As it turns out, Shia LaBeouf isn’t a full-on insane person — he’s just what happens when that annoyingly pretentious guy that you hated/dated in college gets famous. In a surprisingly earnest — but no less maddening — conversation with Interview magazine, the troubling actor hits all of the “White Guy Who Majored in [Humanities/Liberal Arts]” milestones.
Smoking a cigarette, shirtless, Shia LaBeouf rattles off his Troubled White Guy Antiheroes that he looks up to, including Sean Penn, actual crazy guy Mel Gibson, and fellow pseudo-performance artist Joaquin Phoenix. LaBeouf also mentions and explains all the iterations of modernism that he has at one point subscribed to (post-, meta-), name-checks his existential crisis and subsequent coming to God, and discusses “tripping on drugs” and finding himself as he struggles to become an adult. The method actor also talks about how reading about performance art totally changed his life, for better or worse, and blames the avant-garde poet Kenneth Goldsmith for his penchant for plagiarizing — or as he would call it, “uncreative writing.”
When I sat down with him this past September in New York, I wouldn’t have been surprised if he’d been more interested in feeding his mystique than answering my questions—for instance, that working with Lars von Trier furthered the assumption that anyone out to make sense of LaBeouf was best to view him through a lens of ironic detachment. Instead, the actor’s eagerness to explain himself was a source of continual surprise. Rather than pretentiously discursive, he was intent and thoughtful. His focus was evident and translated into an impressive sense of impact, with the same kind of raw emotion he brings to his newest film, writer-director David Ayer’s World War II action melodrama Fury, in which LaBeouf wrestles with remorse while serving as part of a tank squadron under the command of Brad Pitt’s character, Don “Wardaddy” Collier.
ELVIS MITCHELL: Going all the way back to 2003’s The Battle of Shaker Heights, I could see your excitement about the material.
SHIA LaBEOUF: I was just joyful to have a trade. At that point, meeting Ben Affleck and Matt Damon was like, “Wow.” I’d worked with Jon Voight on Holes , and he was a hero for my father. But Ben Affleck and Matt Damon were heroes from my generation. It was a level that I didn’t think I would ever attain. We were still living in this “Holy shit, this is really happening to us” kind of thing. And it wasn’t just a solo thing, like I’d jaunted off on my own. My mom was a fabric salesman, my dad was a drug dealer, among other things, and they both quit their trades to become sort of like carnie folk and do this thing with me. So it was big for all of us when Project Greenlight [the HBO reality show, the second season of which documented the embattled making ofShaker Heights] happened. My mother was so impressed with Ben Affleck being at the premiere. Ben is a really charming dude. He was the first guy who really took me off to the side and made me feel like I could do it.
But to be fair, Shia LaBeouf does seem to have had a pretty rough go of life (he grew up in Echo Park “before it was cool”/gentrified) and has some major daddy issues — which you can read all about in his very thorough defense of himself.