Interview with Don Jeanes, "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" actor

Don Jeanes
photo credit Michael Rozman
Don Jeanes is an up-and-coming actor who has been in quite a few sci-fi pictures so far, including Transformers: Dark of the Moon, in which he plays Neil Armstrong. I recently got to talk with him via phone for The NYLA Report about his role in the movie and his upcoming films.

Liz Parker: So how did you hear about the Neil Armstrong part in Transformers 3 - were you asked to audition?

Don Jeanes: Yeah - it was kind of classic Hollywood at work! There was a call for Neil Armstrong look-alikes and my cool agent sent in a copy of my headshot and resume and I got called in. What was a little funny was that I didn't really know it was for Transformers - they were kind-of secretive about the whole audition process. What first tipped me off was when I got to the audition and I got the sides and it said "man falls away from a giant robotic space," and I was like "Hmm, this might be something bigger than a commercial!" I read once to the casting director and she said "That's great, but Mike likes it a little bit faster that that" and I was thinking "Uh, I don't know who Mike is," but I said "Thank you for your direction." I read it again and she said "Perfect."

I actually thought that I didn't get it, because normally they call you back within one or two weeks, and I didn't get a call until three weeks later, that I got the role, which naturally I was ecstatic about. But no call back, which was kind of crazy too."

So generally it's like one to two weeks before they call you?

Yes, generally you'll know - if a week goes by and you don't get a call, as an actor, you're just like "Eh. I didn't get it. Moving on" - you know? And after three weeks, you're definitely "It's over," but it ended up taking them about three weeks.

Had you seen any of the Transformers movies before auditioning?

I'm a huge Transformers fan. I loved the cartoon when I was little and I went to see both one and two in the theater. I know a lot of people didn't like the second one, but I remember sitting there and thinking "My God, if I could ever be a part of such an amazing movie, that would be the greatest thing." And now here I am!

Did you know you were auditioning for Neil Armstrong? Or did you think it was just a role in your age group, or what?

Oh, I knew I was auditioning for Neil Armstrong, just not Transformers. They were looking for Neil Armstrong look-alikes, so I parted my hair and went on in.

Okay. Did you do any research on him, maybe look him up on the internet beforehand?

Yes, I did, I looked up some things, and there's not many pictures of him - there's one of the three guys sitting there with their helmets and then a few interviews, but those were later on in life. And then before the role, when I knew I had gotten the role and the shock had worn off, I started doing a lot of research - I locked myself in the apartment here for three or four days and watched all the moon footage I could get my hands on. I remember thinking to myself at one point, "This is my job. I watch footage on the internet as part of my job." I went to the L.A. Space Museum too.

What's crazy is that the metal is pretty thin around the orbiter and they sit very close together, it's like sitting in a movie theater seat all the way to the moon. And then I started doing a lot of physical training - running, etcetera - because we didn't get to see the suits until about two weeks before we went to set and they're about 50 pounds each and they don't breathe at all, it's like being in a sauna. They're modeled directly after the real spacesuits, actually.

I know you're from Texas originally, so how did you get to L.A.?

Via New York, actually. I started acting when I was very young, in Texas, and then I was looking for an easy credit in high school, so I stayed in it. I had some great teachers who really encouraged me, and I started doing some one-act play competitions in high school, and then I got a theater scholarship to a local community college because of that. I did go on to take a hiatus to get a business degree, and I did about a year of sales after college. In 2004 I moved to New York and started doing a lot of off-off-Broadway stuff - so far off it was almost in New Jersey!

So you came here via New York then.

Yeah. I was in New York for almost two years exactly and I loved the city - being a country boy it was amazing to see so many people when you first come to Times Square - but it just got a little claustrophobic. So in 2006 I told my then-roommate, "Dude, let's move to Los Angeles," and we packed up everything we owned and made the trip.

How did you like working with Michael Bay, and did you get to interact with Shia [LaBeouf] or Rosie [Huntington-Whitely] or any of those people?

Unfortunately, I didn't get to act with them - we were pretty much isolated "on the moon." All my scenes with Michael Bay ... he's just a straightforward guy, we were in a time-crunch when we were on set and he moves constantly and he just seemed like a guy who needed to get things done in a certain amount of time.

I had a pretty cool first interaction with [Bay] - on the set for the first day, for principal photography for the entire film, I showed up in my astronaut suit, and we hear a guy saying "Bring me an astronaut over here!" and it was Michael Bay. They were taking shots of the small handheld cameras that you see in the trailer, and they were taking close-ups of that and they needed a hand of an astronaut to adjust the dome of the camera. The cinematographer was having a hard time getting the shot right and Michael started razzing him a bit and the cinematographer started razzing him back and then they started to laugh and I started to laugh. I felt a lot more at ease around him after that.

So was that one of your favorite parts of filming, or did you have other favorite parts?

The entire filming was awesome but there was one time when Cory Tucker (who plays Buzz Aldrin) and I were sitting, just chillin', and this old guy comes up to us out of the blue and starts talking to us. All of a sudden, somebody standing there said "Do you know who this guy is?" and I said "Uh ..." and he said "This is John Frazier, he won the Oscar for special effects for Spiderman 2." [Frazier] said to us "I want to show you guys a picture," and he walked off, and I thought I would never see him again, but he came back with his iPhone and a picture of his Oscar in one hand and a garbage can in the other, and he said "This is the night I won the Oscar - life goes on." He was really cool.

So I see on IMDB that you're going to be in a new movie called The Ascension. Can you talk a bit about that?

Sure. The Ascension I would categorize as a sci-fi horror slasher film. It starts with an archaeologist finding these ancient artifacts on a desert island and he brings them back to the States and does a ritual with them, which opens a portal to the other world, releasing what we'll call right now the Dark Lord. All of a sudden, mysteriously, these suicides happen, and I am the boyfriend of one of these unfortunate suicide victims - my name is Johnny Burns in the film. I team up with Carl Kolchinski, who is played by Corbin Bernsen, and we fight the Dark Lord to keep him from dominating Earth.

So what is the Dark Lord, is it like an alien?

More of a supernatural being.

Okay. I immediately thought Harry Potter when I heard that. [laughs]

I never thought about that. But it's going to be nice and heavy with CGI and blood.

Do you have any other projects you're working on?

Yes, actually I'm viewable right now in the web series "Alpha Planet," which has held the number 1 spot on and It's a post-apocalyptic web series that's set 250 years in the future on Earth, after the nuclear holocaust has happened. Humanity was forced to board a giant spaceship called The Ark and was in space for over 200 years. After no other life-sustaining planet was found, we came back to Earth on an expedition, but the first expedition was lost, so now another crew is going to find the lost expedition. I play Luke Brody, who's a weapons expert and I'm basically in charge of the four-man crew. Things start to get very interesting when we touch back down on Earth.

So what has been your favorite thing to work on so far? Has that been your favorite, or Transformers?

Oh, it's gotta be Transformers. It's an epic role in an epic movie and I'm so honored and feel so lucky to be a part of it ... not that those other roles weren't significant in my career, but I think this has been the biggest one.

Are they going to make a Transformers 4? Have you heard anything about that?

I could not speak to that. I don't know.

So what were some of your favorite movies when you were growing up?

My Girl, with Macauley Culkin. I loved that movie, I was depressed for like three weeks after I watched it. I used to love "The Lone Ranger," the TV show ... "The Lonesome Dove," which was a great show. I also liked Big, with Tom Hanks.

I saw you were also in an episode of "CSI: New York." Do you like doing movies more, or TV shows?

I like them both but I do gravitate towards movies. I love to film a project and dig deep into a character and then move on to another character. I'm a vagabond in that way.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon is currently playing in theaters. Check out the trailer here, and make sure to watch Jeanes in The Ascension, coming to theaters soon, and in the web series "Alpha Planet."

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