How Shia LaBeouf confronts his troubled relationship with his father in 'Honey Boy'

Mark Olsen, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

It seems pretty complicated, but also kind of not.

Here's what's not complicated -- Shia LaBeouf wrote and costarred in the raw, emotional movie "Honey Boy." Directed by Alma Har'el, making her fiction feature debut, the movie won a special jury award for vision and craft when it premiered this year at the Sundance Film Festival. The picture opened Friday to strong reviews and earned $288,824 in four locations for one of the highest per-screen averages of the year.

Now for the complicated part -- LaBeouf plays a role based on his own father, a former rodeo clown who saw his son shoot to stardom as a child actor. Noah Jupe plays Otis Lort, the "Honey Boy" version of young Shia, while Lucas Hedges plays a slightly older Otis after he has become an action star and bounces into rehab following a few brushes with the law. The complex, dysfunctional dynamic between father and son forms the film's core.

LaBeouf -- a teenage star on the Disney Channel series "Even Stevens" before rocketing to even greater fame with the "Transformers" franchise -- started writing the script while in court-ordered rehab after his 2017 arrest in Georgia while shooting "The Peanut Butter Falcon." Diagnosed with PTSD, LaBeouf confronted the traumas inflicted on him by his father and his career in the screenplay for "Honey Boy."

As he began writing, he did not intend to appear in the movie as his father or anyone else. Sitting for an interview with Har'el, Hedges and Jupe during the Toronto International Film Festival in September, LaBeouf said he thought at the time that it was "game over" for his acting career.

From rehab, he sent pages to Har'el. LaBeouf and the filmmaker had grown close after he emailed her out of the blue upon seeing her 2011 documentary "Bombay Beach" on DVD. The pair subsequently collaborated on a music video for the group Sigur Ros, and LaBeouf executive produced Har'el's second doc, 2016's "LoveTrue."


"I thought this is the part that he's been preparing for his whole life when I read it," Ha'rel said of the "Honey Boy" script. "The character kind of jumped out of the page and really hit me hard. It just seemed like something that has to be on-screen and not stay in the therapy room.

"And it just kind of hit me that he has to do the dad and how striking and how hard that would be. I'm always happy to hear that I'm wrong, but I've never seen anybody do that. I've never seen anybody play their father, who caused them so much of the trauma that they were dealing with, at the same time that they wrote it. So it just seemed like something that we would probably be able to do together, and it was really kind of scary in many ways to step into it, but Shia went for it."

Adding to the daring, inside-out feeling of LaBeouf's screenplay and unsparing performance were the complications of Jupe and Hedges trying to tailor their performances to credibly seem like the same person at different ages, both performed opposite the very real person their character was fictionalizing.

"I thought before we started it's a bit weird to be playing the person who's actually right next to you, a younger version of them," said Jupe, whose other credits include "A Quiet Place" and "Ford v Ferrari." "But once we got there, Shia was very open to playing around and wasn't at all stuck in a steady story.


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