Over the last few years, Shia LaBeouf has been in the press increasingly because of his personal issues rather than the projects he’s working on, but with two movies out this year, the embattled actor is keen to change that. During a recent interview on The Hollywood Reporter‘s Awards Chatter podcast, LaBeouf spoke candidly about his struggles with alcoholism, the impact his early career as a Disney Channel star had on his mental health as an adult, and how his latest movie has helped him stay sober.
LaBeouf’s first big gig as a child actor was on Disney Channel’s Even Stevens. He then went on to star in Holes, alongside industry veterans Jon Voigt and Sigourney Weaver. While he says he didn’t spend much time with Weaver when they weren’t filming (apparently his dad, who accompanied him to set, “was hitting on her all the time”), LaBeouf recalls forging a real bond with Voigt, claiming that his time spent going to AA meetings with his dad had given him the ability to “talk to old-timers.”
Voigt, whose relationship with his daughter Angelina Jolie is famously strained, apparently took great pleasure in imparting acting tips and career advice to the young LaBeouf. “”He had like a vacancy in his life where he kind of wanted to be a pops to someone,” he says. “He was always a guy in my corner.”
LaBeouf revisits his unconventional childhood in Honey Boy, a movie about a child actor and his alcoholic father which is very much based on his own experiences. In this story, LaBeouf plays the father character. He wrote the script after undergoing court-ordered exposure therapy which helped him gain clarity on some of the things that happened to him when he was younger, and this was when he was first diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
“I became addicted to that kudos,” he says. “It kind of fuelled my way of working for a long time — just pining your own pain, and holding on to it, and not really ever dealing with it or questioning it, but just keeping it in a little bottle that you can pop the top on whenever it’s needed, when the switch needs to be flipped.”
The therapy followed a drunk incident involving a black police officer that led to his arrest. LaBeouf was allowed to finish shooting his movie The Peanut Butter Falcon after the arrest before going to rehab, but he recalls that the way the cast and crew treated him was a real rock bottom moment: “I’m feeling like people on set think I’m a racist, believe I’m a racist, and I’m feeling all of that and don’t want to be alive, basically.”
The only person still in LaBeouf’s corner at this point was his co-star Zack Gottsagen, who has Down’s Syndrome. The pair play two men on the run in The Peanut Butter Falcon, and LaBeouf credits Gottsagen’s faith in him as helping him stay sober while they finished shooting.
“He basically looked me in the eye and said don’t, I’m going to paraphrase, but ‘don’t fuck this up for me, this is my only chance,'” he says. “I had made promises to him and talked to his parents and if you can empathise with that position where you’re looking at somebody you deeply love and had made promises to and know that he’s done everything right and that you have a disease that is going to f–k up everything and that so much is riding on this. I felt all of that.”
While Gottsagen had faith in him, LaBeouf says he struggled to find faith in anything in those early days when he was desperately trying not to drink: “The best I could muster at the time was to look at Google maps of Zack’s address of his house in Florida, and I would pray to the GPS coordinates above Zack’s house, because I knew that Zack believed in God for real, and believed in me. And so I would pray to his God, and that’s what got me through a lot.”