Don Jeanes is a true Hollywood rising star, as he is set to star in three Science-Fiction projects including the highly-anticipated TRANSFORMERS: Dark of the Moon, the hit web series Alpha Planet and the upcoming SyFy Channel film The Ascension. Whether it’s the silver screen, small screen or computer screen, Jeanes will be hard to miss this summer.
How did you become involved with Alpha Planet and The Ascension and what can you tell us about the films and your characters?
Alpha Planet was conceptualized by a good friend of mine named Michael Darling, whom I’ve known for many years, and his girlfriend Arron Fenton. Alpha Planet is a post-apocalyptic sci-fi web series that takes place 250 years in the future. The nuclear holocaust has happened and all of humanity was forced to board a super spaceship and drift in space while looking for another planet that could sustain life. After no other planet was found, expeditions were sent back to Earth to see if it could sustain life once again. This is where our story picks up and the plot thickens. Mike and Arron are a great writing team and the romantic sub-stories within the script really give both the male and female perspectives.
The Ascension is a story about an archeologist who finds ancient artifacts and while performing a ritual, the main character unknowingly opens up a portal to another world releasing “The Dark Lord.” Several mysterious suicides take place in a small town unnoticed by most except for Carl Kolchinski, played by Corbin Bernsen. My character, Johnny Burns, is the boyfriend of one of the unfortunate suicide victims who ends up helping Carl and the loved ones of the other victims fight “The Dark Lord.”
Who do you play in the new Transformers film and what can you tell us about your experiences on the film? What were the first thoughts that ran through your mind when you got the script?
I play Neil Armstrong in Transformers: Dark of the Moon and it was an amazing experience. Actually, I never got a script — I was given sides to audition with, but they were just a vague outline of the actual script. Director Michael Bay did not tell me this, but apparently he’s had many attempts to hack his computer and steal the script so he is, justifiably, very guarded with regards to the script. Cory Tucker, who plays Buzz Aldrin, in the film, and I were shown a page of script while Michael held it in his hands on set. I can say that when my agent called me to tell me I booked the role, I was here in my apartment and fell down yelling for joy on the floor!
How did you handle working with special effects as it can be challenging for some?
I’m a method actor so I rely heavily on substitutions from my own life. I find the scariest or most intense situation that I’ve ever been in and try to relive it with my scene objective layered on top of that. A great imagination helps of course and I feel it’s important to understand what the director’s vision of the scene is.
Was the film shot in 3D? What was working with Michael Bay like?
Yes, while I was on set the film was being shot in 3D. I had a great experience working with Michael Bay. That might be partly because my first interaction with him was kind of funny. I began work on the first day of shooting for the film, so everyone seemed really fresh and eager. I was escorted to set and almost immediately I heard a guy yelling “I need an astronaut’s glove over here, get me an astronaut.” Well that guy was Michael Bay. So I nervously ran over and meekly said, “Uh, yeah?” and Michael told me to start fidgeting with the camera that was attached to our space suits so they could get some close ups of it. I was impressed that Michael is hands-on in every scene, right there communicating with the actors and everyone else directly.
What sort of research did you do for the parts and what challenges did each present?
In Alpha Planet I play Luke Brodie who is a veteran soldier so I felt like I needed to get inside the mind of a modern day warrior. To do so, I read the books “War” by Sebastian Junger and “Black Hearts” by Jim Fredrick. Both have detailed descriptions of the everyday life, trials and tribulations of Army Airborne divisions in Iraq and Afghanistan. These accounts helped me to envision how Luke’s past affects his present and how he relates to others, especially those he sees as non-combat soldiers.
For Johnny Burns, my role in Ascension, it was hard to do research since there isn’t much back-story for him in the movie. I mainly used my own experiences with death and fear to drive this character.
For the role of Neil Armstrong, I did a ton of research and preparation for the role. It took a few days, but I watched every bit of Apollo 11 footage I could get my hands on and some of the other moon landings. One hurdle to overcome was that there are a lot of conspiracy theories regarding the moon landing and I knew I couldn’t have even the smallest doubt that it actually happened when I was on set. I finally came across a series of Myth Buster videos that disproved all of the conspiracy theories and put my mind at ease. I also visited the space museum in Los Angeles to get as close to the actual vessels as possible and it is amazing how small and cramped the orbiters were. We were fitted for our space suits many weeks prior to being on set and after I tried on the 50 lb space suit I started hitting the gym hard doing heavy squats and dead lifts to make the suit feel as light as possible. I also spent a lot of time in the sauna to get used to the heat from the non-ventilated suit under the hot lights of set. The sweat you see on our faces in the film is very real. I also did a lot of running in water to observe the different ways the body moves while weightless.
What were some of the great moments from filming the three parts and what would you change if you could?
Like every red-blooded American male, I’ve always liked pictures of myself holding guns and the Luke Brodie character really fulfilled this indulgent desire for me. He’s never without a gun and I kind of took every advantage I could to flash my weapons on set. I don’t know if I would change anything about this character. We were all learning how to be in an indie production and I think we did the best with what we had.
My Johnny Burns character marked a lot of firsts for me as an actor. It was my first time being flown anywhere for a role, my first time to work opposite a big name actor, and my first time to spend weeks on set. I wish I had been a little more confident in those early days. I may have let the pressure of the situation get to me more than I should have.
For Transformers we were in the orbiter filming at one point and were supposed to be landing the ship. They had us using controls at our sides and no one seemed to know they were the right controls to land the ship so I suggested to Michael that I use a joystick. He said, “Can you switch hands?” I did and when he said “Ok.” I think I almost had a heart attack. We’ll see if it makes the final cut but it sure was awesome to feel like I collaborated with Michael Bay even if in a very small way. I don’t think I would change anything about that experience. It will live very vividly in my mind for the rest of my life.
What were some of the more memorable moments from filming and what are some of your fondest memories?
We filmed Alpha Planet just north of Los Angeles in little known Angeles Crest National Forest and a lot of the scenes were filmed in an open field, but this field is down an embankment and across a dry river bed, or at least we thought it was always going to be dry. So we showed up on one of our once-a-month shoots and the river was raging from all the rains the week before. We searched and searched for a place to cross but finally just took off our shoes and rolled up our pants and waded through. It was a funny sight to see the entire cast and crew weighted down with props, costuming, and equipment fording a stream in the middle of nowhere.
On the set of Transformers, Cory and I were sitting on some apple boxes in our space suits in-between takes and this nice old guy just came up and started talking to us. I don’t remember the specifics of the conversation, just that the guy was friendly and I was thinking, “It’s cool that this old stage hand is taking the time to talk us.” Well right about then someone said, “Do you know who this is? This is John Frazier; he won the Academy Award for the special effects in Spider-Man 2.” John started to laugh and said, “You know what? I want to show you a picture, I’ll be back.” I thought I’d never see the guy again, but sure enough he comes back about 15 minutes later and shows me a picture of himself bringing his garbage cans in from the curb the night of the awards with a garbage can in one hand and an Oscar in the other and says with a laugh, “You know what happens after you win an Oscar? Life goes on.”
Are you a fan of Horror and Science Fiction. If so, what are some of your favorites?
I am a fan of Science Fiction and Horror. I really like visually stunning Sci-Fi movies. I think my favorite Sci-Fi movie would have to be The Fifth Element. It was so new at the time I saw it and I just remember thinking how amazing all of the scenes were. To be honest I was a big Transformers fan even before I landed my role. Talk about great special effects… and the cartoon will be forever connected with my childhood. I also love the Underworld and Blade franchises and have scene them all.
What can you tell the readers about your training in acting and about your big break in the film?
As mentioned before I’m a method actor and have unknowingly been one since the beginning. I had a scholarship for theater at a junior college my freshman year and spent a lot of time going “over the top” in small off-off Broadway productions in New York but most recently I’ve studied at the Ivana Chubbuck Studio under Michael Monks. I like her technique because, amongst other things, it taught me how to strongly consider the “obstacles” that kept me from achieving my objective. This helped in my audition for Transformers because thinking about being so far away from home really helped me to connect with the characters fear which I thought brought a lot of life to the role.
If you can, tell the readers about your time on set and how you found the whole experience of making a movie vs. television. I know many people often say that they are surprised how much waiting goes on but that they can’t believe how much is going on. What do you like to do in your off time and what sort of music do you like?
The difference that comes to mind right away is that a TV crew has been working together for months sometimes years and they can really bang through a shoot. On Days of Our Lives it was daunting because the director went though three or four scenes at a time with blocking, crosses, and camera movements all at once, the kicker is he only went through it ONCE and then we were shooting. I feel like a movie set moves a little slower because at first everyone is getting to know each other and how to work together. You have to remember that even the crew is hired on from different places and with different backgrounds. Also, I think that the director is still working out his vision when he walks on the set. Not to say that they don’t do their homework with storyboards and planning, but things can always change in a moment of inspiration. In movies they really take the time to tell a story and don’t have the pressures of keeping a storyline going for years and years with no break in between.
There is a lot of downtime; it’s something I just expect now. I feel, as an actor, I have to use every fiber of my being to create a living world in an artificial environment so I like to try to conserve my energy as much as possible. Don’t get me wrong – I take the occasional jaunt to get chatty with whomever I can, but I don’t like to spend too much time hanging around. I feel I get too relaxed and it’s hard to get back into the right mindset. I like to be alone in my downtime, lie down and listen to music or just think about my character. As far as music goes I love Kanye West!
What movies have you seen recently and what do you have on your to see list?
I’ve recently saw The Fighter, The King’s Speech, and Battle: Los Angeles all of which I enjoyed and I can’t wait to see Your Highness. Also, I have to admit I kind of want to see Sucker Punch; I loved 300 so I’m pretty sure Zack Snyder will deliver the same amazing visuals for this one as well.
What future projects do you have coming up that the readers can look forward to?
Hopefully with enough demand we can continue with Alpha Planet, but just in case, we’ve started another production company called Indiewood Collective with many of the same members. We’ve already shot Uriel, the story of an archangel on earth during the revelation, of which I play the lead and will be recording the voice-over soon, and a satirical short called Gunfight which is already up on the renrobot.com website. I’ve also written another parody that I hope to shoot soon.
My love for the theater has driven me back to the stage and we’ve started read-thru’s for the Stephen Adly Guirgis play Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train which will be directed by Michael Monks. We should begin full-scale rehearsals in May.