Shia LaBeouf's journey from child actor to troubled star has roots in relationship with his father, detailed in upcoming 'Honey Boy'
Shia LaBeouf's father, a Vietnam war vet, is an alcoholic and a drug addict. His nasal voice is due to years of cocaine abuse that Shia has tried to capture in the film.
In the Hollywood scheme of things, Shia LaBeouf's career trajectory is not a new one. A freshly minted child star who has a troubled childhood because they are at the receiving end of some questionable parenting mixed with instant fame and cash, and then the inevitable crash and burn covered by paparazzi. Lindsay Lohan, Amanda Bynes, Britney Spears are just some of the names that come to mind of young stars grappling with early fame.
But with LaBeouf, there has always been an introspective side to his self-destruction. In the beginning, of course, it was smooth sailing. His breakout role as Louis Stevens in the Disney Channel series 'Even Stevens' won him a Young Artist Award nomination in 2001 and a Daytime Emmy Award in 2003 at the age of 14.
It led to a successful entry into movies. At 20, he was delivering hits like 'Disturbia' and became the face of Michael Bay's 'Transformers' franchise (2007-11) in which he played the main protagonist, Sam Witwicky. Hailed as a star-in-the-making, he was cast in the 2008 'Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull', opposite Harrison Ford. Between 2010 and 2014, he was cast in other prestigious projects like Oliver Stone's 'Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps' (2010) alongside Michael Douglas, Robert Redford's 'The Company You Keep' (2012), Lars Von Trier's 'Nymphomaniac' (2013) and David Ayer's 'Fury' (2014), alongside Brad Pitt.
But as he starred in commercial hits, all was not right. Way back in July 2009, LaBeouf was charged with a misdemeanor for criminal trespass. Talking about the incident on David Letterman, he said he just been trying to buy some cigarettes at four in the morning. Then came his "plagiarism phase", starting with his online film 'HowardCantour.com' that was based on an (uncredited) short story by writer Daniel Clowes. Dubbing his plagiarism and his weird plagiarised apologies as "performance art", Shia LaBeouf quickly exhausted the goodwill he had created for himself in the industry. On the red carpet premiere of 'Nymphomaniac', he wore a paper bag on his head with the words "I am Not Famous Anymore." The stunt was part of his collaboration with British artist and author of 'The Metamodernist Manifesto' Luke Turner and Finnish artist Nastja Säde Rönkkö. The actor would mount several other controversial performance art projects, including one in which he was reportedly raped by a visitor to the gallery hosting his performance piece.
It was only in March 2018, that he revealed in an interview with Esquire, that his behavior had been his way to deal with his struggles with addiction and his fraught relationship with his father. This new understanding of his behavior came after he spent a 10-week, court-ordered stint in rehab in 2017 after footage of his sozzled, racist abuse directed at a black cop went viral. Rehab seems to have helped him take stock, especially after he was diagnosed with PTSD because of childhood abuse. Therapy sessions and self-introspection (that had earlier taken the form of self-destructive performance art) now took a more creative form - a screenplay, titled 'Honey Boy', after the nickname his father had for him. That screenplay, which was eventually made into the film releasing on November 8, 2019, premiered at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival to a standing ovation. Shia also won the 'Breakthrough Screenwriter' award at the Hollywood Film Awards.
'Honey Boy' is, therefore, a thinly disguised autobiographical take on the actor's childhood and his ascent as a star, even as he was paying his own father to chaperone him as a manager. Directed by Alma Har'El (Bombay Beach), the film has Shia LaBeouf playing James Lort, a former rodeo clown and sex offender, who is a fictionalized version of his father, Jeffrey LaBeouf. Both Noah Jupe and Lucas Hedges portray Otis Lort, who represents Shia as a child, and a young adult in his early 20s, respectively.
In real life, Shia's father is a Vietnam war vet who is an alcoholic and a drug addict, whose nasal way of speaking is because of years of cocaine abuse that Shia tried to capture in the film. He also tried to capture the hard-bitten, alpha male presence of his father, a man who had his own demons. Shia has previously said he had been subjected to verbal and mental abuse by his father, who once pointed a gun at his son during a Vietnam War flashback. The young Shia also accompanied his father to AA meetings. Many of the scenes and underlying emotions are drawn from real life since the screenplay was based on every memory that Shia could remember about his father during therapy where he was diagnosed, for the first time, with PTSD.
But there is love in the relationship still, with Shia receiving his father's permission and blessing for 'Honey Boy.' In a 'New York Times' interview, Shia said: "My dad is a fighter, a survivor. He's some kind of cockroach. It's unbelievable how he's able to stay afloat. I can't believe he's still alive. He's a street poet. He's cowboy culture. He's Americana. He's a soldier. He's an artist. He's a comedian. He's a lover. He's a beautiful man."
'Honey Boy' premieres on November 8, 2019, in theatres.