WA Today (Aus) – June 24th 2009

Isabel rings the changes

From Summer Bay to Transformers, it’s been a rapid and surprising ascent for Australian actor and environmentalist Isabel Lucas.

IT’S a long way from the breezy storylines of Summer Bay to the explosive action of Michael Bay, but former Home and Away star Isabel Lucas has traversed that distance in just a couple of years.

Logie winner Lucas, 24, has worked on several projects since she left the soapie in 2006, but the much-hyped Bay-directed blockbuster Transformers — Revenge of the Fallen is one hell of a Hollywood debut. Then again, she was recommended for the role by none other than Steven Spielberg, after her work for him on the miniseries The Pacific, shot in Melbourne and Queensland last year.

The sequel to the 2007 hit Transformers (which was based on the Japanese cartoon, which was based on the line of toys from the 1980s) is an orgy of visual special effects, action and, most importantly, massive explosions.

“We actually set a record for having the biggest explosion to ever be in any film,” says Lucas, in Melbourne to talk up the film ahead of this week’s premiere. “It’s just mad.”

Being a little young — and possibly just a little too female — to remember the ’80s cartoon series, Lucas wasn’t familiar with the franchise, but says she was instantly taken when she watched the first film. “I was blown away by the CGI, and in this film we’ve broken new ground again. The technology is revolutionary. Michael is one of the masters of this genre, and a visual genius. He’s energetic and passionate and has a very clear vision of what he wants.”

Bay is also, she says, very protective of his storylines, which means we can give little away about Lucas’ role. “He’s very supersleuth about that,” she says.

But Lucas is happy to talk about her experience of working with the computer-generated imagery in the film. “Things had to be done very specifically, everything’s very choreographed,” she says. “There was one scene where Michael had a camera about a centimetre from my face so he could match up the CGI; I had to move my head in very specific ways. I had to have a 3-D digital body scan, and one of my face as well. It was all new to me.”

Lucas’ three-year stint as Tasha Andrews on sand-and-surf soapieHome and Away was her first acting gig; she was spotted by one of the show’s producers in 2004 at a market in Port Douglas, in north Queensland, where she grew up.

After her time in Summer Bay, Lucas moved to Melbourne and enrolled at the Victorian College of the Arts, but scripts started rolling in so she divided her time between acting and activism, most notably with the anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.

Her post-soapie CV is already impressive. As well as The Pacific, Lucas has starred in vampire thriller Daybreakers alongside Ethan Hawke and Willem Dafoe, Australian romance The Waiting City and US thriller Girl with a Gun, co-starring Christopher Walken.

While Transformers is her biggest project to date by some distance, Lucas concedes that it might seem at odds with her high-profile environmentalist/hippie image.

“I’m aware of that,” she says with a smile. “I tried suggesting to Michael that perhaps we could create some hybrid cars in the film, like a Toyota Prius that turns into a Transformer. But he’s not really that way inclined.”

The director did learn something from Lucas, though, when he flew her between states in the US on his private jet. “After a flight I asked him if I could offset it. He was like, ‘What’s offsetting?’ He flies everywhere so I explained to him what it meant, and gave him a website to go to where he could learn about offsetting. That would be a move in the right direction.”

Transformers — Revenge of the Fallen had its world premiere in Tokyo, as a nod to the franchise’s Japanese roots. That had potential to cause some problem for Lucas, since Japanese police issued a warrant for her arrest in 2007 after she took part in an anti-whaling protest in Wakayama. Lucas and a group of 30 activists had paddled out on surfboards to try to stop a whale hunt. But they were intercepted by a fishing boat and were forced to leave the country immediately to avoid arrest.

“I wasn’t worried in Tokyo,” Lucas says. “I thought any negative repercussions would be unlikely because it would draw so much attention away from the film. But yes, there was a warrant out for my arrest. I believe it was more of a scare tactic, though, to warn us not to come back.”

These days, Lucas lives in Los Angeles. That’s another factor that seems at odds with her greenie image, although there are, she says, lots of vegetarian restaurants there. “I’m kind of in denial about living there, even after a year and a half,” she says.

But her life there is not all industry-related, she says. “I do get to spend a lot of time in nature in LA. There’s a big national park behind where I live and I go on a lot of walks around Malibu Canyon.”

A nice balance, then, to starring in the most explosion-packed film of the year?

“Exactly! If you can seek it out, there are a lot of beautiful places to explore.”

Transformers — Revenge of the Fallen opens tomorrow.