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But even for a director with Bay's pull, getting the movie made was no small feat. Paramount Pictures, the studio that bought the rights, was skittish about the story's gruesome arc and lack of sympathetic characters. It was a film better suited for directors like Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese, and the Coen Brothers than a hit-maker like Bay. Besides, Paramount wanted him to concentrate on blockbusters. His films, from 1998's Armageddon to the Transformers franchise, have grossed more than $3 billion worldwide.
Bay never gave up, though. In 2011 — a decade after first reading Collins' piece — he gave Paramount an ultimatum. He would not make Transformers 3 unless he got to shoot Pain & Gain. The studio blinked and forked over $25 million to make his opus.
"I gave it to some young writers who had a really good voice for the script," Bay says. "It was a fun, fast shoot."
For the starring roles, Bay chose Mark Walhberg to portray Sun Gym Gang leader Daniel Lugo, Anthony Mackie to play his sadistic henchman Adrian Doorbal, and Dwayne "the Rock" Johnson to play Paul Doyle, a fictional character who is a composite of several Sun Gym accomplices, including Jorge Delgado, who was released from prison in 2002 after serving seven years of a 15-year sentence.
Once the stars read the real-life story, they were as sold as Bay that the piece would make a perfect dark comedy.
"When you first meet [the Sun Gym Gang] in the beginning of the movie, they are likable guys," Wahlberg says. "But as it all starts going south, it's like a train crash. You can't stop watching. In the end, they get their justice. I loved playing Lugo's character."
Johnson, on the other hand, was having second thoughts about playing Doyle just one week before filming began in Miami in late March 2012.
"He has so many layers because all these other guys are being thrown into Paul Doyle," Johnson says. "This guy continued to fall and make poor decisions. He falls off the wagon and does cocaine. Before you know it, he's grilling body parts. I had a strong sense of fear about playing him."
Bay wrote Johnson an eloquent letter convincing him that Doyle was the right character for him. "He told me there was no one but me who could play the role," says Johnson, who was a defensive tackle at the University of Miami in the early '90s and recalls hearing about the Sun Gym Gang's rampage when it happened. "I think it's going to be a defining moment in my career."
The storm is still raging beyond Bay's hotel-room balcony as he addresses some of the early criticism about Pain & Gain. In the runup to the film's release, real-life torture victim Marc Schiller and the sister of Frank Griga, who was killed by Lugo's crew, have chastised Bay for portraying the Sun Gym Gang as antiheroes.
"People ask me if I feel bad that I am making fun of a crime," Bay says. "When you read the articles, some of the things that happened were so absurd that it was inherently funny."
He chuckles as he pulls a glass balcony door shut against the driving rain. "I mean, who returns a chainsaw with human hair stuck in it to Home Depot? I didn't make that shit up."
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