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Transformers - Shia LaBeouf interview

Shia LaBeouf in Transformers

Interview by Rob Carnevale

SHIA LaBeouf about his meteoric rise to fame, why he feels “president of the lucky club” and what it means to be appearing in Michael Bay’s Transformers.

The actor also talks about some of the physical challenges of filming the movie and working with Harrison Ford on Indiana Jones 4.

Q. You’ve rapidly become something of a shooting star?
Shia LaBeouf: I’m just an actor for hire, man.

Q. Is it difficult to process how fast you’ve risen in terms of the Hollywood A-list?
Shia LaBeouf: Oh yeah, I’m the president of the lucky club. There are so many talented people who don’t work. And the crop of young actors I’m surrounded by is incredible. You look at Jamie Bell, he’s an ace; the dude is incredible. You watch him in Billy Elliot and it’s like: “F***, I can’t keep…” When you have people like that around you it amps you up a little bit. Also, Emile Hirsch and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, or guys like Ryan Gosling. It’s a really good crowd and I feel I’m coming up at a good time. But equally, there’s a lot of good young actors who don’t get to work who are more talented than I. I’m just lucky.

Q. You have been described as the “face of new Hollywood” and are now working with the likes of Steven Spielberg. Is that something you now have to take on board when approaching projects?
Shia LaBeouf: No, that’s too much weight, that’s crazy thinking. I haven’t accepted any of this yet. It all seems like the craziest thing in the world. I’m a kid from Echo Park and I shouldn’t be working with Steven [Spielberg]. I mean it’s wild when Steven becomes Steven. And “hey Harrison [Ford]”. That’s crazy to me as well. My dad didn’t give a shit about movies, ever. He doesn’t care about any of this stuff, which helps to maintain normality. But then when I tell him something like: “We were training today and Harrison pulled out the whip and started doing whip training… [for Indiana Jones IV]” My dad went nuts because Harrison is a modern day Steve McQueen. So that makes my dad proud of all of this and it’s a great feeling.

Q. And now you’re a leading man in films like Transformers?
Shia LaBeouf: It’s just another gig. There’s a lot of pressure but I can’t think of it that way otherwise it’d be too much for me to deal with. There’s a lot of weight, a lot of pressure, you don’t want to be Jar Jar Binks, you know…

Q. What made you decide to become an actor?
Shia LaBeouf: I didn’t get into this for the craft of it. I got into it because it was available and I was broke. We were living in Echo Park and this was a means to an end. This was a way to support my family. I got a show called Even Stevens and I was getting paid and living in a motel. I didn’t know about the craft until I met Jon Voight and he changed my whole life. Had I not met him I wouldn’t be doing this still. He introduced me to the magic of what this is and books I’d never have read, or movies such as Blackboard Jungle. Voight changed my life and he doesn’t even think much of it. But he changed my whole outlook on the responsibility of an actor, the difference between personality and performance, what you have for sale, what’s for sale, what to say and how much mystery to maintain, how do deal with this type of stuff. I’d never thought about it before.

Q. So in that sense you’re self taught?
Shia LaBeouf: That’s what I’m saying. I shouldn’t be here.

Q. How much did Transformers change your life?
Shia LaBeouf: Actually, Disturbia changed the world for me. But Transformers is big – it’s the biggest movie I’ve ever been a part of. As a fan it’s incredible. I was a fan first. I grew up with Transformers. My childhood was Transformers, Yogi Bear… so to be involved with it is like treading on a cloud. It’s wild when your dreams become true – you almost don’t want to drive the dream bus because it’s the dream bus; it’s weird when the dream bus becomes the bus. So my dreams are changing. I don’t dream about unicorns because I’m on set with them. I can touch them. The transition is tough, especially when you’re sitting there and eating lunch with Harrison. You’re just floating on a cloud and it’s like this weird dream sequence all the time, a montage of insanity. I couldn’t have imagined it any crazier.

Q. How was working with Michael Bay?
Shia LaBeouf: I know Mike pretty well. A lot of people say: “Mike’s not an actor’s director, Mike’s an asshole and like a monster.” I heard all these stories before I got into the movie but the Mike that I met wasn’t any of those things. It depends on your sensibilities. If you’re an actor who needs a hug in the morning don’t do a Michael Bay movie. That’s not him, that’s not his sensibility. I don’t need a hug in the morning. I like working with Mike and that tough guy, fast paced, machismo shit. I love it. It’s a whole different mode for me.

Q. Are you an Indiana Jones fan?
Shia LaBeouf: Huge! Who’s not? It’s the greatest franchise ever made in the history of the world.

Q. How did Michael Bay compare to Steven Spielberg?
Shia LaBeouf: Very different. The script for Transformers might say “action sequence” and that’s it. It won’t tell you what’s happening, so you start creating all that stuff. But my training for the stuff in Indy is very calculated. It’s like a ballet whereas Transformers is evasion and “watch that bomb”. You have to be very knowledgeable about different kinds of grenades and bombs. Indy is very different. It’s more strategy and calculation. The whole movie is made already because Steven has pre-envisaged the entire film. You can watch the movie right now before we shoot it. He’s already storyboarded the whole thing, like a video game. That’s very different to working with Mike, who makes the movie on set.

Q. Did you enjoy doing your own stunts on Transformers and did it kind of prepare you for the physical challenge of Indy, given that Harrison Ford is renowned for doing it for real?
Shia LaBeouf: Oh God yes! He does it for real. There’s stuff that Harrison’s doing that you wouldn’t believe that they’re even letting him attempt. The stunt guys are so nervous, you know, sitting there going: “Harrison, maybe not, maybe not!” But he’s like gung-ho about it, saying: “Don’t worry, I got it!” He’s a man’s man. He showed up for rehearsal and jumped out of this helicopter onto a motorcycle. And then there’s the whip training. He’s a modern day Steve McQueen in person, for real. Indy isn’t a big removal from Harrison for real. He is a super hero. In his off-time he saves boy scouts. That’s what he does, so he is that guy. He’s doing stuff I can’t do and I’m 21.

Q. But you did all your own stunts on Transformers...
Shia LaBeouf: On Transformers I did about 95%. There were certain shots I couldn’t do. But there was a shot on the roof that’s for real. But there’s another shot involving flames that I couldn’t do. My stuntman got third degree burns all over his face and his back. But everything else is for real. That’s really me on the building.

Q. What was the hardest part of the Transformers process?
Shia LaBeouf: Having emotional connections to things that don’t really exist, like looking at a green ball and really loving that green ball, and being sad whether it’s around or not. Stuff like that. I’ve never done acting at this level before so it was a huge challenge for me. It was a hurdle to overcome just to survive.

Q. You got your big film break in Holes, which was a really good film. Had you read the book beforehand?
Shia LaBeouf: No, I never read the script or the book or anything. Andy [Davis, director] didn’t want me to read it because it was about a chubby kid and had I read it, it would have messed my head up a little bit. He didn’t want me to read it, he wanted me to experience the whole movie and not know what was happening. So that wasn’t my doing; I was initiated.

Q. Is that the way you always do it?
Shia LaBeouf: It’s different strokes for different films. You do a movie like A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints or Bobby and it’s very different. The Greatest Game Every Played takes place in the 1900s and there’s no way to ad lib through that. You don’t have enough knowledge about the time and the culture. With something like Indy the scripts been written over 15 years and I don’t think my ideas about dialogue are really relevant. But on something like Transformers it’s encouraged.

Q. Do you have French heritage?
Shia LaBeouf: Yeah, by dad’s Cajun. I have a cool lineage, a good group of people. I’m Jewish so I was named after my grandfather. Shia means “gift from God” and LaBeouf means “the beef” so my name means “thank God for beef!” [Laughs]

Q. Do you like beef?
Shia LaBeouf: I like beef, yeah, I mean I’m a walking advertisement for it! I recently went to France and someone told me that Shia means “shit”, so over there my name means “shit the beef!” I was like: “Man, I’m cool with ‘gift from God’, let’s keep that going!”

Q. Where do you see yourself in 30 years?
Shia LaBeouf: Train conductor [laughs], bag man at the grocery store… that’s the stuff I dream about. I don’t go to bed at night and dream about these fantastic things that normal people dream about… I dream about real, normal shit such as fixing motorcycles because it’s just not accessible at this point. That’s stuff I can’t have, so that’s the stuff I dream about.

Q. Who were the actors you admired as a child?
Shia LaBeouf: Ray Winstone, Gary Oldman, Daniel Day Lewis. Those are my favourite actors. Hoffman, Michael Caine, Sidney Poitier. But I also enjoy watching Paris Hilton in Scream [laughs]. There’s something about her that’s kind of interesting. She’s her own character.

Q. Do you take any notice of your own press or read reviews?
Shia LaBeouf: I don’t feel any pressure until I come and see you guys. I read reviews of lots of movies but I’m my own worst critic. I don’t enjoy watching my own movies because I’m sitting there analysing them. Transformers is the first movie I can sit down and watch because I’d never seen half of it.

Read our interview with Michael Bay

Read our review of Transformers