Ambulance: Michael Bay used the real California Highway Patrol

The lure of starring in a Michael Bay action movie is a powerful thing. Not just for established Hollywood stars, but also for public servants. Talk with Empire (the magazine’s latest issue is now on sale) on his latest high-octane thriller — Ambulance – the filmmaker known for creating explosive blockbusters recalled how he was able to recruit real California Highway Patrol officers on the first day of principal photography.

“I see five highway patrols [cars] roll, and they all know who I am,” he said. “They’re like, ‘We love your movies, sir, let’s take some pictures. I’m like, ‘Yeah, we were just supposed to shoot some inserts of the ambulance rolling down the freeway. I’d love to put you in the movie. They’re going, ‘Really?’ [I say] ‘Yeah. When you’re in a chase, how do you do it? [They reply] “Well, we’ll play with him, we’ll move, we’ll change lanes.” I go, ‘Really? Impressive. So I’ll give you each a microphone and a walkie-talkie.'”

It turned out to be a stroke of genius on Bay’s part. As well as securing a chance to work with experienced veterans of real-world highway chases, he was also able to close the road for free via a maneuver known as “rolling block” in which “a car begins to sweep the whole freeway and the real cars stop and the freeway stops,” the director explained. “We’re racing 90 miles an hour on a live freeway. My assistant cameraman, the focus shooter, says, “This is awesome, this looks so real. This has been real. That’s how you get free production value.”

Based on the 2005 Danish film of the same name, Ambulance stars Jake Gyllenhaal (Spider-Man: Far From Home) and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (watchmen) as two bank robbers who are forced to hijack a medical vehicle after a heist goes horribly wrong. As if being on the run wasn’t enough, the duo must also deal with an injured police officer and the paramedic (Godzilla vs. Kong‘s Eiza González) trying to save his life in the back of the van. The film is now streaming on Peacock.

After years of mentoring the multi-billionaire Transformers franchise along, Bay returned to its ’90s roots with a larger-than-life action movie grounded in stakes and relatable characters. “I think we fantasize about crime,” he added. That’s why crime is so interesting to watch in movies and on TV. We think, ‘What would it be like to get away with this? How would that be? Oh, I’d be smarter. How did you screw that one up? You know, I think we all plan crimes. ‘Are they still robbing banks? How do they get around all the Plexiglas? I love a good heist movie. I tried to keep it grounded and intense.”

Ambulance takes this whimsical reverie and projects it onto the big screen, showing us just how messy it would be in practice. “I’m used to shooting these big blockbusters where there’s a zinger at the end of the scene,” Bay said. “It doesn’t have that because it’s real. What I love is when you start putting the scenes together and putting [composer Lorne Balfe’s] clues on it, all of a sudden the tension begins to mount. And that’s what’s really cool. I trusted this movie. He doesn’t need to have a zinger. It just has to build slowly sometimes.”

The film was produced by Bay, William Sherak (Scream), Bradley J. Fischer (shutter island), James Vanderbilt (Murder Mystery), and Ian Bryce (the Transformers franchise). Michel Kasé (Songbird) and Marc Moran (Pet sematary) are executive producers. Chris Fedac (Mandrel) wrote the screenplay.

Ambulance is now available to stream on Peacock.

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