Is the troubled actor and performance artist Shia LaBeouf a reformed man?
A wide-ranging interview with the trade newspaper Variety, in which the 30-year-old admits to almost destroying his own career, seems to suggest he is hoping to put the turbulent years behind him.
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“I’m happy working,” LaBeouf told Variety. “I’m still earning my way back.”
For more than a decade LaBeouf’s career has been dogged by scandal, including a series of run-ins with police, an assault charge, an accusation that a film he made was plagiarised from another artist and, finally, being ejected from a New York production of Cabaret for being disorderly.
After the Cabaret incident in 2014, LaBeouf’s representatives confirmed he had sought outpatient treatment for alcoholism. “He understands that these recent actions are a symptom of a larger health problem,” they said in a statement.
What followed, however, left fans and industry observers undecided.
Since 2014, LaBeouf has engaged in a series of performance art installations, including wearing a paper bag on his head and a sign saying “I am not famous anymore” at the Berlin Film Festival, #IAmSorry, in which he sat in silence for six days in a Los Angeles art gallery taking whatever fans dished out to him, #AllMyMovies, in which he binge-watched his own filmography and live-streamed his reactions, and #TakeMeAnywhere, in which he hitchhiked with strangers for a month.
In isolation, the incidents were largely deemed by media to be the bizarre antics of an actor out of control; in hindsight, however, the observations LaBeouf was trying to make about his own life, and his battle with his own “celebrity”, might now seem a little clearer.
What is certain is that they negatively impacted the career of a young actor once hailed as a future Harrison Ford, and whose career credits included the Transformers franchise and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
Total box office revenue on those titles alone: US$3.5 billion.
In the interview with Variety journalist Ramin Setoodeh, LaBeouf acknowledges that he feared his actions had destroyed his film career.
“I had people tell me it was going to,” LaBeouf said. “People I respected, dudes I wanted to work with, just looked me in the eyes and said, life is too short for this shit.”
LaBeouf spoke to Variety in Prague where he is filming Borg vs McEnroe, an upcoming film about the 1980 Wimbledon final clash between tennis stars Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe.
LaBeouf, perhaps unsurprisingly, is playing McEnroe.
In the interview, he acknowledged he had been sober for more than a year.
“I got a Napoleonic complex,” he said. “I start drinking and I feel smaller than I am, and I get louder than I should. It’s just not for me.”
He also acknowledged, when it was suggested his new film American Honey had “Oscar” buzz, that he has a long road ahead of him.
“The Oscars are about politics,” he said. “I gotta earn my way back. It’s not about who is the best. I’m not that guy for a long time, for a long, long time. I’m good with that, though. Sometimes that shit is a curse.”
LaBeouf also admitted his guilt in plagiarising the work of Dan Clowes in his short film Howard Cantour.com.
LaBeouf’s film had a number of similarities to Clowes’ comic Justin M. Damiano which LaBeouf later said were “inspired” by Clowes’ work.
“It’s straight theft,” LaBeouf told Variety candidly. “I just took the dude’s idea and made a movie. I truly f–cked up and apologised.”
Perhaps the most revealing element of the interview, however, is when LaBeouf talks about his own fame, and the negative impact that starring in highly commercial Hollywood blockbusters had on him.
“Everything has been so meticulously planned,” he said of working with legendary producer Steven Spielberg. “You do that for five years, you start to feel like not knowing what you’re doing for a living.”
And he also spoke of the personal responsibility he felt over Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, which was panned by critics and franchise fans, but nonetheless took in almost US$1 billion at the box office.
“I didn’t like going in public, because I had to face my failures constantly,” LaBeouf said. “I prepped for a year and a half and then the movie comes out and it’s your fault. That shit hurt bad.”