Shia LaBeouf hasn’t had the smoothest road for his career, earning more acclaim and attention at an early age than perhaps he was ready for. But the outspoken actor is taking things one day at a time.
“For me, it’s always the first and last time, every time I’m on set. I didn’t commit less to ‘Indiana Jones’ or less to ‘Transformers.’ It’s just different sensibilities,” he says. “If you asked an 18-year-old what they want to do with their life, and the options are ‘Transformers’ or Lars von Trier, he’s probably shipping out for ‘Transformers.’ If you ask a 26-year-old what he wants to do, ‘Transformers’ or Lars von Trier, he’d probably pick Lars von Trier. So, my sensibilities are changing as I change.”
Changing sensibilities aside, LaBeouf says the primary motivator for him in picking a script is whether or not it scares the crap out of him. “If I feel fear right away, that’s a pretty good indicator that I’m shipping out immediately,” he says. “If it scares me and I can’t stop thinking about it, and I don’t know if I really can do it, I’m going.”
The fear factor for his latest film, “Lawless,” was pretty big, he admits, since — as he puts it — he’s expected to carry the film. The film features LaBeouf as Jack Bondurant, a real-life Prohibition-era bootlegger eager to prove himself to his legendary older brother (Tom Hardy). “I’ve carried movies before but had really, really good co-stars in terms of things to look at and divert your attention. Here, I knew there was no escaping any of that,” he says. “Before I really had a fully fleshed-out conversation with [director John] Hillcoat, I think I was nervous about my skill set and where I’d be able to go. For me, Hillcoat was the most nurturing, empathetic, emotional, sensitive man I had ever met. ... He allowed me to open up ‘cause I felt safe with him.”
And while LaBeouf’s career has taken a decidedly art-house turn — working more with directors like Hillcoat and von Trier as opposed to those like Bay and Spielberg — he insists he’s still just following his instincts. “It would be straight bulls--- if I said to you, ‘The money isn’t nice.’ But I never got into it for the money, or signed on to any project for money, ever,” he says. “Money comes with something like ‘Transformers,’ but if they would have said ‘you’ve gotta do it for free,’ I’d be there. ‘Transformers’ was a big deal in my life, aside from the money and all that. For me, Michael Bay, when I was 18, was a big deal. So, I don’t take any of it back.”
Playing a Prohibition-era bootlegger gave Shia LaBeouf a chance to examine the parallels one could draw to the alcohol and drug policies of today.
“You’re in the middle of a marijuana prohibition and a meth prohibition,” he says. “The war on drugs is failing miserably and funding a huge war in Mexico. It’s the same thing we did with Al Capone. All the alcohol bought him guns, and now we’re buying guns for the cartels.”
Illicit drugs aside, LaBeouf even takes issue with the legal drinking age in the U.S. “I think it’s strange that you have the wherewithal to give your body to the army, but you don’t have the wherewithal to have a sip of alcohol,” says LaBeouf, who admits he had his first taste of alcohol at age 14, thanks to his dad. “In other countries, it’s not that way. They basically say, ‘If you’re old enough to decide what to do with your life in terms of living or dying for a cause, then you could probably discern whether or not you should be able to have alcohol.”