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John Cena and Hailee Steinfeld: You stepped on the Bumblebee set and you were in the Eighties

The Transformers franchise gets a makeover thanks to Bumblebee, the first spin-off from the hugely popular sci-fi action series, that's set in 1987. Stars Hailee Steinfeld and John Cena tell Georgia Humphreys what to expect

Retro feel: Hailee Steinfeld as Charlie in Bumblebee
Retro feel: Hailee Steinfeld as Charlie in Bumblebee

If you've seen any of the past five Transformers films, the style of spin-off Bumblebee will come as something of a surprise. Not only has a new director (Travis Knight) stepped into the shoes of the prolific Michael Bay, but it is also a much more family-friendly approach than previous stories.

Plus, at the centre of the action is a complex female character - tomboyish teen Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld) - which many have stated feels notably different from how supporting female characters in previous Transformer outings (played by the likes of Megan Fox and Rosie Huntington Whiteley) were presented on screen.

Discussing why the role appealed to her, 22-year-old Steinfeld suggests: "You have a young female who is driven and passionate; and she's struggling. There's no denying she's a totally normal girl struggling with normal things you do when you're growing up - trying to figure out who you are, and what your voice is and what your place is on this earth."

"I think it's wonderful how diverse and inclusive entertainment is becoming," chimes in Steinfeld's friendly co-star, WWE superstar John Cena (41), who plays Agent Jack Burns.

"If you look at this shot and you turn the clock back to the Eighties, this would be your hero (points at himself) and this would be an association (points at Hailee) and I'm so proud to be part of something where I can now be the bad guy and our hero is right here. That's a pretty special message to send."

It's a sweet and emotional story at the core of Bumblebee.

The robot was dispatched to Earth with a mission: protect the planet and its inhabitants. But after getting into some trouble, he's now on the run.

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He disguises himself as a yellow VW Beetle in a junkyard in a small Californian beach town, where, on the cusp of turning 18 and desperately trying to find her place in the world, Charlie discovers and revives him, and finds her life completely changes.

Bubbly Steinfeld, known for her roles in drama True Grit and the Pitch Perfect film series, as well as her pop career, admits there's "a lot of different feelings" that comes with heading up a spin-off from such a famous franchise.

"But it's mainly exciting," she says. "It truly is an honour to be a part of something that's so huge, and means so much to so many people. And I do feel like with this film, we are really giving Transformers fans an opportunity to learn about this Transformer that they know and love, because this film is an origin story for Bumblebee.

"And I feel that those who aren't necessarily Transformers fans, or haven't seen the films, will see this and also love it."

Although it looks like a super fun film to be part of, full of stunts and car chases, acting out scenes which feature robots isn't always easy.

"Every day had something new, whether it was talking to a tennis ball on a stick, running from Agent Burns... there was really never a dull moment," recalls Steinfeld.

"It was challenging on many different levels for many different reasons, the main one for me being working opposite a robot that wasn't really there."

Gentle giant Cena, who has previously starred in comedies including Blockers and Trainwreck, keeps complimenting Steinfeld's performance, noting "she knocked it out of the park".

"I said on many occasions that the success of the movie, and the connection of the movie, is based on Hailee's relationship with Bumblebee," continues the actor, whose character works for a top-secret government agency that deals with extraterrestrial technology and threats.

"And I can only imagine how difficult that was because I only had very few scenes where I had to act with a tennis ball." With a chuckle, he adds: "Most of the time I just had to be mean; not a problem for me!"

Another interesting element of Bumblebee? It's set in 1987, decades before any of the other Transformers films. And the nostalgia interwoven throughout is really immersive, including a catchy soundtrack.

Did the cast find themselves singing Eighties hits all the time on set?

"You were, don't deny it..." Steinfeld teases Cena. "I was, but to myself," he quips.

"I was a young adult (in the Eighties) and all that stuff was so fascinating, the advent of a personal computer, the advent of home gaming, the original Nintendo," he adds.

"Now it's all so fast, but this was just three decades ago. Three decades ago, a little dot on a screen that bounced like this could keep someone entertained for days. It's just really cool, especially now that people look back on the Eighties nostalgically with a sense of, 'Oh that was a great time', to see all that stuff.

"And the set designers and the costume people were all amazing.

"You stepped on set and you were in the Eighties."

As Cena has already pointed out, one thing that's undoubtedly changed since the time period of Bumblebee is the entertainment industry, and in particular, the variety of roles for women on the silver screen.

Does Steinfeld agree that this feels like a particularly exciting time to be a young actress in Hollywood?

"Absolutely, it definitely feels like we are part of a change that's happening and I think it's great that more and more people are interested in this sort of image and this sort of story," she enthuses of her role in Bumblebee.

"When your hero is a certain build, a certain archetype, a certain set of characteristics, you exhaust most of all the story resources," Cena adds.

"Now that it's more and more inclusive, you can tell greater stories.

"And that means we can all make more awesome movies."

Bumblebee is in cinemas now

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