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In a charmed life, LaBeouf strives to be star-crossed

October 17, 2006|Ellen McCarthy | The Washington Post

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 film in which he stars alongside Robert Downey Jr. and Dianne Wiest.

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 in 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.

He's 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 presents himself with cockiness and gloom.

The turning point 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.

LaBeouf was initially passed over for the part in "Saints" because Dito Montiel, writer and director of the semiautobiographical movie, was intent on casting an unknown.

After the first rejection, LaBeouf pushed for -- and received -- one more chance.

LaBeouf says his life now is in flux.

"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. "To be an actor, a true actor, you have to be brokenhearted."

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