Q&A with Shia LaBeouf
Shia LaBeouf’s profile has rocketed this year with roles in films including Transformers, Surf’s Up and now Disturbia. Add to the list a part in the fourth Indiana Jones movie being filmed at the moment and you’ve got Hollywood’s hottest new young sensation. We caught up with the 21-year-old to discuss his lead role in the teen thriller Disturbia…
What is Disturbia about?
I play a character called Kale in Disturbia. When Kale loses his father, his whole world changes. He becomes a dark, somewhat closed-off human being. Because his mum is dealing with the same pain, she’s not available so Kale turns into this out-of-control kid under house arrest. In jail, you’re locked away from the world, but on house arrest, the world is tantalisingly out there in front of you. It’s like dangling meat in front of a dog. And on top of that, he may be living across from a killer.
What do you make of Kale?
If you were to study and breakdown Kale, he’s all about pain. He’s looking out of the window into other people’s lives to divert himself from dealing with his own shit. It’s a common thing. That’s why people watch reality TV, why people go on myspace and why people listen to music. It’s simple. It’s a common thing – he just pushes it a little step further with the voyeurism.
You’ve starred in a lot of movies this year. Do you ever worry about being overexposed?
No, not at all. Surf’s Up was a movie driven by animation and penguins – and not Shia LaBeouf. Transformers was a movie driven by Optimus Prime and Megatron – not Shia LaBeouf. Disturbia is my movie of the year – and that’s the big thing for me. It’s not overexposure at all. As far as Transformers goes, I remember George Clooney saying that when he made The Perfect Storm, the movie succeeded because of the wave – not because of George Clooney. That’s how I feel about Transformers. Its success is down to the amazing graphics, ILM and the director Michael Bay. People in Russia and Japan aren’t going to see it because of me, they’re going to see it because it’s the Transformers. If I’d have had another movie out this year then maybe it would be overexposure and a big problem – it’s a fine line. But for now it’s fine for me.
Have you got any plans after you’ve finished filming the new Indiana Jones?
I almost want to go to school. I really want to study psychology at Yale.
Do you think you can successfully combine work with university?
No, that wouldn’t work at all. I’d go away for four years. I know people say, ‘That’s insane! Why would you do that?’ But actors need mystery in their life. If I’m in the public eye too much, the perception of me as a performer gets hindered and I become a personality. Personality overshadowing performance is the death of an actor, so if I want to be a Michael Caine figure in seven years and still be working, I need mystery and I need to get away from this. I’ve been working for 10 years straight so I think I’ve paid my dues and have got my foot in the sand to the point where I can go away for four years and still come back to that foot in the sand.
What’s it like to work with Steven Spielberg? He produced Disturbia and Transformers – plus he’s directing Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull…
It’s insane! I can vividly remember the first time I met Steven Spielberg. I remember every beat and every second. I even remember what I was wearing – a black T-shirt and my pyjama pants.
He came to the set of Disturbia and I had just worked out so I was ready to go to Wardrobe. He’s a beautiful man. He’s not cold and it’s not like you meet him and feel intimidated – he’s warm. Because he’s Spielberg, he knows he’s iconic and he knows he’s going to freak you out so he tries as much as he can to make you feel comfortable.
Disturbia is billed as a Rear Window for teenagers… Does that mean there was a lot of pressure on you to come up trumps with your role?
Definitely. The pressure is there because it’s derived from a Jimmy Stewart role, but then again it’s also derived from John Cusack in Say Anything, Gene Hackman in The Conversation and Hoffman in Straw Dogs. It was a huge list of people to follow.
Who are your acting icons?
I think Steve McQueen is great because he is a guy who can stand and deliver. The hardest thing to do for an actor in film is to do nothing – it’s to let the audience do all the work for you and be confident enough with yourself to just sit there. In Cincinatti Kid he’s incredible. Him and Paul Newman and Redford – they’re all stand-and-deliver type of guys which is fascinating. Hoffman is completely different, but they’re all tremendous. Watch Papillon and you see Hoffman being intricate and all over the place – but McQueen is different in his brilliance. It’s multi-layered, it’s brilliant.
What does your mum feel about your career?
Oh, she’s in a whole different stratosphere. She’s on cloud nine! I come from a lineage of artists on both sides of my family. It’s generations of artists who never made any kind of success, so for me to hit it is big for all of us – it’s huge. It’s been a long time coming for my family and if it goes away tomorrow, this was all fun and great. There are some cool things to remember, but I can be a train conductor and she’d be happy.
What kind of artists?
My mum was a dancer – a ballerina who got into visual art. My mum used to dance with the best. And my dad is a painter and a mime. He wasn’t just a street mime artist though – he got as high as you can get in the industry. He was a fully-trained mime. They were all top level, but never did any of this – the interviews and everything. Nobody ever asked them about their careers.
As an actor, do you find yourself looking into the dark side of your life to get your emotions out?
Being an actor doesn’t mean you’re dark. Robin Williams is an actor and he’s very pleasant. Tom Hanks is an actor and he’s very pleasant.
But Robin Williams is dark – he’s got a lot of problems in his life…
True. But the perception of people who don’t know him per se is a pleasant perception. I don’t have to be Christina Ricci to be an actor. I don’t have to play a kid whose girlfriend is going through an abortion to be an actor. It’s funny how all of a sudden certain people think you’re a better actor because you’re a method actor.
Do you think acting is an innate talent or is it something that can be learned?
It’s a bit of both. You can learn technique and get by on that alone. Technical actors are amazing, but you need pain and a bit of life experience too. Sometimes you inflict it on yourself just so that you can get ready for work.
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