by Allison Pollet

Ensconced in the living room of his ultramodern Brentwood bachelor pad, Michael Bay, director of one of the summer’s major action flicks, The Rock, enumerates the toils of his ever-taxing craft. “Do you know what directors go through? It’s just hell. Like, why do I work so hard–to think I’m only going to see this movie five times and then never see it again ’cause I’m so sick of it? What is it worth, honestly?” Well, the lush home in Brentwood with a pool, a Jacuzzi, a screening room, and a maid is kind of nice. So is the beach house. And then there’s the Ferrari and the Porsche: “Fast cars are my only vice,” says Bay.

The sad truth is that this 32-year-old director du jour–a former maker of commercials and music videos–hasn’t had much time to enjoy the fruits of his labor as a feature-film director. As Bay is quick to say, “I work my ass off.” Indeed, it’s been a long haul since his summer internship at LucasFilm, where he, in a word, “filed,” and his days of collegiate grace as a frat guy­film prodigy at Wesleyan University. Bay spent his twenties garnering awards as the director behind advertising campaigns for Coca-Cola, Nike, Budweiser, and, yes, milk. (Got it?) And he put his directorial stamp on videos for Meat Loaf, Tina Turner, and the Divinyls, whose salacious salute to self-love, “I Touch Myself,” earned him a number of MTV Music Video award nominations.

Perhaps it’s Bay’s background as a product pusher that enables him to be concerned with commercial success over critical acclaim. “When I’m more experienced, that’s when I’ll try to do something that’s regarded critically,” he says. Even so, the mention of his first film, Bad Boys, which grossed more than $160 million worldwide, still makes him cringe. “I had a studio that didn’t believe in me, and a piece-of-shit script,” he says frankly. But the film’s massive success catapulted Bay into the big league, where producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer anointed him to helm Hollywood Pictures’ big summer release, The Rock.

The film, a kind of Die Hard on Alcatraz, which stars Nicolas Cage, Sean Connery, and Ed Harris, has hostages, gunfire, chemical explosions, and injections of serum into human flesh. It’s even got a chase scene in a yellow Ferrari, which one can only imagine is very dear to Bay’s heart. After one of his favorite moments during the shoot, a scene in which a cable car blows up and flies 75 feet in the air, Bay grabbed his director of photography, John Schwartzman, and said: “Isn’t this weird? It’s like we’re two kids with all this money!”

Mix two kids with $60 million plus and a veteran star like Sean Connery and there are bound to be some sparks. Bay’s “hyperkinetic way of working” occasionally clashed with Connery’s old-school approach; and while Bay conceded to Connery’s demand that they actually rehearse scenes in the morning before shooting, he still managed to ruffle the star’s feathers. Bay relates: “One day I had to get him underwater holding his breath with a fireball coming over him.” Apparently, Connery was not happy with the circumstances. Bay admits, “I think the word fuckhead came out in the air.”

Bay has been working nonstop trying to complete editing on the movie before its June 7 release date; in screenings, The Rock has tested higher than any movie previously produced by Simpson and Bruckheimer, crystallizing Bay’s position as the hottest young action director in town. And while he’s not entirely sure what his next project will be, he will, no doubt, aim for mass appeal and big bucks. “I go out there to win,” he says, pushing his moussed hair out of his eyes. “People don’t care if you die in this business. The only way I get back is with success.”