The heist movie stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as brothers whose bank robbery goes wrong, but Bay had never heard of lead Abdul-Mateen II before production.
“[Universal Pictures president Peter Cramer] suggested I look at Yahya, and I’m like, ‘What’s a Yahya?'” Bay told the audience ahead of the “Ambulance” premiere at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, via The Hollywood Reporter. “He goes, ‘[He’s] an actor.’ I said, ‘I’ve never heard [of him].'”
Abdul-Mateen II had his big-screen breakout in 2017, starring in “The Greatest Showman” and “Baywatch” the same year. The actor went on to play villain Manta in “Aquaman” and Cal Abar in the HBO series “Watchmen,” along with roles in “The Handmaid’s Tale” and “Black Mirror.” Abdul-Mateen II most recently starred in “The Matrix Resurrections,” “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” and “Candyman.”
Bay went back and watched Abdul-Mateen II’s films and came to the same conclusion as Universal: “That guy is gonna be a movie star. I want to work with him.”
Abdul-Mateen II joked to the audience that he couldn’t wait to have a drink with Bay to familiarize him with his many roles in prominent recent movies and shows.
Meanwhile, Abdul-Mateen II knew that filming “Ambulance” would be a “short and fast shoot,” mainly since the film is “small” by Bay’s standards with a $40 million budget — just over the amount that Gyllenhaal and Abdul-Mateen II’s respective characters hope to steal in the film.
“I was actually working on ‘The Matrix’ at the time that this came in my box,” Abdul-Mateen II told THR. “This was pitched to me as Michael’s small movie. He said it’s not about action; it’s about tension. And I knew that he would dress the world outside of the ambulance, but I was really interested in what was going on inside of the ambulance, and that’s where we see a lot of the tension play out.”
Abdul-Mateen II next reprises his DC Extended Universe role in “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom.”
“Ambulance” is in theaters nationwide April 8.