Shia LaBeouf has done a lot of soul searching in the last eight months.
In July 2017, the 31-year-old actor was arrested in Savannah, Ga., for disorderly conduct, obstruction and public drunkenness. LaBeouf had tried to bum a smoke from two strangers, unaware that one of them was a police officer. After being denied, he grew angry and ignored the police officer’s warnings to relax, so he was handcuffed and taken to the station. TMZ later obtained and published the police footage, in which he bragged about his “millionaire lawyers.”
But that wasn’t the worst of it. In another clip, LaBeouf belittled a black officer for being “stuck in a police force that doesn’t give a f–k ’bout you.” Speaking about his latest arrest for the first time in Esquire‘s April 2018 issue, he says, “What went on in Georgia was mortifying. White privilege and desperation and disaster…It came from a place of self-centered delusion…It was me trying to absolve myself of guilt for getting arrested.” In short, LaBeouf admits, “I f–ked up.”
The morning after he was released from jail, LaBeouf attended a party for the cast and crew of The Peanut Butter Falcon—and no one mentioned the incident. “Everybody was pussyfooting around it,” he recalls—except for his co-star, Zachary Gottsagen, an up-and-coming 32-year-old actor. LaBeouf estimates they discussed his bad behavior for 20 minutes. At one point, he recalls Gottsagen telling him, “You’re already famous. This is my chance. And you’re ruining it.'”
“To hear him say that he was disappointed in me probably changed the course of my life. ‘Cause I was still fighting. I was still on my ‘Look how fast they released the videos! They don’t release these!’ Just on my defense-mechanism-fear garbage. And you can’t do that to him. He keeps it 1,000 with you, and that s–t doesn’t even make sense to him,” LaBeouf says. “Zack can’t not shoot straight, and bless him for it, ’cause in that moment, I needed a straight shooter who I couldn’t argue with.” Their conversation continued on set, LaBeouf adds. “We were getting ready to do a scene and Zack said, ‘Do you believe in God?’ And I thought, No f–kin’ way are you about to explain God to me, Zack...Zack said, ‘Even if He’s not real, what does it hurt?'”
It was a life-changing conversation. “I don’t believe in God…But did I see God? Did I hear God? Through Zack, yeah. He met me with love, and at the time, love was truth, and he didn’t pull punches. And I’m grateful, not even on some cheeseball s–t trying to sell a movie. In real life,” LaBeouf says. “That motherf–ker is magical. Zack allowed me to be open to help when it came.”
Not everyone has been so willing to give LaBeouf a second chance, however.
The actor next stars in Borg vs. McEnroe (in theaters Apr. 13), and after that…he’s got nothing lined up. “I’m run out. No one’s giving me a shot right now. Spike Lee is making a movie. I was talking to him about it,” he says. “He goes to the money and pushes to try to get me in the movie, the money says no, and that’s the end of me hanging out with Spike Lee for this film.”
LaBeouf didn’t ever think he’d be in such a position. After all, by 2011, the actor’s franchise films with directors Michael Bay and Steven Spielberg had grossed over $4 billion. “Michael and Steven did a lot for me,” LaBeouf says. “I’m not going to pooh-pooh those dudes anymore.”
But starring in the Indiana Jones and Transformers franchises wasn’t very fulfilling, and by age 25, LaBeouf felt as if her were “living in a gilded cage. No one gives a f–k about your problems.” LaBeouf says his films with Bay and Spielberg “felt irrelevant” in the grand scheme of things. “They felt dated as f–k…You come up on these stories about Easy Rider and Raging Bull and [Robert De Niro] and [Martin Scorsese] and [Dennis Hopper], and you find value in what they do. Meanwhile, you’re chasing energon crystals,” the actor explains. “It’s very hard to keep doing what you’re doing when you feel like it’s the antithesis of your purpose on this planet.”
LaBeouf knows he has a long road ahead of him. “I’m a buffoon. My public outbursts are failures. They’re not strategic. They’re a struggling motherf–ker showing his ass in front of the world,” he says. “I’ve got to look at my failures in the face for a while. I need to take ownership of my s–t and clean up my side of the street a bit before I can go out there and work again, so I’m trying to stay creative and learn from my mistakes. I’ve been falling forward for a long time. Most of my life.” Taking ownership, he admits, “The truth is, in my desperation, I lost the plot.”
As part of his court-mandated treatment last fall, LaBeouf—who is now sober—underwent prolonged-exposure therapy. “A lot of my s–t has to do with my relationship with my dad,” he says. “That dude is my gasoline.” To his credit, his dad is “the whole reason I became an actor.”
Considering his bad boy reputation, LaBeouf is wary of his public image. “I went to sleep last night thinking that this is going to be some boo-hoo piece: ‘Oh, here he is not trying to own his s–t. He’s trying to put it on his father…'” he says. “My dad handed me a lot, and his legacy was an emotional one. And it wasn’t scarring. He handed me texture. My dad blessed me that way.”
And in the end, despite his multiple arrests and other public incidents, LaBeouf just wants to make good movies. “For a long time, I thought that life was secondary to art. And then you realize you can’t have this art thing without the life thing. I’m just trying to deal with my life right now,” the actor assures Esquire, “’cause I don’t have f–k-all to offer the world until I do.”
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