WHY HIM This year alone, the 21-year-old LaBeouf has starring roles in no fewer than three big Hollywood pictures (showing his range by playing a voyeur, a penguin, and a robot-battling kid). And then there’s that role Steven Spielberg just tossed his way — presumably as Indiana Jones’ son. ”My life’s got to be flawless,” LaBeouf says, firing up a Parliament. ”It’s pretty simple when you think about it: Just don’t f— up.”
SHIFTING GEARS In April, the comic-relief character actor made his leading-man debut in Disturbia, a Rear Window for the MySpace generation that became a surprise hit after nabbing a $22 million opening weekend. Earlier this month, he was the top-billed voice performance in Sony’s CGI penguin extravaganza Surf ‘s Up. Now he’s gearing up for the July 4 release of Transformers — director Michael Bay’s pyrotechnic toy-story-on-steroids — in which he plays a brainy teen charged with saving the world from impending robocalypse. ”Transformers was insane,” says LaBeouf, who spent the shoot dodging explosions that felt a little too close for comfort. ”I’m not going to die for a movie. But it was either man up or get fired.”
URBAN URCHIN LaBeouf’s path hasn’t followed any of the prescribed beats involving stage moms and summers spent at theater camp. He spent much of his early childhood scraping to survive in the gangland of L.A.’s Echo Park. ”My parents didn’t have jobs, my dad was selling drugs, it was a bad life,” says LaBeouf, whose mom, Shayna, sold beads on the street for extra cash while his father, Jeffrey, a Vietnam vet and onetime rodeo clown, was in and out of rehab for heroin addiction. ”There were maybe two years when it was stable. Then it was just chaos.”
ALL BUSINESS Talking about survival strategies in Hollywood, LaBeouf sometimes sounds a bit like an M.B.A. giving a PowerPoint presentation. ”You don’t want to flood the market with yourself,” he’ll say, projecting little of the wise-child innocence he brings to the screen. Or: ”They put you in this little shoe box and every time a certain role comes up they pull it out. I want to fit into every kind of shoe box. Comfort and typecasting are the two killers of a career.”
BUZZ KILLER Drugs, alcohol, fancy cars, mansions, and public displays of dumb fun of any kind are also forbidden. ”It could all go away tomorrow if I’m at a club drinking like an a–hole,” warns LaBeouf, who drives a nondescript Nissan and lives in a two-bedroom house in the Valley. ”Someone like Lindsay Lohan’s personality is [more] famous than her performance. You’ve got to maintain some mystery.” But doesn’t he worry that all work and no play might make Shia a dull boy? ”Part of me wants to go out and see my peers. But if I go to a club and get my picture in the press, then I am that young Hollywood a–hole. That would shatter my world?. There’s no way you get Tom Hanks’ career without thinking about this stuff,” says LaBeouf, who has decided to forgo a massive birthday blowout when he turns legal in three days. ”Everyone turns 21,” he says. ”Not everyone gets to be in Indiana Jones.”
To read our full interview with Shia LaBeouf, click here.