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Anthony Ramos, Dominique Fishback lead ‘Transformers’ from Brooklyn to Peru

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LAS VEGAS (AP) — Anthony Ramos and Dominique Fishback had been dreaming about writing something together for a few years. The two actors, both native New Yorkers, would meet up from time to time and talk about what it could be. They knew that it would have to be “epic” and “so Brooklyn.” But they would have never predicted that their first chance would come in the form of a “Transformers” movie.

“We had no idea it would be this epic and this Brooklyn,” Fishback told The Associated Press, sitting beside Ramos, her friend and “Transformers: Rise of the Beasts” co-star in Las Vegas last month.

They’d made the journey to attend CinemaCon, a convention of the world’s theater owners to help drum up buzz for the new film that debuts June 9. Though technically the seventh “Transformers” movie, “Rise of the Beasts” is both a franchise prequel, set in 1994, and sequel to 2018’s “Bumblebee,” which was set in the 1980s.

Director Steven Caple Jr. (“Creed II”) took the helm for this globetrotting film that pairs the Autobots with the Maximals, another faction of transformers, in the fight to save Earth. Peter Cullen returns to voice Optimus Prime in a diverse cast that also includes Ron Perlman, Peter Dinklage, Michelle Yeoh, Michaela Jaé Rodriguez, Pete Davidson, Colman Domingo and Cristo Fernández.

Caple didn’t know when he started casting that Ramos (“In the Heights”) and Fishback (“Judas and the Black Messiah”) knew one another. They were both just separately on his list to read for Noah, an ex-military man and electronics expert, and Elena, an artifacts researcher at a museum.

That they came in as friends meant that the chemistry test was great. But early in filming, Caple had to remind them that their characters don’t know each other well yet.

“We were too familiar,” Ramos laughed.

The two actors met around 2017, when Ramos performed a reading of something Fishback had written. They started piecing together their six degrees of separation, with Ramos having grown up in Bushwick and Fishback in East New York, and all the times they (asterisk)could(asterisk) have met.

But even after a major blockbuster that took them from Montreal to Machu Picchu, they’re still learning things about one another. Both, they realized during the interview, had been rejected by LaGuardia, the famed New York performing arts school.

“High five,” Fishback said. “Team reject, baby!”

Ramos grew up watching Transformers on Saturday mornings. One of his first toys was even the Stingray Transformer, one of the characters from the Beast Wars storyline that the new movie draws on, which made him feel like a kid again.

“I would wait every weekend for the newest episode to drop," Ramos said earlier on stage. "Being a part of Transformers universe is beyond my wildest dreams. My 13-year-old self would be like, ‘Yo, that’s fire.’”

Fishback came in a little reticent, knowing that sometimes character can get lost in big, GCI-driven spectacles.

“Sometimes they’re toying with the idea of adding a person of color, but you don’t really know if they’re going to go into who the person actually is,” Fishback said. “Steven affirmed that that was not the case. He wanted it to be authentically Brooklyn, he wanted Elena to have autonomy over her body, her mind and the things that she wanted to achieve in life, and that we would know that she had things that she wanted to achieve. And that was important.”

One of the highlights of the shoot was filming in Peru, at Machu Picchu. They used local kids as extras, had a Shaman come to bless the production and had oxygen tanks at the ready for anyone having trouble acclimating to the elevation.

And they’re excited about the possibility for more films, but that all depends on the audience.

“Steven’s already working on the next one,” Ramos said. “But it all comes down to whether people go see it. It seems like people are really excited by the trailer. So hopefully they take that excitement and get some tickets to go see it in a movie theater. Tell your friends, take your family. This is a movie you can see multiple times.”

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