What’s the smartest thing a hot actor in demand can do when his career is going full throttle?
Be the voice behind an animated penguin.
That’s the smooth move Shia LaBeouf made when he signed on to play Cody Maverick, a dorky but determined surfer dude bird in “Surf’s Up,” an animated feature about birds on boards that hits theaters on Friday. And although LaBeouf’s timing is great, he actually agreed to do this film years ago when his career, as well as penguins, weren’t all the rage.
And now “Surf’s Up,” along with “Disturbia” and the upcoming “Transformers” is one of the three films starring LaBeouf coming out this year.
“None of its calculated, it just all sort of fell into place,” said LaBeouf. “They’ve been making ‘Surf’s Up’ for like five years. No one had a determined release. I don’t think it was that strategic. It’s just sort of like the stars aligned. It wasn’t like a plan that this was the year I was going to set it all up — stack the chips for this.”
Dressed in all black with the Pacific Ocean serving as his backdrop in a far too frigid hotel banquet room, LaBeouf was animated and candid as he discussed his new film, his career moves, working with Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford on the much-anticipated fourth installment of the “Indiana Jones” franchise and dealing with his new level of fame.
“I haven’t even sat back to reflect on it,” LaBeouf said. “I’m still in the middle of it. It’s not like there’s been a period when I’m not working and sit back and go ‘wow.’ It’s just been from one thing to the next, to the next, to the next. I will eventually, but I’m not at that stage yet. When ‘Disturbia’ was coming out — the week of the release — I was doing (“Saturday Night Live”), so it wasn’t like I could focus on the release pattern. I was focusing on not messing my monologue up.
“But I’m enjoying the journey of it all.”
More than a pretty faceAlthough he lacks the dashing looks of pretty boys like Orlando Bloom or Hayden Christensen, LaBeouf does have tremendous range. He can bop from thriller to biopic to animation to action adventure convincingly. If his life were a poker game, LaBeouf, who will turn 21 on June 11, would be sitting on a full house.
“He’s doing a great job,” said Jeff Bridges, who plays Cody’s mentor The Big Z in “Surf’s Up.” “He’s really taking it all in the salt, I think, and having a fun time with it and enjoying it. He has a great capacity for joy.”
The Los Angeles native who started creating some real buzz when he was cast as the cute but pesky kid in a pair of thrillers — “I, Robot” and “Constantine,” has since then appeared in a series of hits including: “The Greatest Game Ever Played,” “Bobby,” and most recently, “Disturbia,” a compelling thriller that topped the box office charts for two weeks.
And next month he’ll be battling aliens in Michael Bay’s “Transformers,” a sci-fi flick that also stars LaBeouf’s mentor, Jon Voight. All of that might be hard to top had LaBeouf not signed on to play a young Indiana Jones. In the past LaBeouf has worked with heavyweight actors like Will Smith and Keanu Reeves, but taking cues from an Oscar-winning director can be a bit daunting.
“Completely, but you have to get past that at some point,” LaBeouf said. “That’s cool for the meetings and what not, but when the camera’s rolling he’s got to be a director and I’ve got to have a director-actor relationship with him. So, the myth of Spielberg has to fly out the window and you can’t be thinking about that. You have to show up uninhibited. If you have all these inhibitions and all this fear attached to working with Spielberg you’re going to fail.
“It’s a dream project, but on set it’s just another film.”
And although “Surf’s Up” isn’t in the same league as “Indiana Jones,” LaBeouf was so impressed with the story that he had to play Cody, the narrator in a behind-the-scenes mockumentary on competitive surfing. Cody, a native of Antarctica, has left home in hopes of becoming a surfing king in tropical Pen Gu Island. Along the way he gets some sage advice from Chicken Joe (Jon Heder) and the object of his affections, Lani (Zooey Deschanel).
“I like the fact that it’s ‘Spinal Tappy,’” LaBeouf said. “It’s not the traditional animation in the sense that it’s shot like a ‘Real World’ episode and you get much closer to these penguins than you would in ‘Meet the Penguins’ or in ‘Happy Feet.’ I don’t want to dis ‘Happy Feet’ — it’s two different films. It’s like comparing ‘Rent’ to ‘Spinal Tap.’ I just wasn’t into ‘Rent.’ That’s it.
“This was like riding a really cool wave all the way through.”
Miki Turner is a freelance TV producer/writer in Los Angeles. She can be reached at .