Friday, 1 July 2011

Summer Grilling 2011: Your Kitchen Just Moved Outdoors

Whole Butterflied Chicken
With Gremolata

It's trickier to grill a chicken than a steak; the different parts of the bird cook at different rates, and no one wants medium-rare poultry. But one thing you can do is ask your butcher to butterfly a chicken, which lets you cook it like a steak—as one big slab of meat. The gremolata adds an herbaceous punch, like chimichurri to an Argentine rib eye.

Serves 2 to 4
1 chicken, butterflied and pressed flat
Salt and pepper
½ cup chopped fresh parsley
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
Zest of 1 lemon

1. Season chicken with salt and pepper and let come to room temperature.
2. Make gremolata a couple of hours in advance. Mix together parsley, olive oil, garlic, lemon zest, and salt and pepper.
3. Bring a bed of coals to medium and then part them in the middle so chicken is not resting directly above them. Cook for 15 minutes on one side, flip; repeat. Occasionally cover grill, with the vents open, to help bird cook through. Chicken takes a while—count on 1 hour total.
4. Chicken is done when an instant-read thermometer reaches 165 degrees (or juices run clear when you cut into thickest part of breast and thigh). Remove from grill and let rest for 5 minutes. Cut into pieces so you'll have 2 thighs, 2 drumsticks, 2 wings, and 4 pieces of breast meat. Serve on a platter and spoon gremolata over top.

Blistered Corn
With Chili Powder, Lime, and Cheese

Thank you, Mexico. Fresh summer corn is a cinch to grill—just shuck it and cook it over medium-high heat, till caramel brown. Then, hop it up with this irresistible flavor trio.

8 ears of corn, shucked
2 limes, quartered
2 teaspoons mild chili powder
2 teaspoons sea salt
¼ cup Cotija cheese, crumbled (or feta or grated Parmesan)

Cook corn on an oiled grill over medium-high heat, turning so that it blisters evenly (without letting it shrivel and dry out). Serve immediately on a platter with accompaniments in small bowls. Let everybody prepare his own by rubbing each ear with a lime wedge, then sprinkling with chili powder, salt, and Cotija cheese.

Basket-Grilled Fish

Don't mock the grill basket. It makes cooking fish foolproof. Just stuff the fish cavity with a couple of slices of lemon, some thyme sprigs, and whatever other herbs you have kicking around. (Parsley? Great. Basil? Sure. Fennel fronds? Amazing.) Season, drizzle with olive oil, and grill.

Serves 2
1 lemon
1 large whole fish like striped bass, or 2 medium-size fish like branzino, cleaned and scaled
1 bunch thyme (and/or other fresh herbs)
3 tablespoons olive oil
Sea salt and pepper
Red-pepper flakes

1. Cut two slices of lemon and stuff into cavity of fish along with 4 sprigs of thyme. Drizzle 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over both sides of fish, and season with salt, pepper, and a pinch of red-pepper flakes; then place in grill basket.

2. Grill over hot coals for 3 to 4 minutes, until skin blisters. Turn and grill for 2 to 3 minutes more. The flesh won't quite be cooked through, but it will continue to cook when you take it off the heat. After 2 or 3 minutes resting on a plate, it should be moist and flaky. Finish with remaining olive oil, lemon juice, and sea salt. Serve.

Grilled Flatbread
With Olive Oil and Sea Salt

Hot fresh bread plus grill marks: There's a forehead-slapping obviousness to that. As in, Why doesn't everybody do it? It's easy. Buy a ball of dough from your local pizzeria or supermarket. Then grill it over hot coals: You want puffy, slightly charred bread. When done, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt and herbs, cut into wedges, and serve with cocktails and dip (like the sweet pea-ricotta one, above). Or pile the discs alongside a platter of grilled kebabs and let everybody go for it.

1 large ball pizza dough
Extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt
Fresh herbs, like thyme or rosemary

Prepare grill. Bring coals to medium hot. Meanwhile, divide dough into fist-sized balls. Press balls on a floured surface using your fingers so that they're ¼ inch thick all the way across. (If dough snaps back, let it rest for a minute, then try again.) Cook on oiled grill for about 45 seconds on each side—flatbread should be charred and bubbly. Set out on a platter, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with sea salt and herbs.

Charred Fresh Fruit
With Greek Yogurt

The difference between a lazy dessert and a sophisticated one is a few minutes on the grill. Cut fruits like plums and nectarines into quarters or halves, and watermelon and pineapple (skinned and cored) into wedges; dab with a little turbinado sugar (it has a nice molasses-y flavor); and grill until cooked through. Give everybody a serving of still warm fruit on a scoop of full-fat Greek yogurt—you get all the richness of ice cream, except yogurt is durable enough for a beach cooler.

Serves 6
A bunch of fruit: whatever you think looks good—plums, peaches, nectarines, watermelon, pineapple
¼ cup turbinado sugar
3 cups thick Greek yogurt
Sweet dessert wine (optional)

1. Bring coals to medium. Sprinkle fruit with sugar and cook on oiled grill, carefully caramelizing sugar without burning it too much. (Though a little charring is nice.)
2. Divide Greek yogurt into six bowls, then top with fruit. If you have some sweet dessert wine, drizzle a little over fruit, then pour the rest into glasses.

Don't Be the Worst: The Fight Against Whimsy

In the past year, I've learned to avoid men who want to take women out for baked goods.

To most women, this doesn't say, "Wow, this is the kind of guy I want to let kiss frosting out of my bangs." This says other things. Like, "This guy probably has one of those bracelets that will alert his parole officer if he drinks," or, "I need to change my Google image results to look less like somebody who can be lured out of the house by pastry like some kind of Brothers Grimm orphan."

Or worse yet: "This is one of those whimsy guys."

Fellows, I beseech you: No more whimsy.

Before I go any further, let me say that sometimes whimsy is great. I like a taxidermied armadillo holding a beer can as much as the next girl, and I think that turning a bunch of old Airstreams into a pricy motel is an important step in taking some of the stigma out of trailer living. But I would like to suggest that we take a scented panda eraser to whimsy in the realm of adult, grown-up going out.

While we finally, thankfully are reaching a point where fewer men seem to be confusing having a personality with having a moustache, we're confronted with an even lamer sex scourge: Men who confuse dating with an opportunity to showcase a series of highly cultivated quirks.

Outings with a Whimsy Guy read like a kind of Mad Lib involving a series of increasingly diabetes-y nouns. Let's go to Coney Island to eat ginger cookie and Nutella ice cream sandwiches and make up back stories for every couple we see on the Ferris Wheel while the gelato drips onto our gingham sleeves.

This kind of goofiness makes me long for the predictability of chugging a bottle of wine across from someone you're terrified of while wishing you'd had the sense to see the movie first so you'd at least have some kind of Gyllenhaal-based talking point. Dating can be awkward and nervous and boring, but using whimsy to try to charm your date is the equivalent of adding a magical mentally disabled person to your movie to try to charm your audience. Did none of you see Radio? Don't be Radio!

In fact, you can probably blame movies for this kind of behavior. I'm reminded of the live-action drunk post-breakup email, 500 Days of Summer, which I totally saw on a plane and didn't rent and specially buy Bagel Bites to emotionally eat during. Zooey Deschanel dumps a guy after he drags her to a diner to have pancakes for dinner. Pancakes for dinner! You know you've crossed some kind of line when you've out-Zooey Deschanel-ed Zooey Deschanel.

You know how we all hate irony now? Whimsy is even worse because it pretends to be sincere. It is the opposite of sincere. People who are not secretly dying of terminal illness in a movie just look silly blowing bubbles on a date because they don't know what to do with their hands, or do everything like they're being secretly Instagrammed. A girl wants to get to know a guy, not be part of the Facebook status he's ginning up underneath his fanciful hat.

I'd like to suggest a litmus test for whether or not you are being whimsical. Would Danny Trejo shake his head at you? For example: Let's say you have named your bike Sharon. Is it a customized Super Glide? Invite your date to ride Sharon! Is it a turquoise beach cruiser? No va, hombre.

Admittedly, when it's not forced, whimsy can be OK. Even kind of nice. My grandmother loves to relate a story about a guy who tried to cancel a date with her when she was 19 because he had, literally, a dime to his name. "We can have fun on a nickel each," said my awesome grandma, and they did a bunch of free stuff like stealing a ride on a trolley car and sneaking penny hotdogs into a nickel movie. My grandma said she had a great time, and if that guy hadn't died on a submarine two weeks later, he might have been my grandfather.

Ignoring the logistical flaws in that supposition, the only reason I give old people in Ken Burns documentaries and those When Harry Met Sally interstitials carte blanche to be whimsical is because those people were constantly threatened with death by explosion. You guys want to wear lunatic cloches and scat in songs? Go for it! If you're not under threat by air raid or spending your days manufacturing artillery, you have no excuse to act that crazy.

It's possible that the Internet or cute movies have forced us to distill our personalities into quotes and adorable moments and dating-profile charisma. But it's important to remember that you are a person and not a mid-priced chain restaurant. Adorning yourself with tchotchkes doesn't make you charming. It makes you a very sad place to sit in a Buffalo mall.

Julieanne Smolinski AKA Boobs Radley is a writer who has been in a monogamous relationship with the Internet since 1993. She tweets here.

Blow-Up: An Oral History of Michael Bay, the Most Explosive Director of All Time

"Loud." "Stupid." "Horrible." "Unbearable." "Appalling." "Evil." "A great grinding garbage disposal of a movie." "An assault on the eyes, the ears, the brain, common sense and the human desire to be entertained."

In 1998, a national magazine asked in an article "Is Michael Bay the Devil?" Thirteen years later, you can still buy T-shirts that answer yes. The 46-year-old director has long been treated by cineastes as the macho spawn of Ed Wood—a testosterone-sweating embodiment of everything that is wrong with modern Hollywood. (Those quotes up there are from actual reviews of his movies.) It also doesn't help his image that on his film sets he can be a notoriously domineering prick. Bay has flourished, though, not just because his eye-strafing event movies rake in so much money but also because—and let's whisper here, lest the film snobs are listening—so many of them kick ass. Sure, the dialogue is often subliterate and his fast-cutting style can cause epilepsy. But! Movie stars look dripping hot, never better, in front of his camera. And of course, he has orchestrated some of the most complex and thrilling action set pieces ever put on film. Is Michael Bay an artist? Uh, no. But is he a movie icon? Have you seen the car chase in Bad Boys II? As opening day approaches for Transformers: Dark of the Moon, more than sixty of Bay's friends, relatives, actors, and collaborators testified to GQ about the most underappreciated man in show business.

Gabrielle Union (actor, Bad Boys II): You know when people talk about the very first time they did drugs? Being in a Michael Bay movie was like my drug. It's like I'm chasing the dragon—I've been chasing that experience ever since.

James Cameron (director): I've studied his films and "reverse-engineered" his shooting style. He loves what I call "the big train set," huge physical production, just as I do. It is the most challenging type of filmmaking, and he does it gorgeously.

Ben Affleck (actor, Armageddon, Pearl Harbor): I think Michael is actually an auteur in the true sense of the word. Every movie he makes reflects his personal creative vision. You may like it, you may not—but those movies are him without compromise. There's something to be said for sticking to your guns.

Steven Spielberg (producer, Transformers): He has the best eye for multiple levels of pure visual adrenaline.

Frances McDormand (actor, Transformers: Dark of the Moon): Michael Bay has a mainline to the testosterone glands of the American male.

John Turturro (actor, Transformers): He likes blowing things up.

Roberto Orci (screenwriter, Transformers): We're aware of how some people think, in terms of film history, he's the Devil. But it's amazing to have a movie where you can look at five minutes and go, "That's a Michael Bay movie." To have a style that distinct—like it or hate it, it deserves study.

George Lucas (director): Michael's films are immediately identifiable.

Ehren Kruger (screenwriter, Transformers: Dark of the Moon): He's like this cross between General Patton and Willy Wonka. He's in command of a massive army, all in the effort to create the ultimate Everlasting Gobstopper.

Jeanine Basinger (Bay's film professor, Wesleyan University): I always tell my husband, "My tombstone is going to say, 'She taught Michael Bay.' "

Michael Bay: I'm, like, a true American.


In Which We Glimpse Our Hero in His Youth

Michael Benjamin Bay grew up in a middle-class household in Southern California, the adopted son of Jim and Harriet Bay. In school, he had trouble focusing—what would probably now be diagnosed as ADD—but showed an early talent for physics, photography, the making of things.

Bay: I grew up in the Valley. My dad was an accountant, my mom was a therapist for kids.

Brad Fuller (partner, Platinum Dunes, Bay's film company): I met him at Hebrew school, but I think he denies that.

Bay: I was a shy kid, but I was very good at baseball for my age. I won MVP many times. I was like a quiet jock. I also did theater. I did The Pirates of Penzance. I had to memorize an hour and a half operetta.

Harriet Bay (mother): He was the lead, singing Frederic. I never laughed so hard in my life.

Bay: I was into these very advanced trains sets, with towns and cities and whatever, the detail of it. I remember my parents came to me: "Michael, we think you need to get outside more." And I'm thinking, "Am I fucked up?"

Harriet Bay: Some people these days call energy like that ADD-kind of energy.

K. C. Hodenfield (first assistant director, various Bay films): I had started a softball team at Lucasfilm, and there was this whiny teenage kid who would come around with the president of the company's son, wanting to play in the games. So I gotta get this kid some playing time. Ends up it was Michael Bay.

Ian Bryce (producer, various Bay films): In 1980 I was parking cars at Lucasfilm, and Michael was a summer intern; he was filing Raiders of the Lost Ark storyboards in the photo department.

Bay: I was 15. The first thing I ever said to Steven [Spielberg] was, "I really thought Raiders of the Lost Ark was going to suck."

After high school, Bay moved across the country for an unlikely destination: Wesleyan University, a tiny liberal-arts school in rural Connecticut known for its antimainstream intellectualism. He did not fit in.

Fuller: I wonder if he'll admit this: we both did poorly on our SATs.

Harriet Bay: He probably has the lowest SATs of anyone who ever went to Wesleyan. But he's just not a good test-taker. He graduated magna cum laude.

Bay: Wesleyan was very cliquey. They all wore dark clothing, and they were always uggghhhhh.

Basinger: "All the film majors wore black! They liked death!" He sees them as one giant goth! Wesleyan was not a very big frat school, but Michael belonged to one.

Fuller: We were very outspoken that there's nothing bad about making commercial films, and we were certainly ostracized by some of our classmates for that. We both loved Risky Business.

Basinger: West Side Story—that film in particular captured his attention.

Bay: I thought, "Musicals? Ugh, what am I doing? I don't want to take a musical class. Sounds terrible." I loved it. It was all about form, style, how they use the medium. That's what I try to do with my action.

Basinger: That class was important to him, because he realized that you're not bound by reality in film if you don't want to be. And his work is about color and movement and a kind of abstraction and unreality that is found in musicals.


In Which Our Hero Narrowly Avoids "Movie Jail"

In the early 1990s, Bay quickly became a coveted music video and commercial director, amassing a body of work known as much for its sharp humor as for its bold pyrotechnics. Among his work: the original Got Milk? advertisement and an epic trio of music videos for Meat Loaf.

Bay: I knew exactly what I was going to do. I was going to do videos—that's when videos were fun. And then commercials—I was told, "Oh, you can only do one type of commercial. You can do sports. Or action. Or comedy." But I'm like, "I'm gonna do 'em all."

Tony Scott (director, Top Gun, Days of Thunder): Michael and I come from commercials, we come from videos. And what that means is, we're practiced in shooting on tops of mountains, underwater, with actors and non-actors, with models—we've created our craft, because we get to try things all the time.

Bay: This guy called me in from Capitol Records—he was a hard-ass marine, kinda scary in the meeting. He said, "If you can wrap this Donny Osmond video up for $165,000…" Meanwhile, I'm like two weeks out of school. The most I've ever spent is $5,000. I ended up getting paid $500. But I got to make my first thing.

Harriet Bay: I remember going out to watch him shoot it. It was in the Mojave desert, and there's like 200 people. It's this big deal. It was so exotic. It was the first time he got to use a helicopter. And he whispers in my ear, "Mom, can you believe I'm getting paid to do this?"

Fuller: The first time I saw Michael on a bigger set, he was doing a video, and there was the hottest blonde girl I've ever seen in my life, and she's got a wind machine on her. She's dancing, she looks hot, she's wearing a short skirt. He's shooting her from a low angle. And he looked at a few of us, and there was this look in his eyes, like he had reached nirvana. It was childlike wonderment.

Bay: Soon I got called by Propaganda Films. It was just a creative little hub making videos and commercials. It was David Fincher, Dominic Sena, Nigel Dick, Greg Gold. Fincher—at one point our offices were across from each other, and I always called his The Doom and Gloom Office because it was always dark. And I was "The commercial guy."

Robbie Consing (storyboard artist, various Bay films): I remember a lot of my director friends and bosses at the time were wary of Michael, this kid rising up so quickly, still in his early twenties. And those wary directors were only in their late twenties and early thirties themselves.

Bay: The offer to do Got Milk? came to me and I'm like, "Milk? That's embarrassing." When I did it, I was like, "This is a terrible commercial. I don't get it." It won the Grand Prix Clio for Commercial of the Year. I think it's an OK commercial.

Scott Gardenhour (producer): There was no question Michael would go on to do other things, and that they wouldn't be small.

Bay: I had gotten movie offers and turned them down. I took my time. They sent me Saving Private Ryan, but I wouldn't have known what to do with it.

Joe Pantoliano (actor, Bad Boys): I remember Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer had this movie Bad Boys going. It was going to be Jon Lovitz and somebody else—

Jerry Bruckheimer (producer, various Bay films): Dana Carvey. We'd looked at a bunch of commercial directors because we'd had success with Tony Scott, and the one reel that stood out was Michael's. It had a wonderful sense of humor and a unique visual style—like nobody else. Michael did a test scene with Jon and Dana, but Disney didn't like the test.

Bay: Jeffrey Katzenberg didn't think it was funny. Maybe it was too goofy.

Bruckheimer: So we took the movie to Sony, and they wanted Arsenio Hall, because he was a big star at the time. I didn't think that was going to work. So then they said, "What about Martin Lawrence?"

Martin Lawrence (actor, Bad Boys): There were a few names [for the other lead]. Like Laurence Fishburne. I was riding down the street one time and I saw him, so I yelled out of the car, asking if he would do Bad Boys. Laurence Fishburne shook his head no. And then Michael kind of handpicked Will [Smith].

Bruckheimer: I think Arsenio turned it down, is what really happened. So we convinced them to use Will.

Will Smith (actor, Bad Boys): My first impression of Michael was that he was know how at the go-kart races, there's always one kid who's got real wheels on his go-kart and everybody else got the plastic baby wheels? That one kid who always had it elevated? That was Michael. I think he had just done the Meat Loaf video—this guy had a plane crash in a music video. I was like, Damn.

Jennifer Klein (producer; former vice president, Bay Films): There was no script when they started filming Bad Boys.

Form: Well, there was a draft, but yes, there were new pages being slid under doors at night in the hotel.

Bay: I was fearful of movie jail. Movie jail is: you screw up your first time, you're never working again.

Bruckheimer: He pushed really hard—the first day of filming, he did like fortysome setups. A normal director—you get ten, if you're lucky.

Smith: The set, it was probably dangerous.

Bay: By week two, Martin was being a dick to me. And I was like, "What is this attitude?" He didn't trust the white man. That was the deal.

Lawrence: That's exactly what it was. You know, Michael—he has a certain bravado. One time he said to me, "I need your notes on the script," and I looked at him, I said: "Michael, yeah, I'll get the notes to you when I get to it." And he just looked at me with this blank stare like, "Oh, he did not."

Bay: [Eventually] I took him aside and said, "Dude, what's your deal? I'm busting my ass to make you look good, make you look funny. And you just keep belittling me." And then here's the speech, almost like it was ready to come out. He says, "I'm a black man that made it from nothing!" And I said, "You know what? I'm a white guy who made it from nothing, too. I grew up in the fuckin' Valley." Instant respect.

Lawrence: I had to get to know him. We grew to be the coolest.

Pantoliano: Michael would say, "Look, I only got $23 million, okay?

Form: It was only a $19 million movie. Which no one believes, but it's true. I have the budget.

Bay: Maybe I had $11 million.

Bruckheimer: Michael even had to write a check for an action sequence that Sony wouldn't pay for.

Bay: The scene where Martin shoots the guy out of the plane. I said to the line producer, "This is where the audience claps. This is the end of the movie." He was like, "I don't care. We're not doing the shot." He was just a studio flunky. I was literally going to punch him out.

Peter Devlin (sound mixer, various Bay films): The scene cost $25,000. That's a lot of money. I believe the studio cashed the check as well.

Bay: They used to watch dailies where you do the clap with the slate. So just to screw with them, I put the check [on the slate and wrote] TO COLUMBIA PICTURES, FROM MICHAEL BAY, $25,000.

Bruckheimer: He put his money where his talent is.

Bay: I didn't get the money back until the movie made like $60 million. And I had to beg for it.

Klein: There's this scene where Will Smith runs down a street, and at the first test screening in Lakewood, California, women were screaming because Smith's shirt is flying open. That was it. He was a star.

Bay: We had an argument about that shot.

Smith: He was like, "Oh, take your shirt off and run with the gun!" And I was like, "Come on, man. That's just on the edge of corny." But he can take things that you'd think of as corny, and make it supergalactic iconic.

Bay: I was like, "Look at this! You look like a movie star!" And he's like, "Shit, I do!"

Smith: That was the moment for me where I learned how important single images are. That single image took me from a comedic television actor to a potential movie star. The scripts that I started to get offered changed dramatically. It was the first time that I heard women react to me with an audible gasp. There was a transformation from the cute guy next door who could make you laugh to a guy who might be able to handle himself in a bar fight and a bedroom.

Klein: I don't know that anyone is a starmaker, but I think Michael has a knack for taking actors and actresses and elevating them to another level that they might not have known was within them. Will Smith, Ben Affleck, Nic Cage—like, before The Rock, what was he doing?

Bay: I didn't make him a star. Remember, he got the Oscar for Best Actor [for Leaving Las Vegas] when we were doing The Rock. Which wasn't a no-brainer. We had to do a lot of work on the script to make it more real and serious and cool.

Bruckheimer: On The Rock, we had Aaron Sorkin sending us pages almost every day because some of the scenes weren't working.

Bay: I was terrified of working with Sean Connery. I gave him my first great direction: I said, "Can you act less charming?"

Bruckheimer: He did a terrific job of getting Sean to loosen up. I shouldn't say loosen up, because he's pretty loose—getting Sean to accept some of Nic's craziness. I shouldn't say craziness—I should say his creative dialogue.

Bay: One day I showed up on set and Cage came out for a scene in his apartment dressed in a purple Speedo. And I'm like, "Oh, I get it. Okay. You don't want to wear the wardrobe because you want to show your muscles. OK, let's just get it all out in the beginning of the movie."

Bruckheimer: It wasn't always a cakewalk. Sean Connery's like another producer. He'll come out on set and say, "Why is that here? That crane's been out here for two days and nobody's using it. You're wasting money."

Bay: He kept calling me "boy." And one time he called me a "cock." [In Connery accent] "You cocksucker!" It was his last day of the shoot, and he didn't like holding his breath underwater. I had United States SEALs holding him down because there was a fireball going over the water, and if he came up, he would burn his face off. So whatever, he called me names.


In Which Armageddon Is Coming (to a Theater Near You)

Bay followed up Bad Boys and The Rock with Armageddon, about a giant asteroid on a collision course with Earth. Made for $140 million, the movie grossed more than half a billion dollars worldwide, and it cemented Bay's reputation as a popcorn superstar and critical Antichrist.

Bay: I took a geology course with this tectonic expert at Wesleyan. He said, "Calamities happen; it's the plumbers who will fix the world." So Armageddon—that's what it is, it's everyday Joes saving the world.

Matt Cohan (Vice President, Bay Films): I've heard him describe Armageddon—at least structurally—as a comedy, in the tradition of the old Laurel and Hardy or Abbott and Costello fish-out-of-water comedies.

Bay: It's supposed to be a joke. It's about making fun of the system.

Oren Aviv (Chief Marketing Officer, 20th Century Fox): How do you make the fact that the world is about to blow up seem like a lot fun?

Bruckheimer: We really tried to ground it in some form of reality—even though it's a fantasy. So we did a lot of research and asked scientists to work with our writers to get as much reality into the movie as possible.

Bay: The real story is, it's going to happen. Yes, we are going to have an asteroid hit us again, and yes, the earth will die. Absolutely, 100 percent positive.

Billy Bob Thornton: You know, what sets Armageddon apart from a lot of those big splashy movies is, it's actually pretty good. I mean, people love that movie; it's become kind of an American favorite. One of my lines is—I don't know if you'd call it iconic, but it's when I'm talking to the president and he says, "How big are we talking here?" And I say, "It's the size of Texas, Mr. President."

Matt Cohan: Armageddon was pretty notorious for having I don't know how many uncredited writers working on it, one of whom happened to be Robert Towne.

Roger Ebert, film review, July 1, 1998: "Armageddon reportedly used the services of nine writers. Why did it need any? The dialogue is either shouted one-liners or romantic drivel. 'It's gonna blow!' is used so many times, I wonder if every single writer used it once, and then sat back from his word processor with a contented smile on his face, another day's work done."

Bruckheimer: Owen Wilson definitely was Michael's idea. Michael saw Bottle Rocket; he said, "We gotta hire this guy."

Bay: [The first day] Owen came to the set an hour, hour and a half late. We put the PAs out on the Warner Bros. lot, said "Call me when you find him." On Armageddon, each day was a big expensive day, $250,000. I put my arm around Owen, who's a great guy. I said, "Owen, you know what, I worked with Sean Connery and I gotta tell you, he was never late." And Owen was never late again.

Klein: Ben [Affleck] was new on the scene. We put him through the Bruckheimer-Bay machine—like, You're no longer chasing Amy. You're going to have to go to the gym, get a tan, get a haircut.

Bay: Jerry had a problem with his teeth. "He's got baby teeth. I fixed Cruise's teeth. We're going to fix his teeth." So Ben got a beautiful set of teeth out of it.

Klein: I remember the first day of shooting in Kadoka, South Dakota, and [Ben] was wearing this spacesuit, and he was pissed. You couldn't go to the bathroom in it, it weighed however many pounds, you're sweating, so who are you mad at? Michael.

Affleck: I imagined [Michael] would be emblematic of everything big and Hollywood. I had come off Chasing Amy and Good Will Hunting, so I really had no idea what big Hollywood movies were like.

Thornton: I was sitting at the table read-through with Owen [Wilson] and Buscemi, and we were all sitting there kind of nervously. And Steve looks at me and goes, "What the fuck are we doing here?"


In Which Our Hero Discovers War Is Hell

By 2001, after three straight monster hits, Bay was the most coveted director in Hollywood. Now the hot-young-filmmaker script called for a bid for seriousness, an attempt to make an "Oscar movie." Pearl Harbor actually did end up winning one—for sound editing. It was also among the decade's worst-reviewed movies.

Dick Cook (former chairman, Disney): I think Pearl Harbor was one of the most difficult shoots of modern history.

Consing: One day, I was on the way to meeting with Michael on a battleship at Ford Island. Complete Bayhem. I passed a squadron of Zeros chasing two P-40 fighter planes forty feet above the deck, guns blazing, followed by the camera ship. Then watched fireballs exploding on a nearby frigate as burning stuntmen leaped into the water. Then saw another Zero come around and buzz our battleship as Cuba Gooding Jr. fired back with a .50 caliber fifteen feet over my head. It wasn't even 10 a.m.

Barry Waldman (producer, various Bay films): I think the studio tried to shut down the movie twice.

Cook: Michael was putting in twenty-hour days. And he was driving the crew and the performers and everybody crazy.

Waldman: We must have blown something up every day.

Hodenfield: We blew up hundreds of bombs, multiple ships out in the harbor. I had to shut down two interstates. I was like, Oh, my God—people are gonna think the Japanese are attacking again, 'cause we were gonna blow this place sky high.

Mike Case (Vice President, Bay Films): I remember being on that set and listening to his voice as a commander. All hell's about to get unleashed; these bombs are going to go off and these guys need cues. And right then and there, you saw him, almost like he was in battle.

Bay: It was dangerous. A plane hit a palm tree, the thing crashed, and the guy survived—miraculously survived.

Affleck: The script was good. The idea was to make the kind of movie that could have been released in the '40s—unironic, slightly naive—with new technology.

Kenny Bates (stunt coordinator, various Bay films): Michael Bay is not gonna tell a love story. It's not because he doesn't care; it's because that's not part of who he is. He's not a terribly sensitive guy. But he's a great filmmaker.

Hodenfield: Michael was saying he was gonna go about the movie differently—he was gonna hold shots longer, he wasn't gonna move the camera as much. This was gonna be like a classic movie. The first day we started shooting, he wasn't using his fast-moving, fast cuts, low shots—his bag of tricks—and it was like watching an Italian speak without his hands. By lunchtime, we're making a Michael Bay movie, in the Michael Bay style.

Bay: I don't change my style for anybody. Pussies do that.

Roger Ebert, film review, May 25, 2001: "The film has been directed without grace, vision, or originality, and although you may walk out quoting lines of dialogue, it will not be because you admire them."

Bay: It got pounded by critics. It's funny with them. You are making entertainment. People get so angry about it.

Basinger: I think this kind of thing hurts Michael a lot. He says it doesn't. But I think the ferocity of the animosity aimed at him has shocked him and hurt him.

Bruckheimer: You'd like to get good reviews, but the only reason I still have an office and a parking space at Disney is our movies do well.

Hodenfield: Honestly, I felt like that movie took some years off my life.

Bay: It was successful. It had a huge opening day, then it started dropping off. But it made $450 million. They said it was not a hit. It was a hit. And then the DVD came out after 9/11 and it became a massive, massive DVD—the largest of all-time, at that time. Because all of a sudden it was cool to be patriotic again.

Shia LaBeouf (actor, Transformer series): It's the casting. With a different cast, Pearl Harbor would be considered a masterpiece.


In Which Our Hero Transforms

The Island, a sci-fi movie starring Scarlett Johansson and Ewan McGregor, became the only true commercial flop of Bay's career. The 2005 film cost $126 million and made just $36 million in the U.S. For the first time, he needed a hit.

Adam Goodman (President, Paramount): Transformers are essentially cars that change into robots, and who better at shooting cars than Michael Bay?

Spielberg: I couldn't think of a better director to turn a truck into a robot and make us believe it was really happening.

Brian Goldner (CEO, Hasbro): He knew that Transformers existed; he knew that they were robots and cars, but he didn't know all the mythology.

Bryce: I think Michael would be the first to say that he didn't get it in the beginning.

Bay: I thought it was a dumb idea.

Josh Duhamel (actor, Transfomers): Michael poked his head [into a meeting] to say hello and started telling me about his next project, a movie called Transformers. And I go "Transformers? Like the cartoon from the '80s?" and he's like "Yeah, yeah," and he's all excited about it. And I was thinking, This is the worst idea ever.

Alex Kurtzman (screenwriter, Transformers series): It's about a boy who's really obsessed with getting a car. That's when we saw Michael's eyes light up like he was a 12-year-old again.

Spielberg: It was Michael's sense of humor that would allow audiences to take Transformers just seriously enough.

Goodman: It became Michael's mission to make the most pop, commercially successful movie he could, because he wanted to. And because he needed to.

Bay: Steven wanted me to do it. It was, like, a kiddie script. He goes, "Michael, I wanna be your new Jerry. How do I compare to him?" So funny. He's like a kid.

LaBeouf: When I met Mike, I was a seventeen-year-old boy. He was my fucking god.

John Frazier (special-effects supervisor, various Bay films): I went up to Shia one day and I said, "You just made history. You were involved in the biggest explosion for a motion picture with an actor. You were in it. Usually, you have stunt people in there." Five thousand gallons of gasoline. Probably one hundred sticks of dynamite. You only see that stuff in Michael Bay movies. Nobody else does that stuff.

Kurtzman: [Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen] was a very different experience for all of us, because we agreed to do the movie about two weeks before the writer's strike. So we had those two weeks to outline the story, and then the strike happened and we couldn't continue

LaBeouf: Everybody felt like, "Well, if there's anybody to do this again, it's the guys who wrote the first one, because the first one's fantastic." We were forced on this fucking script because we had a release date.

Orci: I remember there was a huge pressure—and not just from the studios—to make our date, but also from Michael himself.

Kruger: He wasn't thinking so highly of writers at that moment.

Orci: When we got back from the strike, he locked us in a golden jail. He locked us in the Del Mar Hotel on the beach six blocks from his office so that he could have surprise inspections at any moment.

Kurtzman: It was simultaneously pressure-filled and amusing, you know?

Bryce: Mike, being the center of everything, had to bear the burden of helping to craft a script that we could then shoot. Because once you commit, you've got a release date that's driving the train. So there was no turning back.

Bay: It was a very bad way to make a movie. We were stuck in a bad time in Hollywood. And as a director you feel bad because these people are so loyal and they have families. Transformers gives 2,000, maybe 2,500 people jobs.

LaBeouf: On that second one, we were in New Mexico, and I'm supposed to stab this spear into Optimus's chest—which is a big blue mound. And there was moisture all over this blue tarp, and I kept slipping. We did one take where I slipped and the spear went into my eye above my retina.

Bay: Oh, I went down to my knees. I thought he lost his eye.

LaBeouf: This liquid started dripping down my face. They thought maybe I had popped my eyeball. I look at Mike, and he drops to his knees and puts his hands over his eyes and starts crying. That's when you know the dude loves you.

Bryce: I think many of us preferred the heart and soul of the first movie.

Kurtzman: It was definitely a disappointment for all of us.

LaBeouf: I remember being in London with Mike at the premiere, and I remember coming out of the premiere—and the audience reaction was incredible, actually. It was a really, really solid audience reaction: standing ovation and all that, and we get out, and Mike had this sort of demeanor—he looked fractured.

Bay: You sometimes have to find your way with franchises.

Hodenfield: Nobody makes a better popcorn movie than Michael Bay. But you're eating that popcorn and drinking your Diet Coke, and after two and a half hours you're gonna have to get up and pee.

Julie White (actor, Transformers series): He's just trying to make a fun popcorn movie for you, so? So it's twenty minutes too long. Get over it.

Josh Greenstein (Co-President, Marketing, Paramount): In terms of negative attention, I think that's overblown. The audiences loved the movie. Whether critics did or not, that's another story, but the movie played and ended up grossing over $400 million.

Turturro: I thought Two was good. I liked it better than One. A lot of people I know feel that way.

White: After that second movie, I couldn't read anything about it, because the attacks on him seemed so personal. It felt like the critics were all the geeks in high school who had hated the guys who played football or something.

Bay: I did Transformers: Dark of the Moon because the studio president came to me, he says: "I'm going to get fucking fired." I really looked him in the eye, and I'm like, "It's a lot of work."

Rob Moore (Vice Chairman, Paramount): That conversation was part of a trip that Adam [Goodman], Michael, and I took to Las Vegas. We were very motivated for him to do the movie and he wasn't sure. What specifically we said? I think there's an expression, What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. It seems like Michael has broken that rule.

Bay: I'm not going to sit in my house by myself—what am I going to do? Leading the fat cat life—I don't want to do that. I'd rather go back in the trenches.


In Which We Learn There's a Man Inside the Machine

LaBeouf: I've only seen Mike with two women in the six years that I've known him. He wants a family and has the heart for it.

Case: He's kind of the Warren Beatty of our generation.

Roger Barton (editor, various Bay films): My wife tries to limit my outings with him.

Jon Voight (actor, Pearl Harbor, Transformers): He has his girlfriends, all of that stuff. He's an active guy with his gals.

Bay: Well, it was only two [blonds]. But that was two in a row. Normally I don't go out with blonds.

Harriet Bay: I said, "Oh, Michael, I guess you're going to be like Warren Beatty. He didn't get married until he was fifty." So Michael feels he's got three more years to go.

Bay: It's about finding a wife. I've had a lot of great girlfriends.

White: I just can't see him with somebody over 35.

Bay: I'm a serious guy, but I don't take myself so seriously. Some people are so serious.

Greenstein: That Verizon commercial he did about himself? It's fucking hilarious. That's the real Michael: he is really funny. There's always a little bit of a wink to how he feels about this persona that's out there about him.

White: He is extremely passionate about getting it right and making it cooler. And sometimes—to his own detriment—making it bigger, bigger, bigger!

Bay: They make up words like Bayos and Bayhem and all this crap.

Bates: Through the years, his sentences are getting shorter. Incomplete sentences.

Calvin Wimmer (editor, Transformers series): All the words are English, but you have no idea what it is he's talking about. And you gotta go find the people that were nearest around him at that time and try to figure out: "Okay, so this is what he said—what does this mean?" Because it comes so fast.

Turturro: Sometimes it's hard because he doesn't always explain himself. His brain is moving so fast.

Barton: After one of these downloads, I find I need a couple minutes to myself, because I've got a note or a paper full of chicken scratch, which are word fragments because he was talking so fast.

Wimmer: You have to decipher the Bayroglyphics.

Joel Negron (editor, various Bay films): I think the recurring editorial theme is: Guess. But guess correctly.

Kruger: Just when you think he's really upset about something, he'll get off the phone having screamed. He'll throw down the phone and just with a smile, say, "That should get their attention." He's very self-aware.

Bay: The persona comes from…I'm a frank guy.

John Malkovich (actor, Transformers: Dark of the Moon): You know, it's an incredible amount of pressure. And sure, somebody could say "He's a junkie for that," or "He likes the authority," but I always think, God, that must be so lonely.

Bay: Some nights I sleep like a baby. Other nights it's, Oh God, I just came up with a bomb shot.

Tyrese Gibson (actor, Transformers series): Sometimes, we'll be hanging out, and Michael just leaves mentally. You can tell, like, he's looking at you, but he's looking through you. His mind is somewhere else. He's thinking about a camera angle, some kind of visual effect.

LaBeouf: Mike is a vulnerable guy. He's the guy who laughs at a joke, then asks you why it's funny.

Lawrence: He challenges you to be better, and if you try something and it's not funny or it's not what he's looking for, he will look at you with a blank stare, like, "I don't get it."

Scarlett Johansson (actor, The Island): I ran into him leaving a party once and asked him if I could be the Easy-Bake Oven Transformer. He looked at me in all seriousness and said, "There isn't one."


In Which the Damsel Calls Our Hero "Hitler"

Before filming began on Transformers: Dark of the Moon, controversy struck. In an interview with the British magazine Wonderland, star Megan Fox said Bay "wants to be like Hitler on his sets, and he is. So he's a nightmare to work for."

Kruger: She was there for rehearsals. But she seemed like an actress who didn't want to be a part of it. She was saying she wanted to, but she wasn't acting like it.

Bay: She was in a different world, on her BlackBerry. You gotta stay focused. And you know, the Hitler thing. Steven [Spielberg] said, "Fire her right now."

LaBeouf: Criticism is one thing. Then there's public name-calling, which turns into high school bashing. Which you can't do. She started shit-talking our captain.

Bay: I wasn't hurt, because I know that's just Megan. Megan loves to get a response. And she does it in kind of the wrong way. I'm sorry, Megan. I'm sorry I made you work twelve hours. I'm sorry that I'm making you show up on time. Movies are not always warm and fuzzy. [Editors note: Fox declined to comment for this article.]

Bryce: On the plus side of the column, Rosie has done an enormously wonderful job for being a newcomer.

Bay: Listen, I mean, Rosie came in and she would say hello to the crew. She would acknowledge the crew. She'd say thank you.

Rosie Huntington-Whiteley (model/actor, Transformers: Dark of the Moon): I was really grateful to everybody, from the people on the catering department to the camera boys to the producers to Shia.

Julie White (actor, Transformer series): I texted [Megan] and was like, "Come back, Lassie!" Because I think she's magic. She is the My Little Pony of Transformers.

Bay: She sent me a text three months ago. She said "I hope you're doing well." I responded, "Who is this?" She goes, "Megan, you dork!" I said, "Oh, well, thank you, hope you're well." When you're days and months on a set, it's like a family. You say rude things and you make up. Like, we were shooting a scene in front of the space shuttle and Shia called me a "cocksucker."

LaBeouf: Sometimes to make [a scene] real for me, I need to mindfuck myself. And part of that is having a speaker on set with an iPod plugged in so I can conjure emotions. And some of the songs that I like to play, Mike's not going to have it.

Bay: So Shia's gonna do his emotional scene. He gets out of his car and says, "Michael, you're gonna start with me first." And I said, "No, we're gonna start this way. This is a space shuttle! The United States of America! The last one to be launched!"

LaBeouf: So I'm playing my song and he finally says to me, "No, we're not going to play that song." And he puts on some orchestral Batman soundtrack shit. Not for me, you know?

Bay: Then he called me a "cocksucker." But I knew that he had just broken up with his girlfriend. So I didn't go after him. I just said, "That's rude. Don't call me that."

LaBeouf: It was probably the worst argument I've ever had with a co-worker—under a spaceship, screaming at him, "You motherfucker!" All this insanity. Really crazy stuff that I don't feel comfortable repeating, actually. Really gnarly.

Bay: So I ignored him for three days, and that just drives him nuts. "Mike, I'm so sorry! I'm so sorry!" I've had to do a little parenting with Shia, but he's a great kid.

LaBeouf: And then you pull your pants up and you get back to work.


In Which We Learn Our Hero Is, Okay, Yes, a Bit of a Tyrant

Johansson: He can be merciless at times, yet surprisingly sensitive.

Smith: One day he comes to our trailer and says, "Can you guys step out here for one second?" So we go, and he points up to the sky and says, "You see that big fucking orange thing? When that goes down, this scene's over. So I don't give a fuck what you say—just make sure you say it in my shot."

Bryce: He is a machine, but he recognizes that he doesn't want to be.

Lawrence: I mean, he's like the mad scientist.

Basinger: And of course, he's a screamer.

Form: The building shakes.

Smith: He's a yeller, but he's not really a fighter.

Michael Clarke Duncan (actor, Armageddon): He's like one of those Chihuahuas that's always barking.

LaBeouf: He's got to be a motherfucker. Because there's 90 people marching to the beat of his drum, and there can't be any indecision. And so it's a character that Mike puts on; he's very smart, and you need that guy to make these movies.

Tyrese: He's got this thing in his head, man, he doesn't want to give me too many compliments.

Kruger: High praise from Michael on an action sequence will be, "That's pretty good."

Bates: If he doesn't eat, he just goes south. If you don't get a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in him, he has a meltdown around lunch hour.

LaBeouf: He's not at all this alpha male, this machismo legend shit—he's not any of these things. You know what he is? New York. If you can make it on a Bay set, you can make it on any set.

Hodenfield: We all have tried over the years to anticipate what [he wants], but after a certain point you get tired of being told you're dumb.

Waldman: He said to me once, "You look familiar. Haven't we met?" I told him I was second unit on Bad Boys, and he said, "Oh, I remember you. You sucked."

Bates: He's just a real pain in my ass—and you can write that. I love him like my brother, but I don't talk to my brother. We call him socially retarded sometimes.

Harriet Bay: I think people would like me to tell horror stories, like he was this devil. But he's really a good kid.

Additional reporting by Lauren Bans, Mark Byrne, Christopher Swetala, and Nurit Zunger.

The Uncensored Brilliance of Shia LaBeouf

GQ: How did you first meet Michael Bay?
Shia LaBeouf: I did a screen test and they sent my dailies to Michael, and Michael asked to meet with me. I still hadn't met Steven at this point. I went and sat down with Michael; he had me read these really generic lines for what seemed like a stand-up routine; the character was—it was a neurotic monologue. And then he asked me to ad-lib my own separate monologue on the tail end of it and then combine the two of them, and then run in this parking lot and do the monologue, and then run up the stairs and do the monologue, and then do push-ups and do the monologue. Stuff like that—I mean literally, literally, literally. And then we went downstairs, and we talked about my upbringing and all that, and my family. We started talking about the stand-up routine and then he asked me to do some of my stand-up routine for him, which I did.

Not long after that—maybe a week later—I was still shooting Disturbia, that tape had gone to Steven and he had signed off, and Michael said that he had signed off, and they were working on my deal. Michael told me there was a guy in London who, if I didn't sign up for, you know, a rebated deal [would replace me]. My whole thing was I wanted to work with Michael, because first and foremost, I'm a true fan of Mike's movies. There's not one movie he's made that I'm not entertained by—not one. Not one where I don't watch the entire thing all the way through. And there are a lot of movies I can't get through. If there's anything to say about Michael: he makes entertaining films. He knows his audience. When I met Mike, I was a seventeen-year-old boy. He was my fucking god.

And meeting him in person was a very different thing; he's not at all this alpha male, this machismo legend shit—he's not any of these things. When he's on set, he's different; when he's on set, he's a leader, a general; he's relentless. He's precise and he's specific and he's determined; he's outrageously committed. He never flinches in a firefight. He's always there for you; when the going gets tough, he never flinches. He's helpful; he's confident; he's a risk-taker. But he's also completely unreasonable and irrational sometimes and emotional and aggressive and demanding. He's my coach; I love him; he's my captain. When we're on set, he's my ace. He's my best friend, but he's also my worst enemy. He's blunt with women; he lacks tact—especially on the stage that we're on, there's no time or room for talking around feelings. Sometimes it does have to be blunt. And Mike is good at that. He's very goal-oriented; he's motivated. He's smart as fuck. He knows exactly what he wants; he understands his audience. I think the dude is a genius; I think he's a visionary. He's the greatest action director in film, I think. I'm proud that I've been able to work with him. You know what he is? New York. If you can make it on a Bay set, you can make it on any set. He's really good.

GQ: What was your reaction the first time you were on set with him and he had the megaphone out and he began yelling?
Shia LaBeouf: Well, I mean, I'd just come from D.J. Caruso, who's a very—while also as enthusiastic and committed and dedicated, he's just not as blunt. He doesn't have that real leadership. Michael walks around like an undefeated fighter. The first day I came to set, the first thing I was asked to do was run away from a pitbull/mastiff/Doberman combo, that was supposed to run at me, towards camera, and then run into this dog trainer's arms. And I had just flown in from Disturbia; I was still filming that and came in for this one shot. And Mike said, "Okay, you're going to go over there." I'd never worked with this dude before. And when I came to see him on set, he had a different look in his eye. And I would come to know this Michael Bay over the next six years, but at this point in time—day one—I didn't know shit.

And so I go over to the start mark and he yells action and these dogs chase after me. In my mind, I see the dog trainer; I'm thinking these are trained dogs. There's no way he's going to make me run around with dogs that aren't trained. But, surprise surprise, these dogs have never done a fucking movie before. They were attack dogs from a retired police academy, and so they were trained to attack people. I guess this dude was like a retired cop who was like the dog guy; basically he recycled a bunch of dogs that were in the academy and then took them on his own little expedition to Hollywood and met me, and the dogs didn't stop for him. They had no respect for him and they just wanted to eat my face.

So literally I just ran around set, and I remember all the crew—this is my first shot, first take—all the crew was throwing chairs at the dog, trying to distract these dogs who were on my tail and relentless and not going to stop. And I remember them finally corralling the dogs and looking over at Mike, who's just giggling. Just fucking giggling. Giggling. And every director I worked with to that point wouldn't have been giggling—here's the star of his movie about to be mauled to death, day one, and Mike is just giggling. But when I would come in there later in life and the pedal was really to the metal—I'd really taken losses, physically—I've seen Mike drop to his knees and cry, to the floor. I've seen a different side of Michael Bay that, I guess, the legend doesn't entail.

GQ: Can you give me an example of that?
Shia LaBeouf: Yeah, I remember, we were in Alamogordo and I'd just come back from mangling my hand in a car accident. I was like, four weeks in and we're doing all right, and we're now in Alamogordo, New Mexico, and I'm supposed to stab this spear into Optimus's chest—which is a big blue mound on the floor. It was angular, because it's supposed to look like a robotic chest. It was kind of moist in the middle of the desert, because the morning in the desert's cold as shit and it's very moist, actually—there's a moisture out there. And the moisture was all over this blue tarp, and I kept slipping and sliding; I guess we did one take where I slipped and the spear went into my eye about three inches above my retina. And this purple liquid started dripping down my face. And I remember Michael running over—I'm next to this Marine, who's an EMT actually, and he's in the scene. But he's also a trained EMT who'd just come back from Afghanistan.

I remember him saying to me when Mike ran up next to him: "It's purple, good. Thank god." And Mike said, "Why is it good that it's purple?" He's freaking out like Sam, that Sam neurosis. He's tripping and asking the guys: "Why is it good that it's purple?" And the guy said, "If it was red, it means the moisture out of his popped eyeball would have mixed in with the purple blood, because blood comes out purple when it first comes out. If the milky residue in that eye had mixed with the purple, it would have come out red." And that means I hadn't popped my eyeball, and there's too much blood to be able to decide whether it was in my eyeball or not, but made a decision based on the blood that was seeping out of my face—and I don't know what's going on. All I see is a purple film's over my eye, my right eye, part of my vision, and my other vision is fine. I look at Mike, and Mike drops to his knees and puts his hands over his eyes and starts crying with the megaphone next to him. And that's when you know the dude loves you.

He's never going to come over and tap you on the back or give you a hug or say good morning to you—unless we're off work. But when we're at work, there's no huggy, kissy shit. He's a boss. He's General Patton-like, and his affections are minimal, but the only time I felt, at least, his affection at work, was when I would take damage. Then he would really care, and I remember towards the end of the film run, he wouldn't let me do a lot of the stunts he used to let me do. It was interesting. Because he became protective, parental. His maturation is taking him closer to the dude who belongs in a family, and I can see it reflected on me. That protectionist thing that he has in him—the man is a good man, but when he's on set, he can't allude to that. He's got to be a motherfucker. Because there's 90 people marching to the beat of his drum, and there can't be any indecision. He has to look like the smartest shark in the water. Otherwise, people are going to follow him into the fire. And so it's a character that Mike puts on; he's very smart, and you need that guy to make these movies.

GQ: He described you guys as having a big-brother, little-brother relationship. Accurate?
Shia LaBeouf: Yes.

GQ: But he did tell me that you had one blow-up where you yelled at him on III. He was surprised about it—can you tell me about that a little bit?
Shia LaBeouf: Uh, I mean one Mike would tell you about was when I was—the first time—I'm a pretty explicit character, as is Mike, and I'd never met a director like him, and he'd never met an actor like me. When we got to the set—I met him when I was 18, so I didn't have a whole lot of ground to stand on. My leverage was nil to none, and I was this new rookie who was in the middle of the Michael Bay Show trying to anchor it—in truth. And some of the shit he was asking me to do was asinine, and I would tell him, and he'd be baffled that this eighteen-year-old had the gall to step in front of Mike Bay, the master, on his set in his domain and say: No. So that got old really quick for Mike.

I remember one time—and Jon Voight was there; if you talk to him, he can attest to it—and Duhamel was there, and Tyrese was there, and Megan was there. We were all in the middle of a like, sundry, like where we're stashing weapons and a weapons shoot. And I think I had a problem with some—I forget what it was; it was superfluous at the time, but I remember, they just add up. You spend seven months with a person screaming at you; toward the end, you're like, "You know what? I'm going to fucking stab you." So any little thing and you're ready to fly off the handle, and I think I lost my cool one day with Mike on some dumb, dumb shit like who I was entering with. And Mike lost it as well, because he had had enough at that point as well, and we got to the point where it's shirts and hands, fist to chest, screaming, spitting—we're about to fight. And I remember Jon Voight struts in and puts his arms between—and Jon is the biggest man on set; he's an older dude, but he's still ripped, and he's still big. I just remember the force of Voight's palm pushing me back and pushing Mike back. That was one time when we almost came to blows.

And then on the second movie, he was nice to me. Because that was in the middle of my sort of physical catastrophe, like Quasimodo-ing my way through the movie, so he was nicer. And he had his own problems with Megan. Towards the third movie—there's really heavy emotional lifting. That's the thing about Mike, and that's what makes him a great leader also—I think a major director attribute is that he's willing to take risks. And he does it in segments—so like, in the third movie, he'd never dealt with this type of emotional—he'd never really dive in this hammer-on-the-nail sort of approach to the emotional shit that we'd have to do in this movie, like dealing with loss and things like that. And Mike's dealt with loss in his own life, and so when he's having us depict something that mirrors something in his life, it starts to get too close to home, and he starts feeling less leader and more vulnerable. He starts shutting down, and in those moments, I need him the most; that's when I need him to be the fucking—he needs to be my rock in those moments, because I need to be vulnerable, and you can't have two vulnerable people trying to make a movie at the same time. It's impossible. You need a leader. And so if I have to crack and you have to guide me, then you need to be strong in those moments.

On III, I think we were dealing with something where we were shooting underneath a big spaceship in Cape Canaveral, and there were all these NASA people around this. I'm having to deal with the loss of Bumblebee; I'm losing my best friend in the whole world now to another planet, and I'm never going to see him again. In order to make that real for me sometimes, I need to mindfuck myself. And part of that is having a speaker on set with an iPod plugged in so I can conjure emotions. And some of the songs that I like to play—you know, like Feist—Mike's not going to have it. Because he's on his set and he's surrounded by 90 masculine worker bees who've been with him for seven months trudging uphill, and surrounded around those people are military and NASA, and everybody's looking at Mike, who's now dealing with someone—it's a very vulnerable subject matter—not only just what we're dealing with, but also for him and his career. People take a lot of hits at Mike based on character, actor, storyline type topics. And they think he doesn't have a good hold on those things.

I read as much as the next fan—as does Mike—and you read all the negative as well, and most of the negative I see targeted at Mike is dealing with things like what we had to deal with in this moment. And here we are at NASA and I can feel him bubbling, and I'm playing my song and he finally says to me, "No, we're not going to play that song." And he puts on some orchestral Batman soundtrack shit—not for me, you know? Like maybe, "Yeah, Mike, if you want to sit here and cry at the loss of your best friend, then play that. But you're not here right now; it's me here and I need this and this is what it's gotta be." And now we're arguing about the music choice for my scene that he's involved in from a distance, but in this moment, it's me and that music, and I can't get over the idea that he won't allow the idea to play this vulnerable shit that gets me there. He's just playing the soundtrack, and it's like—to me, I can't get my head around it.

And so, you know, again—we start wrestling again. And then I get really bold with Mike, when I'm like that. He gets bold with me also, you know? And then he sort of backed off, and the cameras finished off what we needed to finish, and then he came back and shot the rest of the movie. It was probably the worst verbal argument I've ever had with any coworker in my life—under a spaceship, screaming at him: "You motherfucker!" All this insanity. Really crazy stuff that I don't even feel comfortable repeating, actually. Really gnarly. And then you pull your pants back up and you get back to work. There's nothing you can do. He's my best friend at points, and my worst enemy at points.

GQ: That's exactly how he described it. What did you take away from that, and how does that reflect on working with other directors in the future?
Shia LaBeouf: Oh, I'll never meet a Michael Bay again. Here I'm am, I'm at the tail end of a John Hillcoat shoot. It's a totally different animal. There are attributes to John I wish I could bestow to Mike and vice versa. There's more sitting around here. That's one thing I never had to do on a Mike Bay set, is sit around and pontificate about the next scene; there's no time for it. You're already in the next scene. You're never in your trailer—you don't have to conjure much, either. That's the beauty of Mike: if there's going to be an explosion that you have to react to, you don't have to do much. He's going to blow the whole fucking building up; you just gotta be around.

GQ: You mentioned that he had his problems with Megan; obviously, you worked with Megan a lot on the first two films. Did you have a sense that things were worse on II than they were on the first film?
Shia LaBeouf: Well, I got the idea that—basically, what I saw happening is: I saw two people getting very strong-willed—well, I saw—well, here's what I saw: I saw one person who was a commanding officer—and there'd never been any mystery there—but I saw a movie come out and a person's personality change in terms of the exposure and the explosive fame element, which changes people's mindset. And then I saw a power wash over this person, and a strength that could have been taken in a positive way and instead was taken in a negative way. And she started shit-talking our captain. It's one thing to say something that's criticism, that's been talked about mutually; there's no mystery, and criticism that is real and that the person would make themselves—and then there's name-calling publicly, which turns into high school bashing. Which you can't do; you can't do.

I think at one point, Megan had said something like that Mike was Napoleon or Hitler, and I think that...he's a sweet man. He loves his mother, and he loves his dog, and he wants a family. Like all this talk about him being degrading to women and using women is all bullshit. He's not that guy. I've only seen Mike with two women in the six years that I've known him. He wants a family and has the heart for it. And I think Megan thought that he was this sort of insidious being that she invented in her mind, and because she was—the whole world was saying she was the most beautiful woman in the world—she started reading a lot of Marilyn Monroe and got this woman-power protectionist vibe that she came to II with that wasn't there in one. And while it did keep her safe, she lost her vulnerability and developed this edge that Mike didn't enjoy—as a coworker. As a character, I see the attributes to having a new person, and I also see the challenges that we face in doing so.

But again, none of it was—none of it came down to a decision I had to make. I just had to sort of become okay with it. I love Megan, and I love Mike, and now, at the tail-end of working with Rosie, I have a love for Rosie as well. It's a difficult scenario all around. But I think there's no way we would have gotten through the third movie with them at each other's necks the whole way.

GQ: Was the atmosphere of III different because of that? Did things change on the set at all?
Shia LaBeouf: Yeah, III was probably—while it was as hard to make as the others, this was our most concisely-directed effort—I think because this was one, our best script, and two, I think we knew how to make these movies really well. This is the third time we've had a go at it, and there's a lot of things that these dudes perfected that we were sort of inventing on the way.

GQ: And that was obviously the goal—Michael has talked a little bit about his disappointment in II, and I think you've talked about it, too. How did you initially feel after it came out?
Shia LaBeouf: I remember being in London with Mike at the premiere, and I remember coming out of the premiere—and the audience reaction was incredible, actually. It was a really, really solid audience reaction: standing ovation and all that, and we get out, and Mike has this sort of—just this demeanor, he looks fractured. And he's sitting in the chair next to Kenny Bates, who's his lifelong best friend and stunt coordinator on all his movies, and they look at each other, and I remember Kenny saying: "I think it went over well, Mike." And Mike says, "You think?" Mike is a very vulnerable guy when it comes to these moments in his life, and he's always asking—you know, he's the guy who will laugh at a joke and then ask you why it's funny. He's that guy. He's very inquisitive as to why it's good; tell me why we succeeded, why they like it. And I just remember him asking why and nobody being able to explain to him why we had succeeded, or why the action was what it was. Whereas the first time, everybody had a why. Everybody had an answer to the why. And the second time, nobody could figure it out. I just remember that sort of—that question mark in the air, and all of us—at least the key people—just sitting around in a room feeling like, "Yeah, we're going to be okay, but we sure as shit didn't blow it out the water like we intended to do and like we all worked for." I remember that feeling being there and nobody ever really spoke about it, and then—I didn't ever really make public mention until maybe a month later. And then after Mike had read this interview I put out there, he called me and we talked about it, and he agreed with me. And then we talked about what the next move was.

GQ: How did you guys verbalize that? What did you decide needed to change to improve?
Shia LaBeouf: We lost a big human element. We lost a—you know, in the second movie, we went bigger, yes, and succeeded in doing that. And in doing that, he also lost a lot of the intricacies. The first one had a lot of texture, and there was actually lot of personality going around, a lot of character. And the second one didn't expand on that; it actually sucked all of that dry and added this ridiculous storyline which was meandering and went nowhere, a complete shit storyline—crafted by the two dudes who wrote the first one. And so everybody felt like, "Well, if there's anybody to do this again, it's the guys who wrote the first one, because the first one's fantastic." And they were just—I think they were just sucked dry of ideas at that point; they had been writing "Fringe" nonstop. They had been writing J.J. Abrams's Star Trek, and then they're locked in a room for six weeks after the writers' strike to write a second Transformers movies, and when it came out the oven, nobody wanted to eat it. We were forced on this fucking script because we had a release date.

And so now there's a lot of me and Mike in a room trying to finagle ideas and ad-lib, bringing other actors in for rehearsal time, and then what you wind up with is you have a director who's committed but doesn't have the tools in the bag to be able to make what he wants in the canvas. Our script was flawed from the beginning and didn't deal with what the audience wanted to watch. And so I think that because these dudes were rushed, the characters were rushed, and in rushing the characters, you lost the characters; and in losing the characters, you lose the human element, as well as the robot element. Those robots have a personality as well, and I think some of those robots almost became, like—one for sure was racist. The other one became like—they all became movie surface-y bullshit characters. And the first one, when you discover them, they're actually rich and full of life—you know, in the first film. When they're all standing around in a circle and they're explaining to me how they got here—these characters are characters. They're full of life, and they have textures to them. The first one, even though it's a big movie, deals with all the semantics of those relationships. Whereas the second one was just dealing with, literally, set pieces. It's almost like Mike threw a bunch of ideas at them in the preliminary stage, like: "Hey, it'd be cool to make it worldwide. It would be cool to have a scene at the Pyramids, at the foot of the Pyramids"—and I guess there wasn't enough puzzle pieces between Mike and Kurtzman and Orci to be able to make a puzzle.

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Featuring Tom Hanks as a downsized mega-mart employee who tries college in midlife and Julia Roberts as his unlikely prof, Larry Crowne is a bewilderingly bad movie. Maybe the stars are no spring chickens, the career dilemma they're both trying to resolve here. But these are still people with resources —options, you know? They don't need to grab at the first crummy, amateurish script that comes down the pike. Even if it's written by—cough, cough—Tom Hanks, in tandem with Nia Vardalos of My Big Fat Greek Wedding and not much else.

Hanks also directed, increasing the bafflement. He's done it before—in episodes of HBO's Band of Brothers and From the Earth to the Moon, both of which he also produced. Same goes for 1996's negligible (but not bad) That Thing You Do! As filmmaking, none of them would have cost Orson Welles a nanosecond's sleep, but at least they made sense as passion projects. This one? Not so much, unless Hanks was kidding himself that a heartwarmer about average folks pasting things together was Capra for these times. Too bad that what he knows about the "little people" wouldn't fill Tom Thumb's jockstrap.

The story Etch-a-Sketches along from one inept contrivance to another. When we first meet Larry, he's a bustling drone bee in a big-box store, fatuously sure he's going to be named Employee of the Month (again) when he's called in to learn he's being fired on account of his lack of a B.A. Yet he's also supposed to be a 20-year Navy vet, a c.v. gauchely introduced to give this doltish Joe Ordinary a dollop of belated true grit.

Urged on by his next-door neighbor (Cedric the Entertainer, who's looking mighty bored these days with playing the Irrepressible Black Guy for white people), Larry enrolls at a local community college, where he's improbably adopted by a foxy gamine named Talia (the appealing Gugu Mbatha-Raw). She not only gives our hero a fashion makeover but invites him to join her fun-loving—get this—scooter club, making for lots of zesty, put-putting L.A. filler scored to the likes of Tom Petty's "Running Down a Dream." You know how kids today just love hanging out with unemployed old dorks who've got the conversational skills of armadilloes.

As for Mercedes "Mercy" Tainot (Roberts), she's stuck in a bum marriage with a writer husband (Bryan Cranston) who's given up making a living for the joys of surfing the Web. It says a lot about the script's keen grip on modern life that the proof Hubby's a skunk is his sneaky yen for online porn—which isn't even porn, just pretty timid cheesecake. Gotta protect that PG-13 rating, after all. Watching a gifted actor like Cranston (Breaking Bad") rasp his way through a straw-man part like this one makes your heart go out to his wallet.

Then Larry enters Mercy's classroom, and magic happens. Except it doesn't, really: These two stars would be better off enrolling in a chemistry class instead. Apparently, we're meant to swoon at the mere idea of "Hanks and Roberts—Together at Last," but honestly, who was pining for it? It's no help that, while Larry's age is kept vague, Hanks is clearly hoping to pass for a few years younger than the 54 he is in real life; you wince at the makeup and what looks to be the bad dye job on his hair. As for Roberts—though she's still got That Smile, which doesn't get much of a workout here until the climax—she not only looks gaunt but seems eerily unaware of how humongously unpleasant her character's behavior is for about nine-tenths of the movie's running time.

Because her acting has stayed unblemished by anything resembling craft in 20-plus years as a box-office draw, Roberts needs lots of directorial TLC to sparkle—something you'd expect this particular director to be attentive to. But Hanks leaves her stranded in bit after toxic bit that gives Mercy the charm of a ranting bag lady with a graduate degree. She's hailed at movie's end as a "great" teacher, but we see an atrocious one: peevish, bored, disdainful and incompetent. (It's fairly incredible that nobody thought of giving Mercy a scene in which she's actually shown improving a student's communication skills.) About the only thing that seems to give this dame pleasure is malice—e.g., when she gleefully whoops it up at seeing Cranston pulled over for a DUI after a marital spat. Maybe the young Katharine Hepburn could have pulled off the contemptuous-shrew routine and made it charismatic, but not our Julia.

And so long as we're into invidious comparisons, isn't it fun to remember how Hanks used to be called the boomers' Jimmy Stewart? He even deserved the accolade at one point, but when Stewart was middle-aged, he didn't only make mush like Harvey. He played the richest and darkest parts of his career for Hitchcock, Anthony Mann and Otto Preminger, too. Even more than Stewart, Hanks is in a position to do whatever he wants, and yet the last real acting challenge he took on was Saving Private Ryan—13 years ago. Larry Crowne is his project from start to finish, but he's so uninterested in his own performance that it looks like a paycheck gig instead. If anyone under 30 goes to see the damn thing, which isn't likely, I swear they're going to wonder why he was ever a star.

Blindsided: The Jerry Joseph Basketball Scandal

He said he didn't really know what day he was born. His parents were both dead before he turned 5, he said, and he'd never celebrated a birthday in his life. But Jerry Joseph's birth certificate read January 1, so on New Year's Day 2010, his family gathered around him. It would be a new year, a new decade, a celebration of Jerry's brand-new life. There were flimsy cardboard hats and streamers and wrapped gifts. Jerry, who at six feet five and 220 pounds was several inches taller than anyone else in his adoptive family, was presented a white cake adorned with candles in the shape of a 1 and a 6.

Danny Wright, the 50-year-old basketball coach who had taken Jerry in a few months before, noticed the kid get misty-eyed, just as he had at his first Christmas a week earlier. When his wife saw Jerry crying, she too was moved to tears. Wright stood by as his five children, none of them his own biologically, surrounded their new brother. The youngest, a 2-year-old adopted girl named Ariana, crawled into Jerry's giant arms. They sang the boy a song, told him to make a wish. It's a moment Wright keeps coming back to, when Jerry closed his bright brown eyes. What could the boy have wished for? he wonders. Basketball glory, maybe, and untold riches in the pros. But if Wright had to guess, he'd say Jerry offered a more solemn prayer: that if this life somehow turned out to be a dream, he'd never feel a pinch—that he'd never wake up in another world.

At the far edge of the oil-rich Permian Basin, the rust-colored town of Odessa, Texas, is profoundly dedicated to two things: church and football. The only mall in town has an oversize tablet of the Ten Commandments on permanent display; the city's 19,000-seat stadium plays host to the champion Permian Panthers, the high school football team that lured Buzz Bissinger down Interstate 20 over two decades ago to write Friday Night Lights.

Jerry Joseph showed up here on a Greyhound in February 2009, carrying little more than a birth certificate and a duffel bag of old clothes. He'd been homeless in Haiti, he said, and stowed away on a boat to Florida. The good Christians of Odessa welcomed the stranger like a lost soul. Danny Wright, a sharply pressed figure who could be mistaken for a minister, took him into his home, gave him a bed alongside his 16-year-old son. And just like the man-child in The Blind Side—which was still playing at the local theater—Jerry rewarded the love he received, becoming a good student, a dedicated Christian, and a dominant force on the court.

"We're nice people here," says Roy Garcia, the principal at Odessa's Permian High School. "Good people with good hearts. That's what makes this place what it is." Garcia first met Jerry one afternoon in late February, when the boy walked into his school looking to register for ninth grade. He was with a man he introduced as his half brother. Garcia, who jokes that he looks like a Hispanic Super Mario, remembers Jerry vividly, even among the 2,500 kids at Permian. It wasn't just his height. He was full around the chest; his face was thick. "Like, well, like a full-grown man," he says. At first the principal assumed Jerry's companion—whose name, he later learned, was Jabari Caldwell—was the registering student. But it didn't matter, he explained, because in the Odessa school district, ninth grade is at the junior high.

Down the road at Nimitz Junior High, Jerry presented a Haitian birth certificate verifying he was born in 1994. He explained that Caldwell was his legal guardian, that they'd be staying in the dorms at nearby University of Texas of the Permian Basin (UTPB), where Caldwell was on the basketball team. Caldwell signed an affidavit saying he was Jerry's half brother, and as is the law for any child who is homeless or has only temporary lodging, the boy was enrolled immediately.

Basketball coach Melvon Anders was in the Nimitz gym a few days later and saw Jerry take his shirt off. "I was like, Jee-sus Christ!" he says. The kid had all sorts of tattoos, inflated pecs, and shoulders like a racehorse. He'd never met a freshman like him. Then again, plenty of kids have tattoos these days, and this kind of early development is not unheard of, especially in basketball. When LeBron James was 16 and already nationally known, he could have passed for 24. As a junior in high school, Greg Oden looked like a middle-aged man.

The coach kept an eye on Jerry when classes started. Most kids that size are magnets for fistfights, but in his four months at Nimitz, Jerry never got into a single one, unless you count the brawl he broke up before it started. He was studious, a hard worker—"a pleasure to have in class, actually," Anders says. Despite never attending a school of any kind in Haiti—which of course meant no school records to transfer in—Jerry breezed through his accelerated "catch-up" curriculum. He explained that when he was little, his relatives brought him textbooks from the United States. He had a slight accent but spoke English well. A few of the teachers joked that Jerry was secretly an adult. Once a teacher mistook him for a substitute.

Jerry had a beautiful wide smile and what nearly everyone describes as an exotic "swagger." He skipped down the halls when he thought nobody was watching. With his headphones on, he would sway and sing—sometimes in Creole—lost in a world all his own. If anybody asked, he explained he was living in the dorm with his brother because his parents were dead. With an answer like that, nobody asked much more. Plus, once you watched him play ball, it was hard to think of anything else. Coach Anders saw him up close in a spring student-faculty game. "We were out there stretching, and he ran up to the other rim and threw down this monster dunk," he says. "I've never seen a 15-year-old do that. I've had kids taller than him, and they still can't dunk like that."

When the coach asked the boy where he learned to hoop, Jerry said he'd seen the game on television and played a little on the streets of Haiti. Anders wondered if maybe the kid wasn't some kind of prodigy.

At Nimitz, Jerry never asked for a handout, which, of course, made people all the more willing to help. That summer, when school let out, some of the coaches recommended him for a job in the concession stand at the public pool. Melvon Anders supervised him. Jerry was popular with the teenage girls, a good employee—never late, never snapped at anyone, never had any money missing from his register. One dry-roasted day in August, someone asked him about his home, and Jerry pulled up Google maps on an iPhone. He showed a group, Anders included, a mountain in Haiti where he grew up. He said that most of his life was spent herding goats. They all listened dumbstruck. Goats? A hut on a mountainside? "Who were we to question his story," Anders says. "He was the first Haitian most of us had ever met."

Divonte Wallace and Demorri Wilkerson remember meeting Jerry that summer at the UTPB gym, where the best area players gather for pickup games. Divonte and Demorri grew up in Odessa, balling on playgrounds and at the Boys & Girls Club. They were on JV together the past two seasons: Demorri was a defensive specialist, Divonte a rail-thin six-foot shooting guard who perfected his form with 250 jump shots a day.

This year, Divonte says, a few colleges were looking to recruit him. Nowhere huge—just some schools around San Antonio—but still, usually recruiters only came to Odessa for football. Things would be different this season. "This was going to be our year," Divonte says. The day Divonte and Demorri met him, Jerry unleashed a 360 dunk over a mesmerized player. "When I heard he was going to play for Permian, I thought it was like a sign from God that we were going to win state," Demorri says.

It wasn't long before Danny Wright heard reports about the six-foot-five wunderkind. The former director of the Boys & Girls Club, Wright is more than just a coach in Odessa. Dozens of kids in town call him Dad or Pops. Many have lived with him; he can't remember if it's seventeen or eighteen. The oldest of five in a single-mother household, Wright has been taking care of kids his whole life. It's why God put him on this earth.

On their first meeting, Wright was struck by Jerry's confidence. He asked the boy to dinner and introduced him to the rest of the family. He explained that he has no problem helping kids, but only the ones who really want to improve their lives. "I've had a lot of kids stay with me," Wright told Jerry, "but I didn't ask one of them."

The timing of that dinner couldn't have been better. A few days later, Jerry called Coach Wright with his own housing crisis. His half brother was going back to Florida; Jerry asked Wright if he could stay with him. Coach gave Jerry the usual spiel: my house, my rules. "Everyone helps out," he told him. "If I come in and see leaves on the porch, I know you saw those same leaves. I shouldn't have to come in and tell someone to sweep them." In Wright's house, kids are kids and the adults are adults, and there would never be any confusion on that.

He told Jerry he could sleep in the same room as his stepson Dominique, who was also on the Permian basketball team. Did Wright ask Dominique how he felt about the idea of sharing his room?

"Why would I do that?"


Everybody thinks about it at some point: What life would be like if we were given a second chance, a fresh start in a place where nobody knows our past. Jerry began his first year at Permian on a mission, running to school from Coach's house. Lots of people saw him out there in the hot August sun. Three miles each way, jogging through the streets like he was Rocky or something.

Just as he had at the junior high, he excelled in his classes. At one point, his Spanish teacher singled out Jerry, an immigrant with less than a year of total schooling. He started seeing a girl, a tenth grader on the dance team, whom he'd met at Nimitz. His teammates saw them together in the halls once in a while, but he didn't like to talk about her. He was all about basketball.

When the season started in November, the Panthers basketball team looked better than anything Permian had assembled in years. They were big, with six players at least six feet four. Jerry didn't begin the season as a starter. But when the team dropped three of four games—each by only a few points—Coach Wright pulled Divonte Wallace, the sharpshooter. He told him there were going to be a few people changing positions to make room for Jerry, who would now be starting at point guard. "I'm not gonna lie," says Divonte. "It hurt. But I was all about the team, whatever's best for the team."

Jerry rewarded his coach with a giant game in early December against district rival San Angelo Central. Just seconds into the first quarter, he snatched the ball and drove the length of the court, throwing down what several teammates describe as a "gorilla slam." "It was a moment you could just feel in the air," says Demorri Wilkerson. "That was it. We were on our way." On the bus ride home after the win, they felt like all those great Permian football teams must have felt: like champions in wait.

The gym was soon packed for every home game. Fans remarked that with his flat-top haircut and the way he always seemed drenched in sweat, Jerry looked a little like Boobie Miles, the star-crossed running back from the Friday Night Lights season. The seniors invited Jerry to hang out with them at the back of the bus. They called him Grandpa and the Haitian Sensation. He'd get to school early to shoot around and stay late to impart his basketball IQ. "If Jerry told you something, it wouldn't be wrong," says a teammate. "He knew the game like a coach." When a player relied too much on one hand, he told them to go an entire practice using only their off hand. That, he said, is what gave him such a powerful crossover. Just when you knew where Jerry was going, he went in a completely new direction.


In the days between Christmas and Jerry's sixteenth birthday, the team traveled to Lubbock for the Caprock Classic, a statewide competition in which Permian normally struggled. But this year the team breezed to the semifinals, where, down by three with 2.1 seconds left, Coach drew up a play to get the ball to Jerry. After curling around a screen, he took the pass, left his feet, and released the shot all in one fluid motion. The ball seemed to dangle as the clock ran out, gently floating toward the rim, until...the entire gym exploded. Fans and parents leapt from their seats. Jerry stood there, awestruck. His teammates piled on top of him. Coach Wright, in his eternal sobriety, reminded his players that Jerry's buzzer beater merely sent the game into overtime: "We still have a game to play here, gentlemen!" They went on to lose that game and the third-place contest, too—but in the end, nobody could forget that shot.

Back in Odessa, Jerry's roots were growing. He asked teammates about their church youth group at Mission Dorado, a Baptist church on the eastern outskirts of town with a sign that proclaims A FELLOWSHIP OF EXCITEMENT. Jerry liked it there, and soon it wasn't just Sundays. There were Wednesday services, Bible studies, group prayers. "Very quickly he became a regular fixture," says Philip Skelton, who was the church's pastor at the time.

One day Jerry approached Skelton with a request: He wanted to be baptized. The pastor responded with a dinner invitation. "I don't want to baptize someone without them realizing what's going on," he says. Over steaks at the Golden Corral, Skelton explained to Jerry that when he plunged into that water, his old life would end. When he emerged, he would be reborn in Christ. Jerry told the pastor that was exactly what he wanted. "He gave all the right answers."

At church, an older couple gave Jerry small amounts of cash so he could go to the movies. They talked about getting him a car. The entire town, it seemed, was falling in love with Jerry. After the January 2010 earthquake that leveled Port-au-Prince, the Odessa American ran a feature dedicated entirely to the town's Haitian import. "I didn't go looking for Jerry," Wright told the paper. "And Jerry didn't come looking for me. I believe God sent him here, and he sent him here for a reason."

The Haitian Sensation went on to average more than twenty points a game for Permian. The team went 16-13 and finished fourth in the district, the best season in Coach Wright's five-year tenure. In the playoffs, they were matched up with one of the district's best, the El Paso Americas. The lanky Americas dominated from the start with a stunning alley-oop and a barrage of unanswered threes. By halftime, Permian down by eighteen, the game was out of reach. Jerry scored only eleven points and accounted for most of the team's twenty-four turnovers. A few of the seniors, their basketball careers over, cried in the locker room. Despite his performance, Jerry was named the district's Newcomer of the Year.

After the season, the recruiting letters starting showing up. Coaches from big programs all over the country had heard of the combo power-forward/point-guard. There was a new piece of recruiting mail for Jerry every single day. "Texas Tech was ready to take him," says Wright. "They wanted him bad."

Jerry kept practicing. He played in a series of travel tournaments with an AAU team from New Mexico, one of the best in the region. If he thought he'd miss church, he made sure to e-mail Pastor Skelton saying he'd be thinking of them.

One weekend in April, he was playing at the Real Deal in the Rock, a massive AAU tournament in Little Rock that draws the best high school players—and plenty of college scouts—from all over the nation. In the middle of one of Jerry's games, a group of players and coaches from a Florida team gathered at the edge of the court. Some of them were laughing. They watched as one of their coaches approached Jerry.

"Hey, Guerd, what's going on?" the coach said. "What you doin' here?"

The players saw Jerry look back over his shoulder. "Sir, I don't know you," he said and hurried off, shaking his head.


Louis Vives swears he knows the guy he saw that day in Arkansas, but he'd never heard the name Jerry Joseph. He knew him as Guerdwich Montimere, a kid who'd played around Florida for years. "He walked just like him," says Vives, the president of the South Florida Elite basketball club. "He talked like him. He played like him. He even sweat like him. This kid used to sweat like someone poured water on him."

When the team went for sandwiches later that day, Vives's players joked that they were going to find aliases when they turned 21 so they could keep playing. But that night at the hotel, Vives got to thinking. He Googled the New Mexico squad. He found the Permian roster, along with stories about Jerry's success in Texas. He thought about how strange it was, the idea of a 22-year-old man walking around with a bunch of high school kids. What would they talk about? What would they do? Then he thought about what high school kids do. The coach has a teenage daughter himself. He couldn't sleep that night. This whole thing wasn't so funny anymore.

When Vives's team got back to Florida, word of the Guerdwich sighting spread quickly. "He was definitely the talk of the town down here," Vives says. A former AAU coach started looking up other Permian players. He found Divonte Wallace's MySpace page and on it a phone number.

Divonte was sitting on his couch watching TV with Demorri on a Saturday afternoon when he got the call. The adult voice on the other end asked if he went to Permian, if he knew Jerry. Divonte was initially concerned about narcing on his friend and said he went to crosstown Odessa High School. "Just have Jerry call me," the coach replied.

Divonte immediately rang Jerry, who asked him to call the guy back on three-way, concealing Jerry's number. Divonte tried not to listen in after that, but really, how could he not? He remembers hearing the coach calling Jerry by a strange name and saying, "What the hell are you doing?" Then Jerry: "Look, I don't know you." He heard Jerry ask the guy to stop contacting him.

Permian administrators started receiving anonymous tips suggesting they look into Jerry's background. Similar messages went to the Odessa American. Principal Roy Garcia got a series of e-mails and voice mails. He started amassing evidence: Turns out Jabari Caldwell, the man who'd said he was Jerry's half brother, wasn't related to him at all. Caldwell, in fact, had been teammates with Montimere in Florida. Garcia compared photos. There weren't a lot of pictures of Montimere available, but the ones he found looked a lot like Jerry—though it was hard to be certain three years on.

Garcia called Jerry to his office, confronting him with what he'd found. Jerry insisted that he was who he said he was. "I talked to him for hours," Garcia says. "As a principal, getting kids to confess is part of my job. But this guy never broke. He never wavered once." Garcia eventually pulled Jerry from off-season workouts "just to be safe."

As rumors spread around Odessa, people started talking: Was Jerry really some 22-year-old? The Wright household circled around its newest member. Divonte called Jerry again to ask him man-to-man. Jerry denied it, told him not to worry, that this would all blow over soon.

On April 29, two weeks after the tournament in Little Rock, the principal called Coach Wright and Jerry into his office. He had something for them both to see.

There on Garcia's desk were two new photos next to each other. On the left was Jerry in a white Permian uniform, playing defense: His right arm was extended, his brow furrowed, his lips open and puckered ever so slightly in a moment of concentration. On the right was Montimere in a blue Dillard uniform, playing defense: His right arm was extended, his brow furrowed, and his lips parted in the same expression.

"This is you," Coach Wright said, barely able to contain his anger.

"That ain't me," Jerry said.

"Look," Wright said, leaning in, "I'm not asking for confirmation. I'm telling you. I don't know what you're pulling, but you need to get your things and be on your way."

Wright stepped out of the office to call his wife, Jimmie. He told her to look through Jerry's bags. She didn't want to, but Wright insisted. Sure enough, there in his duffel bag, she found it: a passport for "Guerdwich Montimer." Jimmie didn't want to believe it. She cried into the phone. Wright searched desperately for the right words to comfort her. Those words never came.

Principal Garcia turned over everything to the Odessa PD and to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Jerry earnestly maintained that the passport wasn't his, that he'd gotten it from an uncle, and within a few hours ICE officials came forward with news that shocked everyone: Jerry Joseph, they informed the school district, was definitely not Guerdwich Montimere. The specifics of their investigation were never made public (and ICE has refused to comment), but officials told principal Garcia that they'd run Jerry's fingerprints through the FBI database and had come up empty.

Despite the evidence against him, Jerry was allowed back in school. "When the United States government tells me he isn't this other guy, who am I to argue with them?" Garcia says. Still, there was another problem. Since Jerry was here illegally and didn't have a guardian in the United States, ICE said, he would have to be deported. While Coach Wright felt betrayed that Jerry had lied about his half brother, he figured the kid was desperate. He volunteered to adopt the boy. His wife agreed. "We didn't have to think twice," he says. "You just do."


Like Jerry, Guerdwich Montimere was born in Haiti. His mother, Manikisse Montimere, says the boy's father died while she was pregnant with Guerdwich and his fraternal twin, Guerdwin—who stands about five inches shorter and has a much rounder face. They were born on Febru­ary 23, 1988. Unable to find work, Manikisse left Haiti and moved in with a network of aunts, uncles, and cousins in Florida in 1994, the year that would later appear on Jerry Joseph's birth certificate.

Manikisse and Guerdwin still live together outside Fort Lauderdale, in a small white house with red-tile shingles, an American flag flying over their perfectly manicured front yard. An employee at an auto-parts store, Manikisse has short glossy hair, bright brown eyes, and a beautiful wide smile that disappears immediately when the topic of Guerdwich comes up. It's just too painful, she says.

His childhood was "typical," a happy kid, plenty of friends, nothing particularly traumatic. She took her sons to a Baptist church whenever she could. Throughout middle and high school, Guerdwich's grades were poor, but always good enough to keep him eligible for athletics. "That's all he did for a long time," says his uncle Wilner Montimere. "Anytime you saw him, he always had a ball in his hand."

Vives, the AAU coach, started recruiting Guerdwich when he was 16. During his senior year at Dillard, the team made it to the state semifinals, and Guerdwich was a McDonald's All-American nominee. "He was a good, hardworking kid," Vives remembers. "Always polite, always driven." But on a team of stars, he didn't have the size, the stats, and especially not the grades to stand out to scouts. He ended up at Highland Community College in Freeport, Illinois. But when he was redshirted until his grades improved, Guerdwich left school before a single game.

Back in Florida, living with his mother, Guerdwich was clearly depressed. They fought constantly. She would press him about his future, where he was going to go to school, what he would study. He'd say that he wasn't giving up on basketball; she'd fire back that he was living in a dream world. Before long, one of these arguments turned nasty. She says she can't bear to repeat what they said to each other. "It was just...just...awful."

And that was the end. Guerdwich thundered out and didn't come home that night. Or the next. Some of his former Dillard teammates say they heard he went to Haiti sometime in early 2008, but nobody can say for sure. His mother says she hasn't seen him since the fight.


The coaches in Florida were persistent. There were more e-mails, more newspaper stories. Under pressure, ICE continued its investigation. Ten days after clearing Jerry, the agency turned up damning evidence: a hard copy of Montimere's immigration file with fingerprints—taken before the agency converted to an electronic database. The prints were a match.

Jerry was arrested at school that day and charged with presenting a false ID to a police officer, a misdemeanor. His friends at church bailed him out immediately. Less than twenty-four hours later, he was arrested again, this time for tampering with government documents, a third-degree felony. Again he was bailed out and, this time, given a lawyer. From the beginning, his attorney has claimed that the kid is who he says he is; or at the very least, he says, the burden of proof that he isn't falls upon the prosecutors.

Within days, Principal Garcia agreed to forfeit all sixteen victories from that season and give back Jerry's Newcomer of the Year award. The governing bodies all decided the coach and principal had done their due diligence in checking Jerry's eligibility. It was personal vindication for Garcia, but the principal was hardly at ease. He needed to know one thing: Was there a girl?


They were in the same grade. She has fair skin and dark eyes and is a member of the Panther Paws dance group. Though, as her mother says, "she developed early in the chest—we can't go anywhere without men staring," the girl is most certainly still a teenager, a child. On Facebook, she "likes" texting, sleeping, and Despicable Me, and under favorite books says only, "Doesn't matter."

She was really in love with Jerry, says her mother: "Even if it was a puppy love, it was a real love." The mother will talk about what went on between her now 17-year-old daughter and Jerry, but she doesn't want their names published. "The incident," as she calls it, happened one night in August of 2009. The girl was 15. Montimere was 21. The mother was out of town, and the girl was staying with her father for the summer. She says her daughter was likely the aggressor. "We're very close," the mother says. "Best friends. She tells me everything." After a pause, she adds, "Eventually."

She says the girl was honest when the school district, and then the police, asked if they'd had sex. But the mother emphasizes that she and her daughter did not ask for Jerry to be charged with statutory rape. She isn't sure if her daughter would testify, should the case go to trial. When the news first broke, kids at school were vicious. They called the girl a whore. They blamed her for putting the town star in jail. They wore FREE JERRY shirts to school and called at all hours to make horrific threats. Mother and daughter have moved twice in the past year.

Even after all that, she says that Jerry—and she still calls him Jerry—is the best boyfriend her daughter has ever had. "He was sweet, polite, respectful," she says. "A hell of a lot better than most of the trash around here." Jerry even reached out to the girl from jail through friends to say he was sorry for all the trouble. The girl still keeps every article that she finds about him. "That's a teenage girl in love."

As a mother, isn't she concerned about the possible age difference? "Actually, not really that much." She says when her daughter was born, she herself was 15 years old. Her boyfriend, a former Permian football player from the Friday Night Lights era, happened to be 20 at the time.

She says her daughter will be okay. "She's strong," the mother says. "And she has so much light in her. So much light."

Still, the mother has looked into suing the school district. This entire ordeal has been exhausting, and she figures that's worth something. She says her daughter hasn't tried to see Jerry. But she's 17 now, the legal age of consent in Texas. No matter what happens, Jerry will be out of jail someday. "He'll always be welcome in my house," she says.

Odessa is still dumbstruck. Principal Garcia wonders if maybe the kid picked Permian because it's the school from Friday Night Lights. "Maybe he thought we were all a bunch of dumb hillbillies?" Divonte Wallace, the guard who lost his starting spot to Jerry, says the year's a blur. With no college offers, he stuck around Odessa, landing a job at FedEx. He wakes at 3 A.M. and spends the morning slinging boxes. He's staying in shape, though, in case a college ever comes calling.

These days, almost everyone has a theory about Jerry. Some say that he is crazy, possibly traumatized by something so bad it's made him forget his entire life. Some say that he is one of the greatest actors alive—"Maybe he should be in Hollywood," says Divonte. Some even say, despite all the evidence and the incredibly long odds against it, that the person in the adult-male section of the Ector County jail is a very scared 17-year-old boy.

Then there are the dozens of people who witnessed Jerry get baptized. Whoever he was when he went into the water, they say, Jerry Joseph came up. That's what baptism is. They still write him and visit him. They sit behind him at hearings. "I love Jerry," Pastor Philip Skelton says. "To me, he was a kid who sought after God. You don't get too deep into the past. It's not about where you're from. It's about where you're going."

Danny Wright wishes it was that simple. Wright's family, once strong enough to add members without straining, is now torn. His wife and kids still love Jerry. She can't stop thinking of him as her son—the same teenage boy who used to sing as he did the dishes. They visit him and talk to him on the phone.

"Dad, you're not being fair," the kids will say.

"I just don't think it's a good idea," Wright replies. He knows they go see him anyway. Now there are secrets. Now there are things they don't tell Dad.

Coach hears people in town talk. They ask why he's taken in so many kids over the years. They ask if he gets money from the state. He doesn't. "If you know you're right with God," he says, "what people say doesn't matter." Wright would like to think that if some other needy young person came to him asking for help, he'd still give it. "But honestly," he says, "I'm not sure anymore."

This year the Permian basketball team lost eleven of its first twelve games and finished last in the district. The coach and principal both warned the team before the season that they'd get a lot of grief. When they traveled to rival San Angelo, the home crowd wore black T-shirts with GOT JERRY? on the front. On the back of the shirts was OH YEAH...HE'S 22.

"These kids don't deserve that," the coach says. "People forget, they're just kids."

Christmas and New Year's were more subdued this year. Though no one mentioned it, everyone was thinking about Jerry, even little Ariana, now 3. She spent Christmas running around, helping everyone else unwrap their presents. But every so often she'd stop to ask what happened to her brother.

"She's so persistent and so smart," Wright says. "It just cuts you."

They told her he was away at a tournament. But she wanted to know when he was coming home.

"Where's Jerry, Daddy? Where's Jerry?"


Between the parking lot and the front door of the Ector County jail is a sign reading BEWARE OF THE SNAKES. The surrounding fence is rimmed with barbed wire. Overhead flaps the Texas flag. And inside is the man so many people know as Jerry Joseph—the same one so many others are convinced is Guerdwich Montimere. He's facing six felony charges, the most serious of which, sexual assault, could land him in prison for twenty years.

His hair has grown out since he was arrested. His eyes aren't as bright as they are in the photos. From behind bulletproof glass, he talks about his new life. He spends much of it alone, he says, reading the Bible—especially the Book of Job. He appreciates stories of God testing men. He plays basketball every so often, but only to stay in shape. A lot of the guys in here just use the game as an excuse to fight. Besides, he says, he doesn't really like the sport that much.

"Basketball is a skill," he says. "It's a gift from God. But it was never my passion." He says it isn't that anyone pressured him to play, exactly. It just made everyone else so happy. Everyone seemed to like him so much more. "I thought about quitting all the time," he says.

He really wants to spill his heart, but his lawyer tells him he shouldn't. He says he's writing a book in his head.

His biggest regret? Not staying home more, he says. He wouldn't have gotten in the trouble he's in now—by which he seems to mean the sexual-assault charges against him—had he just stayed with his family. That's what he imagines these days when he closes his eyes and he needs to get away. He pictures himself with people who love him. He imagines he's at church, with everyone he cares about so much. He's at home "with my mom and my dad and my brothers and sisters." He thinks about them all having dinner together at their house on a quiet avenue in Odessa. "Why do people forget the good things about me?" he says. "They just think I'm some monster."

Of all he's heard and read about himself, the most painful part, he says, is when people imply that he may have gotten baptized to further ingratiate himself. He can't stand someone thinking he exploited the church. And watching him, you can't help but think: He believes. His faith is complete and unwavering. He seems so earnest, so certain that there really is some other guy out there, that this has all been the most incredible series of coincidences. Then again, maybe his fellow church members are right. Maybe Jerry did experience a rebirth of sorts. Every man dreams about it, after all—how life might be different if we had only studied more or gotten the girl or sunk the winning shot. How much fun it'd be to replay the game of life if given a second chance.

"I can't wait for this to be over," he says. But he's not scared. "No matter how it turns out, I know who I am. I know my life."

He says it doesn't matter how he's judged when his court date comes around in August. What matters is the next life.

"I persevere with God in my heart," he says. "He knows me by name."

The name on his court docket is Guerdwich Montimere. And when he gets visitors, the guards call out the name Guerdwich Montimere. And the plastic wristband he wears at all times, that too reads Guerdwich Montimere. So what is his name?

He answers without a second of hesitation or a hint of insincerity.

"My name is Jerry."