When Michael Bay Degraded Megan Fox—Then Tried to Sabotage Her Career

As Hollywood reckons with the unchecked misogyny that has cost multiple actresses their careers, Michael Bay’s treatment of a young Megan Fox deserves extra scrutiny.

Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast

In Hollywood, rumor-mongering is a precious form of currency; a fresh slice of gossip can, with trade winds at its back, sink or float careers. If the #MeToo movement has taught us anything, it’s to take industry rumors about women—particularly those circulated by men—with a pinch (or shaker) of salt. She’s difficult. She’s a nightmare to work with. Stay away from her. The provenance and/or motive for these pernicious bits of hearsay may be viler than you can imagine.

Take the cases of Mira Sorvino and Ashley Judd. After these two talented actresses were allegedly assaulted by Harvey Weinstein, the movie mogul told filmmaker Peter Jackson, who was in the process of casting his highly anticipated Lord of the Rings films, that the women were “a nightmare to work with and we should avoid them at all costs.” (Weinstein, who then ran Miramax, was an executive producer on the LOTR trilogy.)

“At the time, we had no reason to question what these guys were telling us—but in hindsight, I realize that this was very likely the Miramax smear campaign in full swing,” Jackson told the site Stuff. “I now suspect we were fed false information about both of these talented women—and as a direct result their names were removed from our casting list.”

After learning the news, Judd tweeted that Jackson and his producer and co-writer Fran Walsh “had me in—showed me all the creative, the boards, costumes, everything. They asked which if [sic] the two roles I preferred, and then I abruptly never heard from hem [sic] again. I appreciate the truth coming out.”

Which brings us to Megan Fox.

The 31-year-old actress has long been saddled with the “difficult to work with” label, owing to a puzzling episode during the press tour for 2009’s Jennifer’s Body. In an interview with Wonderland magazine, Fox said of her Transformers director, Michael Bay: “[Michael] wants to create this insane, infamous mad-man reputation. He wants to be like Hitler on his sets, and he is. So he’s a nightmare to work for but when you get him away from set, and he’s not in director mode, I kind of really enjoy his personality because he’s so awkward, so hopelessly awkward. He has no social skills at all. It’s endearing to watch him. He’s so vulnerable and fragile in real life and then on set, he’s a tyrant.”

They said, you know, Michael, she’s 15 so you can’t sit her at the bar…so his solution to that problem was to then have me dancing underneath a waterfall getting soaking wet.
Megan Fox

It was a silly thing to say by a relatively green, 23-year-old actress, but the widely publicized comments prompted Bay to retaliate. According to two sources close to the production, Bay enlisted the crew of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen to publish an open letter defending the director while smearing Fox, referring to her as, among other things, “Ms. Sourpants,” “porn star,” “unfriendly bitch,” and “dumb-as-a-rock.”

“When facing the press, Megan is the queen of talking trailer trash and posing like a porn star. And yes we’ve had the unbearable time of watching her try to act on set, and yes, it’s very cringe-able. So maybe, being a porn star in the future might be a good career option. But make-up beware, she has a paragraph tattooed to her backside (probably due her rotten childhood)—easily another 45 minutes in the chair!” the letter read, in part.

It continued: “So this is the Megan Fox you don’t get to see. Maybe she will learn, but we figure if she can sling insults, then she can take them too. Megan really is a thankless, classless, graceless, and shall we say unfriendly bitch. It’s sad how fame can twist people, and even sadder that young girls look up to her. If only they knew who they’re really looking up to.” The letter, signed “Loyal Transformers Crew,” was hosted by Bay’s official website, picked up by every industry trade publication, and cast a pall over Fox’s career. Shortly thereafter, Fox was fired from the Transformers franchise and replaced by the model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, whom Bay had previously directed in a Victoria’s Secret ad campaign.

Of the casting change, Fox’s Transformers co-star Shia LaBeouf told the Los Angeles Times: “Megan developed this Spice Girl strength, this woman-empowerment [stuff] that made her feel awkward about her involvement with Michael, who some people think is a very lascivious filmmaker, the way he films women. Mike films women in a way that appeals to a 16-year-old sexuality. It’s summer. It’s Michael’s style. And I think [Fox] never got comfortable with it. This is a girl who was taken from complete obscurity and placed in a sex-driven role in front of the whole world and told she was the sexiest woman in America. And she had a hard time accepting it. When Mike would ask her to do specific things, there was no time for fluffy talk. We’re on the run. And the one thing Mike lacks is tact. There’s no time for [LaBeouf assumes a gentle voice] ‘I would like you to just arch your back 70 degrees.’”

He added: “Rosie comes with this Victoria’s Secret background, and she’s comfortable with it, so she can get down with Mike’s way of working and it makes the whole set vibe very different.”

There’s more to the Bay-Fox story, however, than meets the eye.

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Bay is one of Hollywood’s most profitable filmmakers, having stood at the helm of both the Transformers and Bad Boys franchises, as well as other explosion-happy fare like The Rock, Armageddon, and Pearl Harbor. The first film the former music video director ever shot was a 1990 documentary short on Playboy centerfold Kerri Kendall. “I was 24 years old. Playboy approached me to do a centerfold video. I was so shy, I could barely ask Kendall to take her top off. But by Sunday I was like, ‘No! Do it in the leopard G-string!’” Bay told me in an interview for Newsweek.

As Bay gained clout in the industry, the women in his films became more and more scantily clad, his camera training on their glistening bodies.

Fox’s first appearance in a Bay film was as a 15-year-old extra in the 2003 buddy cop film Bad Boys II—as a bikini-clad dancer. She rehashed the creepy experience during a 2009 appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, telling the host: “The first time I ever worked with [Bay], actually, I had just turned 15 and I was an extra in Bad Boys II. They were shooting this club scene, and they brought me in, and I was wearing a stars-and-stripes bikini and a red cowboy hat and, like, six-inch heels. He approved it, and they said, you know, Michael, she’s 15 so you can’t sit her at the bar and she can’t have a drink in her hand, so his solution to that problem was to then have me dancing underneath a waterfall getting soaking wet. At 15, I was in 10th grade. So that’s sort of a microcosm of how Bay’s mind works.”

If that weren’t enough, in order to secure her part in the first Transformers film, Bay infamously made Fox come to his house to “audition”—which consisted of Fox washing the director’s Ferrari while he filmed her.

“[Fox] told me she went to director Michael Bay’s house to audition and he made her wash his Ferrari while he filmed her. She said she didn’t know what had happened to that footage,” reported The Observer. “When I put it to Bay himself, he looked suitably abashed. ‘Er, I don’t know where it is either.’”

Bay’s objectification of Fox knew no bounds. During a series of press conferences for Revenge of the Fallen, the actress recounted her experience being ogled by Bay and several male cast members during a wardrobe fitting—at Bay’s behest.

“The process of picking those outfits—I don’t have much of a say,” she said. “Mike [Bay] was auditioning Ramon [Rodriguez] and some of the other characters, and there was just a room full of men upstairs in his office—it was Shia, Ramon, two other actors, and [Bay]—and I had to, like, come up and down [the stairs] and knock on the door and try on all my wardrobe, and I had, like, 18 different outfits. It was white-jean shorts, a pink belly-shirt, motorcycle boots, and we went through a whole thing. Mike was selecting them in the process of auditioning.”

This ordeal, according to Fox, took about “five hours.”

Fox declined to comment for this article and Bay’s camp did not respond to repeated requests for comment. But sources close to the actress have indicated that the two eventually reached a détente around the time Fox was cast in the lead role of April O’Neil in the Bay-produced Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles films.

The damage to her reputation, however, was already done.