Everyone knows a Michael Bay movie when they see one, and there’s certainly no mistaking Ambulance starring Jake Gyllenhall and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II for an entry in any other director’s filmography.
In desperate need of money to cover his wife’s medical bills, decorated veteran Will Sharp (portrayed by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) teams up with his adoptive brother Danny Sharp (portrayed by Jake Gyllenhaal) to steal $32 million from a Los Angeles bank.
But when their getaway goes horribly wrong, they hijack an ambulance that’s carrying a police officer the duo have severely wounded and EMT worker Cam Thompson (portrayed by Eiza Gonzalez). Caught in a high-speed chase, the fugitive siblings must figure out a way to outrun the law while keeping their hostages alive.
We recently spoke to the man himself, Michael Bay, in addition to the cast of Ambulance about the high-octane action – check it out below.
Safe to say, Ambulance is probably the most Michael Bay thing ever filmed.
Yahya Abdul-Mateen II: I’ll give you my stamp of approval, boom.
Jake Gyllenhaal: Same. Maybe and then some. It does not stop this movie. There’s no time for – what was it – a toy car tracing over somebody’s face, or whatever happens in Armageddon. There’s no time for that in this movie. It just doesn’t stop.
Michael Bay: You know what it is? I set out to do a movie about tension, and I liked how it was very immediately fast. You are on a robbery that goes so south, which is bad. You’re either a hostage or being chased by the cops or you were the noble guy who robbed a bank just to save his wife, and what would you feel like? Because it’s all going down and the adrenaline doesn’t stop. What kind of emotions would you feel in that ambulance, the claustrophobia. Is it the “most Michael Bay movie ever”? I don’t know. I hear Brad Pitt saw it last night and he thought it was one of my best movies. To each their own.
At some point, I lost track of how many cars were totalled. But for the record, do you have an official kill count for us?
YA II: Jake has a number he likes to throw out… and that number is a lot. He’s officially created a number for this movie, for the car kill count.
JG: A definite pile. It’s a pile’s worth. I think it’s gotta be up there in the Guinness Book of World Records, like at least Top 10 in a movie. Because, you know, we had a parking lot where he would put all the destroyed cars. That’s where our base camp was, where we were shooting, where we were getting ready in the morning. And over the course of 39 days of shooting, it would just pile more and more and more cars. Until there was no space left for the cars that had been destroyed. I never counted… unfortunately. Should’ve thought ahead to this interview.
MB: I’m very good at destroying cars. I’m so good at it. I might have destroyed more cars than anybody. It would be really fun to find out. Somebody could figure it out. And there were a lot that didn’t even make it into the movie, so I would add on that. I was in China and they took me to a car factory and they showed me the crash test dummy area. And I said, “I’m not impressed, I’ve crashed more cars than you have, sir.”
The helicopter chase scene in the Los Angeles River was improvised at the 11th hour. How does that happen and is it the logistical nightmare that it sounds like?
JG: I don’t really know how it happened, either. We were on our way home, at least I was on my way home, I was about five minutes away from set, and then Michael called me, “You gotta come back, you gotta come back. Just drive directly to the LA River. I’ll send you a pin.” And we drove there, and it was so strange. There was this ramp, and I drove the car straight down into water. And I was like, “What is this? What’s going on?” He’s like, “Just don’t get out of costume, this is what’s going to happen.” And I think he just got access to the LA River somehow, and he had two helicopters that had been hired for the day, and he came up with this idea.
What’s so cool about Michael is like, people talk so often about improvisation in terms of a scene and with acting, coming up with an idea that was inspired, changing camera angles. But with Michael, he’s so used to working with big set pieces and such big pieces of his movies, that his mind thinks, “Well – I could move that bridge.” And in an instant, you know? So that’s what happened.
YA II: That was basically my experience as well. I remember driving down, because as you get to LA River, you need to drive down on this hill, ramp. I have no idea where the LA River is, I’m not from Los Angeles. I don’t know what this is. And [Michael Bay’s] saying, “Just drive, just keep going, just stick to the left.” So we’re filming, we’re trying not to lose the light. And he says, “Say something like: ‘Here we go.'” I say, “Here we go.” He says, “Turn left.” I turn left. I am just driving, I have no idea what’s going on. I’m just doing what the voice of a walkie-talkie is telling me. And then we use it, we put it in the movie, because Michael has the pieces of the puzzle in his head. But it’s a good way to work.
MB: We shot that in two and a half hours. I said, “Get approval to fly under the LA River.” I work with the best helicopter pilots in the world. Jake had never worked around helicopters. Yahya had never worked around helicopters. I’m putting Yayha in the car basically straight away. He said, “This is crazy shit. This is the most crazy shit I’ve ever done.” Because they were right behind them. They were right behind the ambulance going 55 miles per hour, 65 miles per hour. Kinda dogging with that ambulance. It puts actors in that moment. It’s real. It’s happening.
It sounded like everything was shot exactly as the story unfolded.
JG: It was, [Michael] was playing the cops, and he was also playing the people being chased. So he was trying to figure it out from both sides and say, “How can I make this more difficult for them?” And after he decided, he would figure out how we could get out of it.
What I like about Michael Bay movies such as this and Pain & Gain is that – at its heart, the story is about economic desperation, ambition, climbing the socio-economic hierarchy. But they can also be interpreted as a twisted pursuit of the American dream, and to an extent, how America has failed a subset of its people.
JG: No, I think that’s at the heart of this film, all those systemic issues that many Americans face, that I think are real problems. It’s just put in a very, very heightened context. Sometimes in a bit of an absurdist context. But every character’s intention is based on exactly what you just said.
YA II: There’s a certain amount of frustration that it would take for a person like Will Sharpe to go and decide to rob a bank. There’s a certain amount of frustration and helplessness and angst and love, and those are the things I think people can relate to when they look at those parts of this story.
MB: You’re so right. You’re so right. I was just in Paris and in England, and they’re like, “Mr Bay… you used to do all these American rah-rah movies. You know, Armageddon and whatnot.” And I really feel that our country, our political class on both sides, have failed this country. And it’s been corrupted. It’s always about money. Pain & Gain was weirdly about the Instagram obsession and narcissism and striving for the American dream. 13 Hours shows you where America will leave you behind enemy lines. They don’t care. My movies now are… “America better turn it around somehow.” Don’t get me started on this subject. That’s very astute, what you’re saying.
Despite the pretty serious themes and this being a pretty serious action affair, there were also unexpected moments of comedy. That fight scene at the front of the ambulance between Danny and Will, for example, had major sibling energy. How much did you – Jake and Yahya – draw upon your experiences as the youngest child of the family for that sequence?
JG: I’ve personally never been in that position before, but Yahya and I said, “There’s gotta be a place where these two are driven to their end with each other.” They’re not just trying to get away with each other, they’re both pissed at each other, the way siblings would be in the back of a car. We took it to the extreme in the action movie sense. But we definitely had conversations about being kids in the back of a car. That was part of it.
Jake, between this and The Guilty, you’re two for two on remakes of Danish films. Is there another on your hit list? I hear they’re producing a remake of Another Round.
JG: I would love to remake that movie. It’s being done by Appian Way, which I’m really excited to see. But actually, it’s the third one after Brothers with Tobey Macguire. So I got my three. This is the last one. Hopefully not, though. The Danish make such incredible films and I’m somehow very drawn to them. Speaking of The Guilty with [original director] Gustav Moller, I have a movie in development with him, because I think he’s so talented. It might not be a remake, but I’ll definitely be working with more Danes.
And Yahya, is there any bit of international cinema that you’d like to remake?
YA II: I have some ideas. I think I’ll keep those a little closer to my chest right now. I’m very excited to put my stamp onto some films. I have a production company, I just started a partnership with Netflix. So I’m excited to research and find out what’s out there, but then also to put a lot of new ideas out there. And then hopefully someone can remake those.
Michael Bay’s Ambulance starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II is now in cinemas.