Shia LaBeouf and Jon Heder Compete for Waves in Surf's Up
The best friend duo discuss the complexities of playing surf-enabled waterfowl.
Surreal is what I would call it. It is absolutely fascinating to go to one of these new CG animated films, and then meet the voice cast directly afterwards.
Up close and personal, you can really see every age line and nose wrinkle that went into creating their on-screen persona. It's in their body type, and the delicate detail of their facial gestures.
The eyes are what really give it away, though. Sitting inches away from Shia LaBeouf, you can see the genuine soul that was digitally captured and illuminated on-screen in the form of a fifty-foot penguin. It was as if Cody Maverick leapt off the screen and took human form just for the junket.
Today, the CG medium is bigger. Bolder. They are able to do more with it. They are able to take their characters and mold them into a more personal, intimate object. The penguins in Surf's Up are just inches away from being the real thing.
I wasn't quite expecting that. When Shia LaBeouf and Jon Heder sat down next to me for a chat about their film, I could have sworn I was sitting next to the real life embodiments of a chicken and a penguin. The fact that they are their characters is inescapable. Their performances translate well beyond the screen.
In the family film Surf's Up, Disturbia's Shia LaBeouf plays Cody Maverick, a professional surfer on his first competitive tour. On the Island of Pen Gu he befriends the impeccable Chicken Joe, voiced by Napoleon Dynamite's Jon Heder. Together, they must team up to beat surf champion Tank Evans, and keep him from winning the Big Z Memorial Surf-Off.
The two actors took a seat at the beautiful Kahala Resort & Hotel in Honolulu, Hawaii, to discuss their new animated feature. Here is that discussion:
Were you telling lies about Indiana Jones 4?
Shia LaBeouf: It was not a lie, not a lie, not a lie. I just wasn't at liberties to discuss that.
Jon Heder:He's not a liar, he's just not a truth revealer. That's different.
Shia LaBeouf: That's right. I'm just not a truth revealer.
Well, now that the truth has been revealed, do you feel that you are in a race with Harrison Ford?
Shia LaBeouf: Not a race, no. He's a monster. He's a beast right now. He is really cut-up. My goal is, and Steven said midway through my working out everyday that, I don't want to get big. You Know? I just want to be ready for what we are about to do. He showed me some of the stills. And I have to be ready. I've never been in better shape my whole life. I train every day.
Are you surfing for exercise?
Shia LaBeouf: Yeah, I'm totally surfing for exercise. Your segues are beautiful.
Jon Heder:Are you training with the penguins?
Seriously, are you a surfer?
Shia LaBeouf: I used to be. I used to surf a lot. Then you can't do it for insurance reasons. And time. You don't have time to do it ever.
Did you ever wipe out big?
Shia LaBeouf: Oh, yeah. I mean, you get caught up in the laundry thing, and you're really screwed. When you get caught up in the bottom, and you don't know where you're going. That's not fun. At that time I was still wearing contact lens. That's not fun to be in salt water with contacts and not be able to see where you are swimming. So, yeah, I don't do it anymore.
What difference did it make being able to be in the studio with Jeff Bridges while recording your dialogue. Usually you guys just do this at a podium alone. Did you improvise at all?
Shia LaBeouf: Oh, yeah. Sure.
Jon Heder: I think what the deal is, is that we're not as good of actors as past voice guys who know how to act it out with the ghost of other actors. No, we had to work off each other. It was very different. And cool. Because the movie does rely on that dialogue. And the dialogue does rely heavily on improve. There are a lot of "Of The Moment" type scenes. So they put us together intentionally, so that we could work off that energy. So that we could create it organically. A lot of the script was just, "Okay, now we're going to have you guys talking about this." There was no hard-core dialogue locked in place. So, a lot of the times we had to make it up on our own. As we go.
Do you surf?
Jon Heder: No.
You don't have any desire to learn?
Jon Heder: Um, no. Not really. I like to go underwater, instead of on top of it. I like to scuba dive.
What characteristics did you study for your character of Chicken Joe?
Jon Heder: I studied the chickens. A lot of head bobbing, I guess. You know.
Shia LaBeouf: You ate a lot of chicken.
Jon Heder: It was an interesting character, because I was playing a chicken, which I'm not used to. And it's playing a surfer from Michigan. Those don't really exist, either. It was a very alien character. Alien is very different from us.
Didn't anyone ever tell you that a super chicken might do the surfing thing, but a rooster wouldn't?
Jon Heder: Well, they had that guy there. In the booth. But I had him sit in the corner because he was annoying me. Because nothing he said made since.
When you are improvising, do you have to watch your mouth sometimes? I mean, did they ever pull you aside and say, "That's just too blue for our audience?"
Shia LaBeouf: Oh, sure. Sometimes you need that. Sometimes you need to go to the red, too. You're just having fun. Sometimes, when you are in there, it gets really monotonous. You get bored, and you want to break the ice. So you say a couple of F bombs, and then you are back on track.
Jon Heder: A couple? Try more like a bucketful.
Shia LaBeouf: Paragraphs full.
I hear that sometimes, you would jump right out of traffic and run into the recording studio?
Shia LaBeouf: Yeah. I would just walk in and I was in the scene. Things like that would happen often. Usually you get your sides, and you are getting prepared. But it just seemed natural. In the scene, Cody was just walking into the house from surfing, and I was just walking into the house from traffic. It seemed like a natural fit. So, that is how we did that scene.
How is this film different from the other penguin movies that are out there?
Jon Heder: These penguins surf. And they are in a hot, tropical environment. They are cool. And they don't sing.
Shia LaBeouf: Or dance.
Jon Heder: And they don't lay eggs. Well, actually, some of them lay eggs. But they don't dance around to the ramblings of Morgan Freeman, you know? I'm kidding. He is a beautiful person. Yeah, I think that's what makes it quite different.
Shia LaBeouf: It's also kind of Spinal Tappy. You know? It's not a traditional animation in the sense that it is shot like a Real World episode. You get much closer to these penguins than you would in March of the Penguins or Happy Feet. Or something like that. I don't want to dis Happy Feet, because these are two very different films. That was Rent and this is Spinal Tap. I'm just not that into Rent.
Jon Heder: Plus, the character designs. The characters in Happy Feet were designed to look more like real penguins. This is more stylized. They pushed the character designs, and that was a unique approach.
Did you get addicted to eating squid, like Chicken Joe does in the movie?
Jon Heder: I stayed away from it.
Did you ever go to the zoo and study the animals?
Shia LaBeouf:Not only the zoo, but also massage parlors, and AA meetings. Penguins are F'ed up, bro. You think they are just cute little animals, but penguins have a lot of addiction problems. At least the one's I worked with. I mean, Cody was a real F-up. And all those kids. All those illegitimate children?
Jon Heder: I never met them.
Shia LaBeouf: There was a lot of drama. But at the end of the day, they were very professional. Especially on the day I worked with them.
Did they copy your body types for the characters?
Shia LaBeouf: Let me tell you, Jon's physic in the film is tremendous.
Jon Heder: Actually, it is a lot like the real thing. He's got a belly, as do I.
Shia LaBeouf: He's very wispy. He's a very wispy, whimsical character.
Jon Heder: I think they look great. We haven't seen the final polished version yet. I'm excited too. So far, it looks really good.
Shia LaBeouf: Can I ask a side question? Who was taking shots of Tabasco? I don't see any other food here? Did you put that in your tea, or something? It's kind of strange.
Shia LaBeouf: None of it was calculated. It all just fell into place. They have been making this movie Surf's Up for five years. Nobody had a determined release. I don't think it was that strategic. The stars just seemed to align. It wasn't planned. This wasn't the year were I went, "I'm going to stack it all up at one time." It wasn't like that at all.
If this type of film came to you now, would you still be into doing it?
Shia LaBeouf: Of course, I'd still be into Surf's Up as much as I am into it now. Plus, this didn't take a lot of my time. I would do it on the weekends. I would do it whenever I had free time. They would come to my set. In the three years of doing it, I did it in sporadic spots. It wasn't like I was giving up huge blocks of my time. Plus, I was involved in something with Zooey, and Jon, and Jeff. As an actor, it was fun to be involved in it. And the kid in you wants to be involved in a cartoon of this level. I don't think my mind would have changed had the film come along now.
Do you think there will be a sequel to Surf's Up?
Shia LaBeouf: There was talk about it. Chris Buck said something about snow boarding.
Jon Heder: Weird, they didn't talk to me.
Shia LaBeouf: Well, that's just life, Jon. That's just life.
Jon Heder: Oh, well. I guess I've got to do Indy 5, or something.
Shia, do you have someone in your life that you looked up to when you were younger?
Shia LaBeouf: Yeah. Jon Voight. For sure.
Jon Heder: Nobody expected you to say that.
Shia LaBeouf: Really?
Jon Heder: No.
Shia LaBeouf: Jon Voight has been a mentor in my life since I was twelve. I met him when I was on Holes. And he has become a part of my life. We talk about a whole bunch of different stuff. He has always been a friend to me and my family, and vice versa. We talk about a whole range of stuff. He's just a really good friend. And one of the most educated people I know in life. He is that Big Z guy to me.
What about you, Jon. Who is in inspiration for you in your life?
Jon Heder: My dad. You know, its kind of the typical answer. I haven't been in this business that long. But I've met a lot of great people, and worked with a lot of great people. But my entire life, I have aspired to be like him. He has taught me all of my lessons. And how to be the person I am.
You've slowly come into the Hollywood mainstream. Do you miss working with that independent crowd?
Jon Heder: Yeah, as opposed to these losers. For a while, yes. I missed that. But now I'm living in the main stream. And my life is slowly deteriorating. Most of my life I was not in Hollywood. Or Los Angeles. I guess, I care about my parents.
Aren't you a new dad yourself?
Jon Heder: Yes, I am. Thank you.
Is that one of the reasons why you wanted to make this family film?
Jon Heder: Most projects I do, I keep in mind that my kids are going to watch them. But I want my kids to be cool and hard edge, too. I don't think having kids changed the way I choose things. I knew from the day I was born that I was going to have an infant child and family.
How is being a new dad?
Jon Heder: It's great. All the creative problem solving you get to be involved in. You know? I love it. It's great. Whenever something hard comes up, you just sit back because you can't get upset. You are looking at this beautiful face, and it melts you.
Do you change the diapers?
Jon Heder: Yeah. That's my favorite part actually.
What did you have?
Jon Heder: A little girl. Evan. This guy next to me, I still have to change his diapers.
Shia LaBeouf: I'm still a size one.
Shia LaBeouf: He's like, "Come here." And I'm like, "Oh, this is a mess."
Is this amount of success surreal at times?
Shia LaBeouf: I haven't even had time to reflect back on it. I'm still in the middle of it. There hasn't been a point where I'm not working. I can't sit back and go, "Wow!" It's from one thing to the next, and then the next. I'm not at that stage yet, but I'm sure I will look back and go, "isn't that great how that happened?" When Disturbia came out, I was doing SNL. I couldn't focus on the release pattern. I was focused on making sure I didn't mess my monologue up. The week after that, I had to jump into rehearsals. It's never been a moment of breathing out. I haven't had that yet.
Are you awaiting a break?
Shia LaBeouf: No. Because you think you have one, and then something else comes up. You never know when you are going to have a break. I'm enjoying the journey of it all.
What if I told that kid from Echo Park that all this was going to happened?
Shia LaBeouf: Back then, I would have laughed at you. I didn't think I'd be in Hawaii talking to BBC News. Get out of here. This is not reality. No. It still isn't. This is more like a smoke and mirrors thing. Now I'm starting to get to know some of you, which is getting to be even stranger.
Did you have a goal at that time?
Shia LaBeouf: My goal was just to get out of Echo Park. It was just about getting out of there. When I got into acting initially, it was all finance driven. Until I met Voight. If you had of talked to me then, I would have told you that I needed to get this much to get out of here. That was the whole goal.
Does the relationship with your audience change when you are in such big hits?
Jon Heder: It's nice sometimes. To a certain degree, it's always nice when someone recognizes you and says, "Oh, I like your work." For me, for a long time, it was, "Oh, I loved you in Napoleon Dynamite." Now I get, "I loved you in Blades of Glory." I guess it changes. I'm kinder to them. I've always been nice to them. I don't know if it changes. A fan is a fan. The great thing about fans is that they are supportive even through the rough times. Even if we make a film that is not so great, they still love them. That's what being a fan is.
What would you contribute your success?
Shia LaBeouf: Luck. Yeah, it is all luck. There are so many talented people in this business that aren't working. I don't think it's a talent thing. I think it's a timing thing, and luck of timing. The luck of the draw, and picking the right projects. The director has a lot to do with it, too. Your fellow actors. Its just luck.
Jon Heder: To get started and to keep the momentum going. You need something. But for me, it was all luck.
They've been giving out Cody Maverick dolls at the junket. I guess that's your first action figure. Did you get one?
Shia LaBeouf: I didn't get one yet, no. I see that they have a lot of merchandise, for sure.
Does it ever bother you that people have trouble pronouncing your named?
Shia LaBeouf: LaBeouf? It's a day-to-day struggle. Constantly. I don't care that people mispronounce it. It's spelled wrong. My grandmother was a beatnik lesbian in the 50s who hated her family and decided to change the spelling of her name. So it is misspelled. If you go to France, they tell you that you have an illiterate last name. I don't understand it. But I think it's great. I don't mind. It's cool. Did you know that Shia means sh*t in French? And my last name means "the beef". So my name means "sh*t the beef out."
Jon Heder: That's awesome.
Shia LaBeouf: Its kind of rock starry.
What about your last name, Heder?
Jon Heder: Well, you got the pronunciation right. I still have problems with that too. People say Header. It doesn't mean anything. My grandparents changed it when they arrived in America. They were Swedish. My last name used to be Olafsen. Close to oaf. I guess, I don't know. I was the son of Olaf, the town idiot. They just thought Heder sounded cool. And I agree. It's easy. And its cooler.
Surf's Up opens June 8th, 2007. Catch the wave and ride it in!