June 2007 By Philip Berk
Four years ago I wrote, “He has the improbable and impossible name of Shia LeBeouf.
“And yet he’s destined to be a star.
“The young man oozes personality.
“Just turned sixteen, he gives new meaning to the word irrepressible.
“And he has looks to kill.”
At the time I was surprised that his (Holes) costar Sigourney Weaver seemed unimpressed when I asked her what she thought of him.
Knowing his devilish nature I could only assume he was hitting on her daughter who visited the set.
But nothing will deter this young man, I wrote.
He’s on his way!
After small roles in Charlie’s Angels 2, Dumb and Dumberer, I Robot, and Constantine that prediction was somewhat derailed
And even good reviews for The Greatest Game Ever Played and A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints didn’t help
But now with three high profile movies about to break this summer — the starring role in Disturbia, a voice over in Surf’s Up, and a key role in Transformers, he’s a young man on the verge of stardom
And in fact last month in Las Vegas at the ShoWest convention he was dubbed Male Star of Tomorrow.
And hot off the presses, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas have confirmed what’s been rumored for weeks — he’ll play Harrison Ford’s son in the next Indiana Jones movie.
And if that weren’t enough, his hosting of Saturday NIght Live catapulted Disturbia to the number one position at the box office.
So for Shia, the sky’s the limit.
He and I were stranded for three hours at the airport returning from Las Vegas . He was there with his mom. We exchanged greetings (he didn’t recognize me) but surprisingly he went unnoticed even after we boarded the plane.
I guess no one knows who he is either.
“I’m not a star. I’m just an actor,” he admits at his Disturbia press conference. “People don’t rush me in the streets. Shia! Shia! I don’t get that.”
Meeting with the foreign press he’s as unpredictable as ever
Four years ago when I asked him where his name came from? he answered. “It’s my grandfather’s name. Shia is Hebrew and LeBeouf is French. My first name means gift from God and my last name means the beef. So my name means thank God for beef, which is totally terrible.”
Did he ever think of changing it?
“I’ve been asked that a couple of times, but that’s a joke to me. I mean I’m me, and I don’t want to change my name. It was my grandfather’s name, and it’s sort of a family tradition to keep that name. There’s a lot of pride involved from grandfather to grandson. In Jewish families that’s sort of how it works. So I have to keep my name.”
So how did he get to be so famous so early?
“I wasn’t born that way,” he jokes,” although both my parents are very artistic. They are hippies, and I was born in that environment. We lived in the Echo Park district of Los Angeles. I went to the 32nd Street Magnet School. I was the only white kid there, and being Jewish I was like a minority among minorities.”
Was that a problem?
“Let’s put it this way. I was in drama class all the time. The only way I could stay away from fights was to be the class clown; so I wound up doing a lot of comedy in class rather than paying attention. I loved doing it, so I wound up doing stand-up at the Ice house and the HBO Theatre, but basically just learning.”
Is that how he got an agent?
“Not at all. It just so happens I was surfing a lot at the time, and I met a kid who was on Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. I asked him who his agent was. I never realized how personal a thing like that was. I didn’t understand it, and it kinda threw me. My parents were even less cooperative; they didn’t want me in the business. So I had to find a way to do it myself. I looked in the Yellow pages where you can find anything, and I found my agent, and I’m still with her today.”
Was Even Stevens his first big break?
“Not my first job but certainly my first big break. It was on the Disney Channel, and I did it for two and a half years. I remember going into the audition not knowing my lines so I did a stand-up that I had prepared, and I got the job.”
Amanda Bynes, his Disney channel costar, also started in stand-up.
Is that what kids are gravitating to today?
“I can’t speak for others, but in my case it was, because my dad was a stand-up comic in Hawaii, and it was my life style. I can remember going on stage at eleven and talking about my hippie parents and getting laughs. I wouldn’t bag on them, just talk about them. It seemed to come easy to me. It opened my eyes to what I could do; so it became the perfect vehicle for me. Comedy has always seemed natural to me. Humor is like the big blow off in my life. I remember being in the bath tub with my dad doing jokes non stop. It was a cool environment to grow up in.”
Four years later some of these stories have been embroidered — no surprise — but then he blows it by claiming that giving a press conference is performance.
Is he serious?
“Even though it’s true and comes from truth, the way it’s being presented is very rehearsed.”
And he can anticipate every question asked?
“I could be blindsided, but I’ve been doing this for a while, and you get used to using the same soundbites. You practice the cadence with which you speak them, and it’s a performance. yeah!”
Can we trust what you say?
“Look I am not lying to you. I am just telling you the truth of my life in a very prepared way.”
Later in the press conference he blurts out, “My dad was a drug dealer.”
Obviously he didn’t grow up in a traditional household. Can he talk about that?
“There wasn’t the usual parent child relationship. My parents were best friends, and we were all friends.”
Was he ever grounded like the character he plays in Disturbia who has to wear an ankle bracelet to prevent him from leaving his home?.
“We didn’t have a big enough house to get grounded in. Although I can remember one time missing a birthday party at Shakey’s pizza. That was quite upsetting.”
Did he have to keep his room clean? (which his character in Disturbia doesn’t.)
“My room was my mom and dad’s room as well. We lived in the same room. They had a bed, and I had a bed next to them. It was like communal house living. We used to watch a lot of spaghetti westerns. My dad had a big VHS collection We watched a lot of Steve McQueen, yeah a normal childhood marginalized in a little section.”
He’s coy about getting the role in Indiana Jones.
“It’s a rumor that’s been blown up into some insanity but it’s not confirmed but I would love to do it.”
Hasn’t he met with Steven Spielberg?
“He produced both Disturbia and Transformer. I met him a couple of times and that’s been an amazing experience.”
What will his dad think when he reads the interview?
“My dad dealt drugs when it was a bad time for us . It was in the 80’s and that’s what people did. He’s not proud of it.”
Are they close?
“We didn’t talk for a couple of months, we had some issues, but we’re good now.”
What did he take away from the experience?
“There’s something you go through as a child when you watch your dad go through heroin withdrawals. You become a parent real quick. You grow up fast. That stuff is painful to deal with, but it’s therapeutic. He’s a best friend now, but at the time I didn’t have parents. I had friends. They were hippies. It was never ‘I’m the father, you’re the son. You listen to what I have to say because I know more.” It’s painful when you think about it, but I wouldn’t be here in this situation without them, and they wouldn’t be where they are without me. But my parents always said, I don’t want to pimp you. I know you want to be this actor, but we don’t want to be your pimp.’ You look at some of those kids in Hollywood, their parents are more into it than the kid. It’s poisonous.”
What’s his relationship to drugs today?
“It’s just not for me. You want to do drugs? You might as well end your career. Not that I’ve never smoked weed, but it’s not something I’m addicted to. The same with alcohol. To say that I’ve never had a drink would be insane. I’m twenty.”
And then he jokes, “I had a drink at my bar mitzvah. But the truth is I don’t have it in me to want to go party. It’s a lame life.”