If you listen carefully to the finely tuned hip-hop soundtrack from director Steven Caple Jr.’s entry in the Transformers franchise with Rise of the Beasts, you’ll notice a theme. Songs about cash, capitalism and realising ambition when the odds are stacked against you play along to fast-paced car chases and thrilling robot wars. The two main characters in the film are both struggling to get their voices heard in a society that doesn’t value their contributions.
Dominique Fishback plays archaeological researcher Elena Wallace who is quite literally shut out of elite institutions despite her expertise in the field and has her ideas flagrantly stolen by her boss. She will never be offered a seat at the table so learns to work around the system.
Likewise, co-star Anthony Ramos (pictured above with Autobot newcomer Mirage) plays Noah, a man who has served his country in the armed forces and is unable to secure a stable job to pay for his kid brother’s health care. When offered a chance by his friend Reek (actor and award-winning rapper Tobe Nwigwe) to make the cash to save his brother’s life he takes it.
The ‘American Dream’ is not working for any of them so each character finds a workaround. When faced with obstacles in their real lives, both Ramos and Nwigwe, have, as Wu-Tang Clan would put it, had to learn to get over the heartaches and the pain to get the dollar, dollar bill y’all. Nwigwe says Friday is his ultimate 90s ‘American Dream’ movie while Ramos is a fan of the Rocky films.
We meet at the end of a long day of interviews; our is the last interview of the day and the two actors let out a whoop of relief as we enter the door. They’re in good spirits as we ponder on what the best album cover of the 1990s is and their back and forth is both hilarious and sweetly supportive…
Tobe Nwigwe: I would say Illmatic or Doggystyle.
Anthony Ramos: Hmm when did The Blueprint come out?
TN: Early 2000s
TN: I got you! Regulate by Warren G? You ain’t interested haha!
AR: When did The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill come out? That one? I also love Big L.
TN: That’s 90s for sure!
With Transformers: Rise Of The Beasts having major themes on the ‘American Dream’, we had to ask Nwigwe and Ramos how they have overcome obstacles in their own lives and careers to reach their goals: “I’ve done some gigs for $200 a week,” says Ramos. “It’s crazy, it’s wild. I’ve done shows where the producer didn’t pay me for three weeks. I was supposed to take a job at a clothing store and I didn’t because I was doing this show and I was like, nah, I need to pay my rent.
“I was working in a bakery at the same time. I grew up in the projects, my mum was making $30,000 a year with three kids and two bedrooms. It was crazy and that was in Bushwick pre-gentrification. It was a lot. Single parent and all that you know. But here we are to tell the tale.”
For Nwigwe, he says he “had to build a company from having absolutely no knowledge of the entertainment industry and how everything works. That’s the music industry as well as the film industry.”
All that work has clearly paid off, now being part of a major live-action franchise that’s been going on for 16 years. Indeed, can you believe that Michael Bay’s first live-action Transformers was released way back in 2007? And that’s not counting the Transformers animated series, movie (and toys!).
That significance is clearly not lost on Nwigwe. “We were able to gain traction and catch the eye of Steven Caple Jr. who is very in tune with the culture,” he tells us. “To have this opportunity is something I could never have imagined I would be able to have.”
Transformers: Rise of the Beasts will be in theatres on 9 June 2023. Read our review here.