bay's adaptation retells the true story of the Sun Gym Gang, an ambitious, sadistic group of bodybuilders who used torture, extortion, and murder to get rich during a gruesome criminal run between 1994 and '95. The tale has all the elements of an only-in-Dade caper: muscles, steroids, erectile dysfunction, exotic dancers, luxury cars, offshore bank accounts, ambivalent cops, copious narcotics, and dismembered bodies dumped in the Everglades. Carl Hiaasen and Dave Barry couldn't make this stuff up.
For Bay, who lives part-time in a $17 million Miami Beach mansion, the story afforded the perfect chance to break away from CGI-fueled action via his favorite star: the city of Miami.
Two weeks before the movie's national release (this Friday, April 26), Bay sat down with New Times for a Q&A interview.
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Cultist: When did you first read the story by Pete Collins?
Michael Bay: I read it about 12 years ago. Instantly I was drawn to this cast of characters; there's people looking for the American dream in all the wrong ways and I just had this interesting style I wanted to do with this movie. I just saw it my head right away. I gave it to some young writers. They had a really good voice with the script. A lot of good actors wanted to do it along the way. I called Pete Collins, told him, "yeah, we're gonna do it." That guy hung on there for years. Almost thought I was bullshitting. It came a point after Transformers 3, I just told the studio, "you know what I am going to do this with 25 million bucks. It's fun. It's fast.
From the trailer, it doesn't look like you're really going to get dark with it. Yet you do.
You suggest more than you really see, you know what I am saying? It could have been a lot darker. The studio was scared of it. It's a really interesting movie. You are with the victims a little bit. But it is really through the criminals' minds. You talk to criminals and they all think they are doing something morally right or they think they are better than everybody else. They have a twisted sense of right and wrong.
So what happened right after you read Pete's story?
Right away I called the agent who sent it to me because I wanted a small quirky movie. I said I know what to do with this thing. I gave it to Sherry Lansing, who at the time ran Paramount Studios. She really liked the article. She saw the twisted tale. People say, "Do you feel bad you are making fun of a crime?" Well, when you read the articles, it was so absurd that it was inherently funny. Who uses a chainsaw and returns it with hair in it when it doesn't work to Home Depot? I didn't make that shit up. There were a lot of other great parts to the story I couldn't include.
Was that part of the reason it took so long to make? You don't really have a sympathetic character.
Well, that's true. It is a bizarre perspective. You go through the cop's perspective. You go through one of the victims'. It is not your normal movie. I think people weirdly appreciate it. The thing I get from a lot of the audiences who have seen it is that it is really a different movie.
What was your experience shooting your first movie, Bad Boys, which was filmed here in Miami?
Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, and I were kids on the street on Alton Road. We were so innocent. I was 27. I remember [during one shoot] Will was jumping over a car, his shirt was open, he had a gun in his hand, and I was watching the take. I told Will: "Dude, you gotta see this; you look like a movie star." This was his first movie. He saw the playback and he was like, "Damn, I do look like a movie star." So I always had a fondness for Miami.
What is it about Miami that you like to draw out as a character?
Well, it is a character. It is this weirdly beautiful, textured, culturally diverse place, but there is some seediness to it, you know? This movie is Miami's underbelly.