Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
Jorge Lendeborg Jr. is in a sweet spot in his career. Earlier this year, the rising star was a part of one of the first rom-coms about a gay teen (LOVE, SIMON). Next year is looking even brighter as he’s in director Robert Rodriguez’s ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL. But now, he’s co-starring in the first female-centered film in the TRANSFORMERS franchise, BUMBLEBEE.
In the family-friendly, entertaining action-adventure, he plays “Memo,” Charlie Watson’s (Hailee Steinfeld) next-door neighbor harboring a crush on her. He unwittingly finds himself roped into her plan to help the titular hero get back to his planet and, in the process, save the world from the impending threat of Decepticon invasion.
At the film’s recent press day, I spoke with the affable actor about everything from being a part in two ground-breaking features this year, to what actors’ talents he values, to what selections would make it onto his life’s soundtrack.
You’ve been a part of a franchise before with SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING, but what does it feel like to be a part of another huge franchise like TRANSFORMERS?
Those are like the Holy Grails as far as exposure as actors. For the people who keep on choosing me for movies like this, it’s a blessing and humbling, but it’s also foundational that I’m on the right path in my career. That gives me confidence within myself and to keep growing in my career.
I’m sure it helps with getting larger roles independent releases. Maybe a “one for them, one for me” style philosophy.
Yeah. Even now, I’m in an independent back in Miami.
Does it feel like it’s two different worlds to be a part of?
Oh totally. Totally different. As a person who cares about the craft and not just the celebrity of it all, you gotta bite your teeth into real independent work about stories and filmmakers that care not just about the spectacle – not saying these franchise films don’t have that. But it’s a different type of energy. There’s not a lot of money. It’s really a labor of love.
Who are your role models as an actor? Who gives performances that influence your work?
Robert Downey Jr. is a fantastic comedic actor. He brings comedy to non-comedic-centered films- even in IRON MAN and KISS KISS BANG BANG. It’s a pulpy film, but he’s able to keep it loose. Leonardo DiCaprio does the same thing as well where the more things are getting serious, he knows how to be entertaining. Jamie Foxx, who is able to sink into action and thrillers and biopics, but still be incredibly hilarious. Oscar Isaac, who is a very strong force onscreen and continues to pick very interesting work. Also, he’s from Miami and I’m from there. He’s Latino and so am I. Seeing all those people, I try to pick and keep it in the network of knowledge.
You’re young. Did you want to go back and research 1987?
No. I just worry about the dynamic between my character and the characters around him. I felt that was the most important thing. I’m not nostalgic.
Did you have time to bond with Hailee before shooting? Or did you just show up to work and were ready?
She’s amazing and so awesome. The emotional range she has in this really compliments where the story is going. She keeps the whole story engaged. She does a great job at leading the film. As far as how much time we had, I think we had one rehearsal where we rehearsed for thirty/ forty-five minutes – and the next time I saw her was onset. Not too much time, but since it was such a long process, we were able to gel and become friends.
How did the stunts work? There’s a scene with you and Hailee, when you’re riding through a tunnel and you’re inside Bumblebee and he’s transforming a little. Take me through that process of filming that. Are you on a gimbal?
They rig up the seats in the car and they rotate the camera so it’s really more of an illusion of spinning than us being in a death trap. They actually wanted us to go on a death trap. They had it on a rotisserie chicken set up. They spun it once and a little bolt came out and I was like, “Uhhhhhhhh… Listen, I’m a team player and I’ve been doing my stunts. Can the camera move?”
Every director is different when they do green screen and shoot eye lines. Are you looking at a tennis ball on a string? What are you looking at when you have to talk with Bumblebee?
We would have a blocking rehearsal when the camera team is setting up the scene. During that blocking rehearsal, we work with a guy on stilts. He would do the movement of where he’d be moving in the room. He was 13 feet tall – dressed in yellow – our stand in for Bumblebee. That gave us a base to think about where he’d be. From there on, it was up to us to make up what we saw fit. Perk of the job to have imaginary friends.
I think it’s fair to say that you’ve been a part of two ground-breaking films this year- LOVE, SIMON and BUMBLEBEE. Do you look for projects that are more socially conscious, enlightened, or progressive?
I want interesting work that will excite people again. I don’t have an agenda attached to it. LOVE, SIMON was the first pop movie to show this kind of struggle. I don’t think there’s ever been a movie like that and that was exciting. As far as this movie… I just want to be a part of special projects. That how you carve out great careers. A lot of acting is the choices that you make.
Bumblebee loses his voice and has to communicate through song lyrics. What would be your songs you’d play to communicate emotions like happy, sad, angry, or melancholy?
If I had my phone on me, I could tell you. J. Cole, “4 Your Eyez Only,” which is a very melancholic album. Anything Kanye West, just because he’s shown so many shades of himself. You can just use his filmography. [launches into “Power”] “No one man should have all that power.” Triple X [XXXTentacion] when you’re feeling sad.
Let’s end on another fun question: Your wardrobe in this movie is pretty spectacular. It channeled the late ‘80’s perfectly.
Not too shabby.
You’ve got the tight short shorts and the tight shirt.
That was me! I said, “Memo needs shorts. He needs shorts…here.”
BUMBLEBEE opens on December 21.