"I don't know how much room there is for kissy-kissy bullshit when you are about to die!" - Shia LaBeouf
Shia LaBeouf is quickly becoming the go-to guy for tentpole action flicks. He just keeps stuffing his resume with one iconic megapic after the next. Even from his early days, the kid knew how to pick a good sci-fi blockbuster from the meager projects his peers were working on. While he made a name for himself in smaller films such as Disney's Holes and the Project Greenlight film The Battle of Shaker Heights, he also managed to squeeze himself into such high profile genre projects as I, Robot and "Constantine" playing the smart mouthed sidekick to both Will Smith and Keanu Reeves respectively.
In 2007, the young actor got on a roll that doesn't look to be slowing down anytime soon. He hit hard in the box office smash Disturbia which spent three weeks in the top spot. Shia followed this success with the critically acclaimed Sony Animated feature Surf's Up and the incredibly successful franchise opener Transformers. Not one to rest on his laurels, LaBeouf is taking this success and running with it head first into 2008. First on the kid's plate is one of the most highly anticipated action sequels of all time. Yes, he will be playing Henry Jones Jr.'s illegitimate son Mutt Ravenwood in the fourth Raiders Of The Lost Ark installment entitled Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. A mere two months later he will appear in the espionage thriller Eagle Eye which promises to be one of the highlights of August.
Eagle Eye finds LaBeouf reteaming with his Disturbia director D.J. Caruso for what promises to be one of the most breathless chase movies ever committed to the screen. It has been described as "a shot of non-stop relentless action that never lets up." It is a film in the same vein as Midnight Run and the early 80's cult hit Gotcha!. Only, this film promises to take a more realistic approach to its FBI and counter-terrorism shenanigans.
The plot finds Shia LaBeouf as a young man whose overachieving twin brother has mysteriously turned up dead. When he returns home for the funeral, he learns that he has been framed as a terrorist. He is forced into joining a terrorist cell with plans to carry out a political assassination. He must work together with Rachael, a single mother played by Michelle Monahan, to extricate himself. Billy Bob Thornton plays the FBI agent that is hot on their trail.
Last Friday, I traveled down to the DHL Packing Center in Riverside, California where the crew behind Eagle Eye was shooting an elaborate chase sequence right out of a Mario Brothers game. The actors had spent the last two days chasing each other across an intertwining set of mail package conveyer belts and envelope shoots. Though all three participating actors, which included Shia, Michelle, and Billy Bob, were getting banged up pretty bad, they seemed to be having a blast on this metal playground.
Michelle walked off this intense live action version of Shoots and Ladders looking warn out. Her clothes were caked in black grease, and there were real scratches all over her face and hands. Monaghan described this particular moment in the film as, "A Lot of bruising." She went on to tell us exactly what she was shooting, "I'm actually getting chased by Billy Bob Thornton's character. I have this case, and we don't exactly know where it needs to go. We have to deliver it, and Thornton's in hot pursuit."
Or, at least his stunt double is. We watched as Michelle climbed back onto one of the conveyer belts. As the thing kicked to life, Monahan had to crawl across it on her elbows. Said briefcase was hot welded to her left hand. Above us, on the overhanging scaffolding, I could see Shia, Thornton, and Mikey, Thornton's stunt double. As the belt moved closer to the camera, Mikey took off like a bat out of hell. He ran the length of the scaffolding before jumping down on Michelle's head.
As he approached the actress, she swung the briefcase into his chin. Mikey flailed backwards as Monahan continued her ascension towards the camera lens. Out of the distant rumble of cardboard came LaBeouf. He scurried like a spider over the top of the downed stunt double, nearing Michelle. Mickey was quick to his feet. He leapt across the belt, bringing his elbow down into the square of Shia's back. The two wrestled for a minute before someone yelled out, "Watch your heads!" And with that, the scene was frozen. It was time to bring in Thornton for his close-up.
During this conveyer belt raid, I watched Shia slam into a metal pole with his hip. Thornton took a chunk out of the center of his hand. And Michelle had ripped both of her palms to shreds. I took a seat next to the Continuity Editor, looking over her notes. They were a mess of unintelligible scribbling. As the assistant director got Monahan resituated in front of the camera on the scaffolding above us, an urgent call was put forth about Michelle's hands. Her "skin-molding" (used to cover up the bloody gauges in her palms) was visible. There was a quick meeting in front of the small thirteen-inch monitor that showed the cinematographer's playback, "If I can see it on this tiny monitor, it will definitely be visible on a three story theater screen."
Producer Edward McDonnell took a look at the screen, coming to the conclusion that the editor could cut around the hand, since it is not in the shot for very long. Soon after his decision came to leave the actress alone, the belt once again kicked to life. The black rubber moved at a crawl across the length of the building. Cardboard boxes start to rain down upon our heads.
During this scene, we were taken out the back of the shipping and receiving area, which was acting as an Airport luggage sorting facility. A Boeing "C-17A" Jumbo Airlifter was parked on the back lawn of the DHL Center. A group of camouflaged soldiers sat in the back of a pick-up, guarding the gargantuan airliner. One of them flashed a piece sign as we were greeted by an Air Force officer that took us on a tour of the plane. It was explained to us that Shia and Michelle were going to stow away on the giant airbus, which had previously been used to transport a killer whale. In fact, they would be situated in a crate for the duration of their ride. When we asked Shia about this particular scene, he stated, "It was fantastic. We had to light the scene ourselves. We did that with our cell phones."
Michele was quick to chime in, "It's funny, because when I watched the playback of that scene, I noticed it was mostly Shia that was lit. He was the one holding the cell phone. You can't even see me." Shia agrees, "I just lit myself." They will be taking the briefcase to destinations unknown. What is in the briefcase, you may be wondering? Neither of the actors is sure, "It's on a time lock." Shia informs us. "We can't get inside of it. We don't know what's inside."
After this quick tour of the plane, we were ushered into a lunch wagon on the far side of the shipping and receiving area. Michelle and Shia walked in looking beat to death. Monahan was happy, but LaBeouf seemed locked into his character. Dark and a bit brooding, it took him a minute to open up. Sometimes it is hard for an actor to do a press interview when he is in the middle of an intense scene such as the one they were filming on this day. The bruises and cuts that both actors sport look a little too real.
About Shia and Michelle's relationship in the film itself, LaBeouf says, "We're strangers. We don't know each. I don't know who she is and she doesn't know who I am. We're being led to each other. There is this voice called Aria that is basically commanding us to do various things such a jumping onto a tour bus and robbing a Brinks truck. We have to grab this case, and then jump into a car." The best way Michelle can explain it is by saying, "It's almost like a scavenger hunt in a way. We don't know what we're doing. We have fifteen seconds to leave this building or we'll die. There's no explanation. There's no conservation. It's life or death."
LaBeouf extrapolated on their roles in the film a little further, "We've been framed as criminals. That's how we are targeted. I show up at my apartment and there's boxes of ammunition, there's bag of fertilizer, there's weaponry, there's maps, there's directions on bomb making. There are a lot of things that would point to me being a terrorist suspect. He decides to leave the apartment and the journey begins."
Is there any chance of a romance between the two of them despite a ten-year age difference? Michelle laughs at this notion, playfully pushing Shia aside, "Yeah. He wishes. That's what you'd like to imagine, huh tiger?" Shia scoffs at the notion, "You would think so, right? But no, we're simply surviving. I don't know how much room there is for kissy-kissy bullshit when you are about to die."
Michelle goes on to explain a little bit more about her character, "I'm a single mom whose son has been put into some dire straights. I'm basically forced by Aria to make some pretty split decisions. This is essentially about how far you would go to save someone's life. Our characters first meet in a car. He bails into a car because he's been told to come into the car and I think he's basically responsible for the kidnapping of my son." Shia continued on with the explanation, "I think she's the voice on the other end. We're figuring each other out while we are on the run. It's not like we're instant friends. I don't know who she is. There's still that air of mystery. And mistrust. That mistrust kind of carries us throughout the film."
Seeing as how this is LaBeouf's second time working with director D.J. Caruso, he is asked about the difference's between their collaboration on Eagle Eye as compared to Disturbia. Shia told us, "Well, the last movie had us in a room for three months. This, we haven't been in the same room for two days. It's very different. There's an Easy Rider element to this where we're never in the same spot too long. It's a journey film whereas Disturbia was a very different movie. D.J. is an ace. It's awesome to watch him grow. And me grow. We're doing it together. Our cast this time is crazy. We both can feel it. To have Michelle here and Billy Bob here. Having Chiklis. Our cast is really strong. We didn't have this on the last one. It was a lot of just me and him and the camera. This time it's bigger. It's fun to watch him sprouting. It's wild. I love D.J., I love working with him."