Interview: Shia LaBeouf
by Paul Fischer
Shia Shaide LaBeouf was born June 11, 1986 in Los Angeles, California to Shayna and Jeffrey LaBeouf. He started his career by doing stand-up comedy around places in his neighborhood, such as coffee clubs. One day, he saw a friend of his act on "Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman", and wanted to become an actor. He's well known for playing Louis Stevens in the popular Disney Channel series, "Even Stevens" (2000), and has even won an Emmy for his performance as Louis.
Recently, he starred in Project Greenlight's "Battle of Shaker Heights" and had a supporting role in "I, Robot". LaBeouf next can be seen opposite Keanu Reeves in the dark actioner "Constantine", about which the young actor spoke to Paul Fischer.
Paul: Is your character in the comic books?
Shia: Yeah, he's in every single one of the comic books.
Paul: Oh you know the comic books.
Shia: I know them now, I didn't when we were doing the film.
Paul: Is it very much like your character in the film?
Shia: No, no, it's changed. He's a thirty-year-old man in the comic book. It's completely different.
Paul: So you didn't take anything from the comic book?
Shia: No, I found that that would be confusing. We had our story and our map, our guideline of what we needed to follow. Especially in comic books, when you're a supporting character, supporting characters in comic books tend to flip-flop with their emotions, you read Superman and in an episode Jimmy Olson's crying about somebody who died, and the very next episode he's eating pizza and bowling with his friends, and it's like, how does this connect, how does that work? And I think that supporting characters in comic books, not necessarily this one, because it's more of a novel, a book type of comic, which I think definitely separates Constantine, you've got to understand it's not just a comic film, it's a novel, it's based off of a book, which is why it's so detailed and why the supporting characters aren't just there to move Constantine along in the story, but actually have a purpose and a meaning in the film, and have their own back story, each one is very individual. And I think that's the beauty of this film, is that as solo as it is with Constantine, it's very ensemble as well.
Paul: When you get a script like this is there much hesitation?
Shia: I was interested even before I read the script, just meeting Francis. Francis is a consummate salesman and an amazing director. And also Akiva who is a good friend of mine, who I've worked with before, and then I actually read the script and fell in love. Also, I knew I'd be working with an icon in Keanu Reeves, and I wanted to know about him, he's so mysterious, he's so smart. I think that's one of the things I thoroughly enjoyed and give him major kudos for is that he knows how to use the press to his advantage. He keeps this mystery that makes you still want to ask questions at the end of the day.
Paul: How do you feel with your increase in notoriety?
Shia: I think there's a form of honesty, because I used to be very honest with the press, and then it backfired on me, and I understood it. That's okay, I'm still as honest as I can be without being hurtful, because I used to be honest to the point of hurting other people, talking about different actors in different things.
Paul: What do you mean it backfired?
Shia: They reported it and that's not good, there's no reason for that.
Paul: We always love it when people are candid!
Shia: I know that, I know that.
Paul: What we hate is when people lie.
Shia: I won't lie to you, I'll be as honest as I can be without getting into trouble.
Paul: You said the character in the comics was 30, but it's definitely played like a young guy who looks up to, and wants to be like, Constantine.
Shia: The whole character of Chas, you need to have a vulnerable character in the film, because there are so many characters with powers, you need a human-human, you need somebody who is on the outside looking in, so that the audience can vibe with that. He's sort of the eye of the audience, not the narrator -
Paul: He makes mistakes too along the way
Shia: Yeah, you need that
Paul: And he's the comic relief - you're the only laugh in the movie
Shia: Yeah, I know. And you need that as well. But that wasn't what I signed on to do, that sort of happened as we were filming. But Constantine the character is a hard person to like, he's an asshole, so in order to like him he has to have redeeming qualities, and I think the fact that he takes the sort of father figure with this boy makes you like him, and you need that in the film, so there's a reason for Chas' existence, but there's also a back story to Chas that is beyond just the relationship with Constantine.
Paul: How old is Chas supposed to be, and how old are you?
Shia: He's 18 or 19 in the film, and I'm 18.
Paul: You said Keanu is an icon - what did you think he was going to be like, and what is he really like?
Shia: I had my preconceived notions, like anybody else, he's the whoa guy, or the guy in Speed, he's Keanu Reeves, he's not a great actor. That's what I thought walking in. And the truth is, and this is not a lie, I've never seen anybody prepare as much as Keanu Reeves in my life. And I have so much respect for him now than I ever did, and I understand why he has a career. You've got to look at his resume, he's worked with the best of the best of the best in every field, from Gary Oldman to Al Pacino, every director you've ever heard of, all the greatest writers. The thing with Keanu is an actor is 50% choice, 50% talent, and Keanu's choices are unreal, and his talent is getting there. He's there, he's getting better with every role, and I think that this is his best role ever, I think he's really believable and the audience vibes with him. First of all, I've never seen anyone prepare like that, and I've never seen anybody so unjaded, he's such a veteran and he's still works and treats himself like it's his first film. He's so hard on himself to the point of sickness, I've never seen that before. He gave an importance to acting that I've never seen, and it made me feel better about my profession, and it's rare that you find that. Also, look at his career, look at what he's doing it for, why is he still making films? He's not doing it because he wants to be famous, because he's shy from the press, he doesn't want that. He has fame, why is he still making movies? It's not because of money, he has all the money and he still hasn't bought a house, so it's not money, you know what I mean? It's not that. Keanu is shy and that way because it's all about being respected as an actor, that's all he's about, that's all he wants in life. And you'll notice a difference in Keanu, when you say, 'Hey man, Matrix was awesome.' He doesn't want to hear that. But you say, 'There was a scene in Dracula with you and Gary Oldman that was very believable, and you were very on-point, and I really liked that scene,' Keanu will smile like a 13-year-old girl on prom night. He's so happy.
Paul: Obviously he's been a big influence on you - when you go on to pick roles will you think what would Keanu do?
Shia: Not necessarily. It's two different careers. Keanu started off in a similar type of way, just different, different people, different performers, different everything. I respect his choices. Do I want that type of career? Yes, he has longevity written all over him, he'll be around for as long as you're around or I'm around, he's that actor.
Paul: So what can you tell us about The Greatest Game Ever Played with Bill Paxton?
Shia: Wild Bill. He's a presence, he's tough to work with, especially when he's in the director's seat and he's an actor, it's hard to differentiate where my job starts and his job ends, and vice versa. It's a Seabiscuit type of film, it's an epic. It's about the U.S. Open Golf in 1913. In 1913 America was still forming, this was a year after the Titantic, and America was still forming, it was full of immigrants, it was America's America. And we had no heroes, there were no American heroes, kids didn't have somebody to look up to, and here's this immigrant's son, and he's completely American, first-generation American in his immigrant family, poor as all, growing up across the street from this golf course, which was a royal game, you couldn't even play that game unless you owned a company. And he was a caddy there, and basically what Francis wound up doing was becoming the youngest man still to ever win the U.S. Open. He was the first amateur and one of the only to ever win the U.S. Open, and was the first sports' hero, Back in 1913, a professional athlete was like a janitor, you would show up on a golf course and pay a professional athlete 10 bucks to stay with you for 8 hours and teach you how to play golf. It was a completely different world. And then Francis turned it into what it is today. There would be no Babe Ruth or Michael Jordan without Francis, he was the first. Also he was the first American hero, somebody that the working class could look up to and say, 'Look, he's an immigrant, look what he did.'
Paul: Francis who?
Shia: Francis Ouimet.
Paul: How's your golf game?
Shia: I trained more than anybody ever in a golf film ever made - my swing is pretty hot. Tiger Woods, the best have sat down and looked at my swing and said, 'That's a swing.' And if you're a golfer and you watch a golf film and Matt Damon swing, and it's not great, then you're not going to believe in the golf story, you're not going to believe in the rest of the film. That's the whole movie, so if that swing looks like crap, the movie's crap. It's just that simple. So that was the biggest thing for that film, you had to get that swing. Also you're playing a real person, so you have to study that person. And yeah, my handicap was down to a 10 when we were at the thick of it. I trained for six or seven months, golfing every day for six hours, seven days a week, with eight trainers. It was intense.
Paul: And then after that - nothing?
Shia: When you're forced to do something ...
Paul: Can you talk a little about your fight scene at the end of this movie, was that the first time you'd done anything like that?
Shia: To that extent, I did a little bit of it in I, Robot, but never to that extent though. Yeah, it was a lot of fun, plus you're working - it's a dream for an 18-year-old to be working with Keanu Reeves and the Matrix stunt team, it's a dream, it's like you show up every day and you're living a fantasy. It was a lot of fun, and they really treated me right, they would do it four or five times before they would even bring me in to make sure that everything worked right. I never got hurt, it was a very enjoyable experience and it looks cool on film.
Paul: Your tag at the end is way too late.
Shia: (laughs) You know what? I don't think it is too late, I think it's a smart choice.
Paul: You think the audience will stay that long?
Shia: Who cares if they stay that long, if one or two people see it and then they start talking about the film, and they go, 'Did you see that scene at the end?' It's more mysterious. If there's going to be a sequel or not, than just the blood - but it's not over, another demon flies in - that would be boring. But the fact that he chose to put it at the end is very cool, because it's still mysterious whether or not the sequel is going to happen or I'm going to be alive in the sequel. I like the mystery of it.
Paul: Have they talked about a sequel to you?
Shia: Everybody talks a lot of things, who knows. If the movie makes $3 there definitely won't be a sequel.
Paul: Did you have a very religious upbringing?
Shia: No, I come for a hippy lifestyle, it's very open; my parents are both hippies. So it was like, 'What do you believe in?' 'I don't know, what do you believe in?' 'Alright, cool.' I got Bar Mitzvahed for my grandmother who was sick and wanted me to Bar Mitzvah, but like any Jew in Los Angeles, after your Bar Mitzvah is over you stop being Jewish. So that was the extent of my religion.
Paul: So could you relate to a lot of this stuff?
Shia: Not really. I mean, I never really was that way. I never thought it was real until you're sitting there with a priest and he's saying, 'This is how you do an exorcism. No, no, no, put your hand here, not there.' And you're going, 'Where's the laugh? Are you kidding me?' And he's not kidding you, his whole life is devoted to this, and you're sitting there like, really (not) understanding what he's talking about.
Paul: Did you think more about it?
Shia: Of course, especially in Djimon - I would hang out with Djimon on the set, who comes from, he's from a place in the world where it's completely different, it's a creation of voodoo. We would be in rehearsals, and a ??? would have a rabbit's foot on his keys and Djimon would be sitting like this, he'd be like, 'What's wrong with you?' He has beliefs that are - alternate realities are very real to Djimon, and he's good at explaining why, and it's very convincing, and so that scares me. The thing about this film, which is why I don't think it's a comic book film, is you're not really going to see a man in a tight spider-suit jumping from building to building with webs, that's not reality. But who's to say that this isn't real? That's the difference.
Paul: Can you talk about Djimon as an actor?
Shia: Djimon as an actor, that's the thing about this cast, you're surrounded by geniuses and Djimon especially. I gussied up to Djimon right when I saw him, I was such a fan man, such a fan. It's an intense, a firestorm - he would do a scene and the whole crew would shut down, people from other movies would come in and watch the scene because he's a genius, and he's only been doing this for a short amount of time. It's cool that he's getting the respect that he deserves, and I really appreciate Djimon and his influence on me and his performances.
Constantine opens February 18.