Film Notes

Shia LaBeouf Has Come of Age

Shia LaBeouf fought to star in
Shia LaBeouf fought to star in "A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints." (By Walter Thomson -- Xingu Films)
By Ellen McCarthy
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 13, 2006

It has been three years since Shia LaBeouf won his Emmy, and a lot has happened in the interim. He loved and lost, moved into a house of his own, came of legal age to vote.

Also, he decided to take acting seriously.

To the poodle-haired boy who charmed his way into the hearts of critics and Disney Channel loyalists with the tweener sitcom "Even Stevens," the Emmy was, he says, "just a big joke, like 'Ha, ha. I fooled them.' "

"Literally, I had won an Emmy, and I would skate down the street with it in my backpack. None of it was real to me," he says in a phone interview from his Burbank home. "It was all based on greed."

LaBeouf has a habit of starting every other sentence with the word "again," as though he has spent his whole life repeating himself, explaining ad nauseam why he is where he is and how he got there. It probably seems that way to a 20-year-old who has been a working actor since he was 12, but the questions aren't likely to let up with the release of "A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints," a gritty independent film in which he stars alongside Robert Downey Jr. and Dianne Wiest. (See review on Page 32).

When LaBeouf is prodded to tell the story of his life, it goes something like this: Boy born to hardworking mom and circus-clown-turned-drug-dealer dad grows up poor in a downtrodden patch of Los Angeles. At 10, he meets a child actor with a tricked-out surfboard and fancy car, decides he'd like a little of that action, calls an agent plucked out of the Yellow Pages, cons her into meeting with him, gets sent on a few casting calls and lands a television show by the time he's 12.

Of course, LaBeouf laces that tale with a lot more vulgarity. He's a foul-mouthed lad and not much for niceties. In the course of describing his ambitions -- "I want to be revered. I want people to say what they say about Anthony Hopkins," he says -- he presents himself with a jarring mix of cockiness and gloom.

The turning point in his Disney-spawned career came during the filming of "Holes," a 2003 movie based on the Louis Sachar children's novel. Jon Voight took a mentor's interest in LaBeouf and began to share his philosophy on the craft of acting.

"Then I started watching [Voight's] movies . . . and seeing that he was shape-shifting from role to role. And that he could do everything. He could do comedy, he could do drama," LaBeouf says. "And it was amazing to me."

The young actor adopted Voight's career as a model and now refers to some of the movies he has done in the past few years, such as 2004's "I, Robot," as the "business" necessary to pay for his "art" -- meaning substantive roles in films such as "Saints" and 2003's "The Battle of Shaker Heights."

LaBeouf was initially passed over for the part in "Saints" because Dito Montiel, writer and director of the semiautobiographical movie that follows a group of hard-up teenagers through the streets of Queens, N.Y., in the 1980s, was intent on casting an unknown.

After the first rejection, LaBeouf pushed for one more chance, came into the casting office, punched a hole in the wall and convinced Montiel that he could bring a requisite amount of anger to the role.

"The end result is I'm about as happy as I could possibly be," Montiel said recently of LaBeouf's eventual performance, which helped the movie earn a Sundance Film Festival award for best ensemble cast.

LaBeouf says his life now is in flux. He spends most of his time studying classic movies, disparages the lifestyle choices of other young actors such as Hilary Duff and Lindsay Lohan and just broke up with a girlfriend of two years because he "started feeling so comfortable that I just had to shake things up."

"I'm a lonely dude. But, again, it's the price. You subject yourself to weird [stuff], just so you can feel something," he says flatly. "To be an actor, a true actor, you have to be brokenhearted."

Reel Affirmations Festival

Thursday's premiere of "Shortbus," a cabaret-style sex flick (see story on Page 20 and review on Page 33), marked the start of Reel Affirmations, Washington's annual gay and lesbian film festival. In its 16th year -- "officially in the throes of adolescence," according to the Web site -- the film fest will showcase 62 programs and more than 100 movies during its 10-day run.

On the bill this year: "More of the same -- good, quality shorts, documentaries, features," says Joe Bilancio, the festival's programming director. "We always joke it's good films that just happen to be about gay and lesbian characters."

The movies will be shown at the Lincoln Theatre, Goethe-Institut and Landmark's E Street Cinema. Individual screenings are $9; tickets are available online at the festival's Web site ( http://www.reelaffirmations.org ) or by calling 800-494-8497.

French Film Fest

The lights dimmed in another theater Thursday for the opening of the first D.C. French Film Festival. Francophiles can revel in a series of new films playing at the AFI Silver Theatre, the National Gallery of Art and the French Embassy through Oct. 28. For more information, visit http://www.la-maison-francaise.org or call 202-944-6091.


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