LeBeouf’s latest project is either an insane or brilliant attempt to exorcise some personal demons. Maybe it’s both.
Shia LeBeouf has publicly battled his personal demons for nearly a decade. He’s a spectacle. His public persona is a mix of an angry alcoholic who can’t seem to keep his life in order and a frustrated artist looking for any creative outlet. Meanwhile, he’s turned out award-winning performances, both as a child and an adult. He is an enigmatic star, with disparate public and private lives. His next project, Honey Boy, will merge the personal and professional in a uniquely-Shia way.
LeBeouf wrote a script during his recent time in rehab. It landed on the Black List with this description: “A child actor and his law-breaking, alcohol-abusing father attempt to mend their contentious relationship over the course of a decade.” According to the Hollywood Reporter, LeBeouf has signed on to play the father, while Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea) has agreed to play the child actor. The film will be directed by documentary filmmaker Alma Har’el (Bombay Beach, LoveTrue).
So, this is a bonkers project. For a bunch of reasons. Let’s unpack them.
Yes, LeBeouf wrote the script while in rehab. He was arrested last year for public intoxication. The incident also included a swear-filled rant at the arresting officers. And this wasn’t the first of its kind. This time, though, it ended with a court-mandated 10-week stay at a rehabilitation facility. While there, he put pen to paper for the script. This excerpt from a recent interview with Esquire is essential reading to put it all in perspective:
LaBeouf tells me that as part of his treatment last year, he underwent prolonged-exposure therapy, which is a fancy name for the counterintuitive process of poking at a wound until it stops bleeding. “You keep talking about it. You keep bringing it up, acting it out, thinking about its smell. Every which way you can get to it. And a lot of my shit has to do with my relationship with my dad,” he says. “That dude is my gasoline.” Whenever a scene required LaBeouf to conjure intense emotion, Jeffrey would stand next to the camera, just off set, so that LaBeouf could see him, focus on him. “I could work myself up into a frenzy,” he says. “He’s the whole reason I became an actor.”
Process that for a minute. LaBeouf has written a roman à clef about his fucked up relationship with his dad. That is, a story about real life with the veneer of fictitious names over real people. While in rehab. They use the phrase “prolonged-exposure therapy” to describe the process in therapy. What then is this latest film? That’s some crazy, real shit there. No one ever accused LaBeouf of not being candid with his inner workings.
We write what we know and what we’re experiencing in order to let our honesty show through in our creative work. That LeBeouf has done this in the most open, literal way possible is very much him. What’s wild is that he’ll be playing his father. Not to crack wise, but that’s turning therapeutic role-playing up to 11, isn’t it?
The project has also snagged a heck of a young actor in Hedges to take on the Not-Shia-LeBeouf role. Hedges is a great actor, already with an Oscar nomination under his belt for his work in Manchester by the Sea. But, as talented as he is, he’s brave, too, right? What will that working dynamic be like?
That isn’t a dig on LeBeouf’s professionalism. I’m reflecting on the reality of having conversations about motivation with your acting partner when you are basically portraying real-life trauma.
Har’el is another interesting, welcome addition. This would be her first dramatic narrative film. She has directed documentaries and music videos previously, the former including Bombay Beach and LoveTrue, both acclaimed for her ability to blend a traditional documentary narrative with dance and music to create something that feels like a dream or a poem. She also previously worked with LeBeouf on the video for the Sigur Ros tune “Fjögur Píanó.” The video is totally mad and utterly beautiful. And NSFW, BTW.
LeBeouf seems to have a pretty low public stock. And in pretty much every way, it is his own doing. These detours with performance art and his public outbursts are his failures. Well, it’s more than just public outbursts. His failures with alcohol, especially the public drunkenness, are a huge turnoff. Both for the public and blockbuster Hollywood. More than that, it’s troubling to watch someone walk the line between self-awareness and total loss of control in the public spotlight.
That’s a shame. This makes it easy to overlook that he really does have the phenomenal talent ascribed to him. His work in American Honey is great, and his performance as McEnroe in the forthcoming Borg vs. McEnroe is world class.
Much of what he has been dealing with publically is fallout from a traumatic childhood mixed in with his insatiable urge to share everything. That is to say, where you or I might give something a piece of our attention, he is invested twice over. Or more. And, he’ll judge you if your preparation does not match his. That has its pros and cons.
The director of the McEnroe pic, Janus Metz, is quoted in the Esquire piece as saying “Shia tries to break down the barrier between acting and reality.” And, while LeBeouf is clearly trying to get his life together in all other accounts, this utterly unique project is him. It’s exactly what I would expect from something born from his brain. Where else would you get this blend of reality and fiction as a way to exorcise the demons of his past?
It’s so hard to know where this will go. Maybe it will be just another gonzo art installation. However, if you look at the basic assembly of talent, they’ve got acting depth and creative control in the hands of someone who seems to understand LeBeouf. If it all plays out at face value, there could be something amazing here.