[16 April 2007]
The Orange County Register (MCT)
LOS ANGELES—Dr. Shia LaBeouf, noted cardiologist, never had a chance.
There was no way that this kid would ever go to college, let alone medical school. It just wasn’t in the cards. He was destined to be just Shia LaBeouf, the noted actor.
“I come from five generations of performers,” the star of “Disturbia” said matter-of-factly in his Los Angeles hotel suite. “I was acting when I came out of the womb. I come from the kind of family that when I got home from school, my father would say: “Forget the homework; let’s watch a Steve McQueen movie.”
It sounds like a fun childhood, but it was anything but fun.
His parents eventually divorced, but not before young Shia was subjected to verbal and mental abuse by a heroin-addicted father who once pointed a gun at his son during a Vietnam War flashback. The father also gave his son marijuana to smoke when he was 10. His mother raised the couple’s only son on meager earnings, and they were forced to live in a tough neighborhood of Los Angeles.
“When you look into his eyes, you can see an old soul,” said “Disturbia” director D.J. Caruso. “There is a lot of depth there because of his background, and that sets him apart from other actors of his generation. How many 20-year-olds have that kind of experience to tap into?
“But just because he’s got an old soul doesn’t mean he’s old,” he added. “Shia’s young and smart and even a little goofy in person. I was looking for a young John Cusack from `Say Anything,’ and I believe I got him. But when I showed the film to Steven Spielberg (his “DreamWorks” company made the movie), he took it a step further and said that Shia has the potential to be the next Tom Hanks.”
Whatever his potential, audiences will get plenty of chances to see him in the next few months. In addition to the Hitchcockian thriller “Disturbia,” which opens Friday, LaBeouf lends his voice to the upcoming animated film “Surf’s Up,” and then stars in the Fourth of July blockbuster “Transformers.” He also is rumored to be up for a key role in the latest installment of the Indiana Jones adventures, playing Harrison Ford’s son.
And he will host “Saturday Night Live” this weekend.
In “Disturbia,” he plays a rebellious teenager who is having problems dealing with the death of his father. After a serious incident in school, he is sentenced to house arrest. Bored, he has nothing better to do than spy on his neighbors, including the beautiful new girl next door (Sarah Roemer) and the creepy neighbor (David Morse) who might be a serial killer.
“Of course, it’s similar to Alfred Hitchcock’s `Rear Window,’ but it’s also different,” the actor said. “The people at DreamWorks are smart people, and they wanted a film that had elements of “Rear Window” but was totally original. I think they’re both great films in their own right.”
Picking great films is part of the master plan that LaBeouf and his agents have devised to “keep me working until I’m 70.”
The “plan” calls for the young actor to work in as many diverse films as possible (his last three movies were the Emilio Estevez-directed “Bobby,” “A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints” and “The Greatest Game Ever Played.”
But there is another equally important part of the plan, he said.
“When you’re putting together a career plan, you have to take into account the potential pitfalls of a career and, in Hollywood, that means partying.
“To not party is part of the plan. I have made a calculated effort to stay away from the party scene because that can have as much impact on your career as your performances. If the industry takes you lightly because you’re always partying, then they will take your work lightly as well.”
LaBeouf said he’s watched other actors his age self-destruct on the party scene, although he declined to mention specific names (but we know who they are).
“Who wants to be around those people?” he asked in typical straight-talking fashion. “Who wants to show up on a set and find someone who’s not prepared because they’ve been partying all night?”
Interestingly, he credits his dysfunctional childhood with keeping his adult life on track.
LaBeouf was raised in the tough Echo Park section of Los Angeles. His mother was a dancer who was forced to give up the ballet because of injuries and later became a visual artist. His father, whom his son describes as a “Ragin’ Cajun,” was a former circus clown who drifted from one job to another.
“He was tough as nails and a different breed of man,” LaBeouf said of his father, who now lives in his son’s garage, where he has renewed an interest in painting.
“When you’re 10 years old and watch your father going through heroin withdrawals, you grow up real fast. You become the parent in the relationship. But I must give him credit because he always told me that he didn’t want me to be like him.”
However, his father not only shared his drugs with his 10-year-old son, but got him started on an early cigarette habit.
“I still have that one bad habit,” LaBeouf said, holding up an ever-present cigarette, “but my childhood never hindered me, and it never crippled me. They were pretty weird people, but they loved me and I loved them.”
The young Shia attended the Magnet School of Performing Arts where he escaped into acting.
He beat out hundreds of other child actors for the coveted title role on the Disney Channel TV show “Even Stevens,” and even won a Daytime Emmy during the three-year run of the hit series. He made the leap to the big screen in the 2003 film “Holes,” which had a bigger effect on his life than just another movie role.
“I met Jon Voight on that movie, and he became my mentor,” LaBeouf said. “He took me under his wing at the exact time that I needed some serious adult guidance.”
LaBeouf said he has not selected a role to follow “Transformers” because he wants to make sure that he makes the right choice.
“You have to be so careful about the roles you pick if you want to have a long career in this business,” he explained. “I think it’s better not to work at all than to work on something bad.”
In the meantime, he said he plans to stay out of trouble.
“I know what happens to young successful people in Hollywood. These people get lost. They start believing their own press. They don’t realize that the party scene isn’t real. It’s all fake stuff and you can’t take it seriously. It’s one long dream sequence, and I have no intention of getting lost in a dream.
“I am very serious about my career, and I understand that you can’t take it for granted. One day you’re a movie star, and if you’re not careful, the next day you could be a train conductor.”