Shia LaBeouf is in the position so many former child actors have found themselves in: that murky area between boyhood and manhood, between cute and commanding.
And he’s impatient for it to be over.
“I want to get bigger. I’m sick of being a boy,” the lanky actor says of his recent regimen of running and working out. “I know that there’s this innocence that I have, but I feel like I’ve played that guy. The whole goal for me has been diversity and diversifying your portfolio and making sure you do a whole bunch of different things and you don’t get typecast. If I become a type, my career is over.
“I want to be an intimidating presence. I want to be a ... killer.”
Strong words from the former star of the Disney Channel series “Even Stevens,” which earned him a Daytime Emmy in 2003. Since then, though, LaBeouf has put together an eclectic filmography for a 20-year-old.
He’s appeared opposite Will Smith (“I, Robot”) and Keanu Reeves (“Constantine”). He’s played a wrongly accused juvenile prisoner (“Holes”), a drugged-out campaign worker (“Bobby”) and a would-be thug (“A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints”).
Indiana Jones Jr.?
This year alone he stars in the thriller “Disturbia,” a high-tech teen update of “Rear Window”; the big-screen version of “Transformers”; and the animated “Surf’s Up” in which he provides the voice of a surfing penguin.
And then there are those persistent Internet rumors that he’s signed on to play Indiana Jones Jr. in the fourth installment of Steven Spielberg’s franchise. Even Bill Paxton, who directed LaBeouf in the 2005 golf movie “The Greatest Game Ever Played,” approaches him during a lunch interview with The Associated Press with a boisterous hug and congratulations on landing the role — which LaBeouf is quick to say he hasn’t.
“The way that thing started, it’s just wild how it snowballed,” he says between bites of a cheeseburger and fries at the South by Southwest film festival, where “Disturbia” screened before its April 13 theatrical release.
“I don’t have a deal on the table, it’s just a rumor. Would I do it? In a second. It’d be working for a legend and working with legends. Who wouldn’t? But is it something I’m doing right now? No. I’m an out-of-work actor.”
‘I feel like my childhood was kind of lost’But LaBeouf hasn’t been out of work much since he flipped through the Yellow Pages looking for an agent as a 10-year-old; he was cast as the precocious Lewis Stevens that year. Growing up as one of the few white kids in Los Angeles’ heavily Hispanic Echo Park section (the setting of “Mi Vida Loca” and “Quinceanera”), LaBeouf started doing standup comedy. He’s quick to admit he was drawn to this profession for both creative and financial reasons.
“I grew up on that show and it was the best thing that had ever happened to me. Took me out of my house, it was real dramatic at that time. My dad was on drugs — heroin and all kinds of wild [stuff] and he was in a rehab facility. My mom was trying to hold down the fort and that wasn’t working. So when the show came along it was a savior. It saved my life, my family’s life.”
LaBeouf’s parents eventually divorced; as an only child, he remains close to both. His father, he says, was a mime and a clown who used to grow pot in the brush along the sides of L.A.’s freeways; his mother was a dancer.
“I feel like my childhood was kind of lost. It was adulthood right away,” he says, turning over his right arm to reveal a tattoo on the inside of his wrist that reads “1986-2004” — the period from his birth until he turned 18. “I feel like you forget a lot of your childhood so I put the timeline on my wrist. I just don’t want to forget the childhood I did have.”
Transitioning to adult rolesWhen asked about working with LaBeouf on “The Greatest Game Ever Played,” Paxton jokes that he had to “break him like a mustang.”
“I feel very proud to have directed him and to have kind of helped him at a crucial time in his life and in his development as a craftsman, as an artist. You know, it’s hard to make that transition, to go from being a child actor and then, you know, you grow up and they don’t love you anymore. ‘You’re not cute anymore, you’re not funny-looking anymore, you grew up.’ But he’s someone who’s making the transition.”
Paxton is one of many people LaBeouf says he’s looked to as a mentor and father figure; Jon Voight, Jeff Bridges and John Turturro are others.
“It’s nuts because in my lexicon, those guys are all in my tops. So when you get to work with them and be on that level with them it’s just, it’s jarring. It’s jarring when they consider you equals and you’re sitting there going, ‘ ... This is impossible. How did this happen to me?”’ he says. “These are my heroes. These are my Captain Americas and my Spider-Mans. To be sitting around with them is very surreal, and it never gets normal.”
Despite having worked steadily for the past decade, LaBeouf insists he isn’t famous yet. And unlike some other actors his age, he doesn’t provide juicy fodder for the tabloids.
LaBeouf wants to fly even farther below the radar by going off to college (he’s been accepted at Yale) and experiencing life outside of acting for a while.
“How do you create danger when they’ve grown up with you? How do you create mystery when they know everything about you?” he asked. “You’ve gotta go away. You’ve gotta give them time to not know you. And I plan on doing that, it’s just right now, the opportunities I’m being given are just out of control and I can’t turn them down.”