When "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" posted a casting call for "Hardcore Eddie," every muscleman-actor on the way up in Hollywood went out for the part.

They knew the character would be on-screen during crucial, cataclysmic action, right alongside Shia LaBeouf and Tyrese Gibson, who plays Epps, the leader of Eddie's good-guy mercenary crew.

Baltimore-born Lester Speight walked into the audition and knew he'd nail it.

"A lot of times, guys make jokes — they see you walk in and they say, 'Well, we might as well go home now.' For this one, I thought to myself — yeah, you might as well go home.' "

He was right.

Eddie went to Speight, the performer best known as "office linebacker" Terry Tate in some hilarious Reebok commercials. Tate is the etiquette enforcer who blindsides offenders, like the fellow who drains the coffee pot without refilling it. "You kill the joe, you make some mo'," he yells in the face of the dazed bad guy.

The "Transformers" premiere was a gratifying moment for an actor who spent his grade-school life misbehaving in Northwest Baltimore or hooked up in a hospital while doctors tried to analyze why he was hyperactive.

He goes way back as a performer. His mother, a true-blue "preacher's kid" — a church pianist and music director — presented Speight and his sister, Leslie, as a gospel team called the Speight Specials when they were 4 and 5 (respectively).

"She had us singing 'Jesus Be a Fence' all around Baltimore," he said.

Speight straightened out for good a few years after his family moved to Sylmac in Anne Arundel County. He became a disciplined athlete — he's in the Hall of Fame at Old Mill High in Millersville for starring in three sports (football, basketball and track). At Morgan State he was an All-American linebacker. He regrets that he didn't take theater at Morgan State — he dropped out of drama classes twice because he feared what his fellow jocks would think of him. Now he tells young people, "Don't let anyone stop you from doing what you want."

Still, he confessed, "I had to get sports out of my system first." His football dreams ended after he signed with the USFL Baltimore Stars, and the team promptly folded. He then created a wrestling persona, "Rasta the Voodoo Mon," and used "Mighty Rasta" as his moniker for his early acting and comedy gigs.

Speight was an extra in red sweatpants and tank top when Robert Townsend made "Meteor Man" in Baltimore. "I played a Blood," he explained. Eighteen years later, Speight came to "Transformers" from a supporting part in "Faster," with Billy Bob Thornton and the Rock.

"The wheels were on and I was oiled and ready to roll," he said.

Director Michael Bay wanted Eddie to be "the firepower for the human race" and "the comic relief, a 300-pound guy trying to keep up with all these quick, 100-, 200-pound men." Speight convinced Bay — who was already a Terry Tate fan — that he was skilled enough at improvisation to fill in the blanks of the script.

All Speight knew for sure was that he'd "carry the biggest gun in the movie, solo — a semiautomatic weapon weighing 60, 65 pounds that shoots about a thousand rounds per minute." (During filming he called it his "baby girl.") But Speight knew how to individualize Eddie.

"He's a war veteran: he's been there before," he said. "He's very calm — C-A-L-M. Shooting and killing, designing schemes — that's kind of routine for him. Those things need to come out when you're pulling together a character."

As for acting with unseen, computer-generated Autobots and Decepticons: "A two-foot-by-two foot face of Optimus Prime, on a giant pole, would give us the eye-line to look at — it could be 10 or 20 feet up, or 30 feet. Then we'd take direction: 'Okay, you're ducking here, you're taking cover.' "

Speight exploited his improv gifts in the funniest, most persuasive moment. While Decepticons level Chicago, Eddie tells Epps, "I didn't sign up for this!"

When people tell Speight they like the scene, he says it makes his day — and adds that it has another high-profile fan.

"Steven Spielberg likes that scene, too," he said.