The star of Holes becomes a legendary figure in sports history
Shia LaBeouf isn't Even Stevens anymore; he's become a true Hollywood actor. He's been acting since age 12, but even he never dreamed of where he'd be now.
MovieWeb talked to the star of the new film The Greatest Game Ever Played up in Toronto. He told us about how he became an actor, what drove him to be so successful, and taking on the role in this film. He plays Francis Ouimet, an amateur golfer who won the 1913 US Open.
He came sporting a new tattoo on his right inside wrist '1986-2004' which signified his childhood. He says 'It's my childhood; I'll never forget it. I'm still a child, but when I'm 30, I'll look back and say ‘Ah, I remember that.'
Check out what else we talked about - like how long he trained; you'll probably be surprised at what it took to transform into Francis:
How were you approached for this movie?
Shia LaBeouf: Mark Frost had seen Holes, and Disney was looking for somebody to helm the film. But they didn't want an insane celebrity; they didn't want someone who would take you out of the film. And they kind of had me in their pocket since Holes, and called me up, introduced me to Bill Paxton, met with Mark Frost, heard the story of Francis, fell in love with Francis, wasn't really interested in golf. Mark said ‘No, golf's cool.' I said ‘Yeah, ok.' They said ‘Go watch it tonight, as an actor, and think about what they're thinking. I went home and I saw this guy miss this six inch put, but it was his life; if he had made this put, but he missed it. And there's 10 million people watching him; if it had been Jeremy Shockey and he had missed a ball, people would have been like ‘motherf-.' But not this guy, he took off his cap to the audience and inside he was probably crying, but he was a man, so he just smiled and walked away. Then they sent me to UCLA, and I met with the UCLA golf team, guys my age, who had golf groupies, which I didn't know existed, they were partying with their team. You would see them trash talk with Cal State during their practice rounds, extremely competitive, and knew everyone's game. I started going ‘Wow, this is kind of a cool thing, this is kind of cool.' Then I went to the US Open, and I was the caddy for the caddy, Adam Scott, and shadowed him, and saw the immensity of the sport, how grandiose it was, I was hooked. So I was in, Bill said ‘Ok, go watch Bagger Vance. We're not making that movie, at all.' That slow progression; the only thing they did in Bagger Vance was film golf. ‘We're not going to be filming golf, we're going to be filming the mind of a golfer.' So it was more intense, every day we were there, it was more intense. One day, he said to me ‘We're going to make the quintessential golf movie and maybe one of the best sports movies of all time.' I would go ‘Common Bill, common, don't jinx us.' And now here we are, strange. Here's the thing – Matt Damon for Bagger Vance trained for two weeks and golfers knew it, Jim Caviezel for Bobby Jones trained for three weeks and golfers knew it; I trained for six months and golfers came in and thought I'd be playing since I was a child.
You look like a golfer, do you have any tips?
Shia LaBeouf: Seven days a week, seven hours a day.
Are you able to teach?
Shia LaBeouf: No, you have to be a master to teach. I tried, but I can't, you have to be a master. But yeah, seven days a week for the first three months, calisthenics, back exercises, extensive training, lost ten pounds.
You lost ten pounds?
Shia LaBeouf: Yeah, go watch Constantine; I'm a little chubby there.
What are your strengths and weaknesses in your game?
Shia LaBeouf: I'm not a golfer; it's an actors thing.
So you're an actor who golf's, not a golfer who acts?
Shia LaBeouf: Yeah, absolutely. And then I had to go into research of Francis; he really is one of the greatest athletes of all time and what they contributed to their sport. Francis contributed to his sport more than any other athlete contributed in their sport, ever.
How did take your training in these times and move it to the 1910's?
Shia LaBeouf: I was doing virtual reality training; we only had one video, the speed was off, but it was Francis' swing, we only had one video, but it was a motion capture of his swing and we would put it in the virtual reality machine and I would swing and try to match his swing and I would do that for hours and try to match his swing. Because with hickory clubs that bend, there's more movement in your shoulders in how you dip; and with the balls, there's a completely different swing. We had mashes and nibblers; now they have drivers and it's a completely different game, different tool, different game. But even more than golf, that was one aspect of the film we wanted to perfect. How often do you see a sports film where the villain isn't vilified? Harry Vardon was Francis, they were very similar; you don't see that in sports films; it's almost more interesting. I remember thinking about Francis who fell in love with this man, Harry Vardon and his words, and how he held himself, and how he held himself. Francis just needed something to love, it could have been Frisbee across the street, he would have fell in love with it; he wasn't getting love from his father. He needed that, he needed golf; it could have been any sport, he would have been the best at it, he was that driven. He didn't realize what he was getting into; he was following a dream, but he didn't realize what was attached to that dream, he didn't know what was going on in the social structure of the world in 1913. In 1913, we had an influx of immigrants who came into this country and needed a hero; and here's this immigrant boy, who had no idea what he was doing. He was humble, respectful, good to his family, he's like Superman to these immigrants. He became their hero, he unknowingly became that. And poor Francis, he was looked at as a janitor. Sure there was Ty Cobb, and people like that, but they were supposed to win; Francis was never supposed to win. It's David versus two Goliath's; it wasn't just Harry Vardon, it was Ted Ray, both Open champions. And here's Harry Vardon going through the same thing; and here comes Francis who couldn't even walk on the course unless he was carrying something that belonged to someone else who was employing him; he could not be on that course, so at night he would take his shoes off and run on the course and count steps and measure yardage for the holes. So when he was playing, he knew it was 400 steps to that hole; he knew that course. I always say ‘if he played on any other course, he wouldn't have beaten Harry Vardon. It's just Harry Vardon played him at home and there's just no way, there's no way, he knew that course. And with a ten-year-old caddy, it's insane; and it's true, it's not some Disney creation. He found love that he was lacking from his father with this kid. Here's Harry Vardon, six-time Open Champion, Ted Ray, five-time Open Champion, and here's Francis Ouimet, with some clubs he just picked up, loaned to him, a ten-year-old caddy, and an amateur.
Why didn't Francis never go pro?
Shia LaBeouf: Francis never wanted to be this famous guy; he hated fame, he was a shy man. I have a signed autograph that the Ouimet family game me, of a picture of him and Eddie, after they had won, it said ‘This is the boy who won me the 1913 U.S. Championship' and there's an arrow pointing to Eddie. It says ‘Forever yours, Francis.' It was something he wrote to Eddie. The man was a humble man; and not in the fake way like ‘Oh, great film man!' ‘Oh, thanks.' This man was humble, for real; there's people who put on that front, but in reality, they want you to say that type of thing, most actors.
What was it like meeting the family?
Shia LaBeouf: When I met the family, it was like the best ever. We got reviewed by Bill Clinton who said it was his favorite film of all time. George Bush Sr. hand wrote a note to the Disney publicity department saying it was his favorite movie and if there was any way he could help, he would. Larry King said it was better than Seabiscuit. We do this screening in Boston and Bill comes up to me and he says ‘The Ouimet's are here, the Ouimet's are here; I start shaking, my body's like ‘you gotta be kidding me.' It was his daughter, granddaughter and a couple of her friends and Eddie Lowery's family is there. After the movie is screened – first of all, it's so much fun watching this movie with an audience, and with the dollar, it's so vocal, you can hear it. She comes up to me in the hallway after the movie, she's crying, her mascara is running, she goes ‘You were Francis for an hour and a half, thank you.' That's why you do this, man.
Were both Francis and Eddie alive at the time this was shot?
Shia LaBeouf: No, never met them. I met some of their family though.
What business did he go into after golf?
Shia LaBeouf: He went into sporting goods, he owned a sporting good store. Eddie went on to become a muti-billionairre; he was a huge car salesman. Francis was always ok with living a lavish lifestyle. If he had food on the table for his family, that's all that mattered; he could have sold out right away, he could have done that.
How does he top winning that championship?
Shia LaBeouf: I don't think he even cared about winning; when his father did that, that's it.
Is that accurate as to what actually happened?
Shia LaBeouf: Yeah, cause after he won the U.S. Open, the power struggle in the house, it was ‘let's both be men of the house.' The beef was gone cause Francis had defeated the men who had defeated his father; his father was a very proud man.
Have you done anything since this?
Shia LaBeouf: Yeah, I just got back from New York where I finished up a movie with Robert Downey Jr., Rosario Dawson, Chazz Palminteri, Dianne Wiest, Eric Roberts.
What's it called?
Shia LaBeouf: It's called A Guide to Recognizing your Saints.
Is it a mob thing?
Shia LaBeouf: No, have you ever seen that movie Kids? It's that type of thing.
Shia LaBeouf: No, they're only in about 22 pages; the rest is all a young cast.
Who's the director?
Shia LaBeouf: Dito Montiel, who directed and wrote the book.
So it's like street life in New York?
Shia LaBeouf: In the 1980's, I don't know if you guys have seen the documentary Style Wars, in 1986, in Queens, a very Greek neighborhood, this man named Dito – I always say it's like a self-help book for the hood, cause that's what the book reads like. He's like the only person in the neighborhood, all his other friends are all crack heads or dead or in jail for life; he's the only person who got out of the story and the way he got out is by using people an he called them saints. So his book is how to recognize those people and use them to better yourself; it's pretty selfish.
What about Josh? He just jumped into this role.
Shia LaBeouf: Yeah, he's like a young Mickey Rooney. When I first met Josh, I walked into a Disney screening room; we were going to do his screen test. I had just gotten off a flight, I was really tired, I walk in and he's sitting there talking to all these executives, like he's holding court. I walk up to him and I say ‘You've got to be kidding me. Josh, are you even old enough to have chest hair?' And he says ‘No, but you should see my back.' He's a funny little kid, he's the kind of kid who would talk you out of your shoes and sell them back to you. I love him, I love that kid.
He was just trying to compare the Giants and the Jets.
Shia LaBeouf: There's no comparison; we all know who the better team is.
Are you a huge sports fan or is it just the Giants?
Shia LaBeouf: It's just the Giants; I left my press conference early so I could see the game. I just said ‘Guys, I gotta go, I gotta go right now, first game of the season.'
Were you about his age when you got started?
Shia LaBeouf: No, I was a little older than Josh, and a little different way than Josh too. Josh comes from a suburban house, beautiful house, beautiful family, a mother who wants him to do it situation.
How did you and Disney come together?
Shia LaBeouf: I was doing stand up comedy when I was 11, that's how I got started; not because I wanted to do comedy, but because we were broke, living in Echo Park in Downtown Los Angeles, from 1986, I saw the Rodney King riots; my parents didn't really work. But I wanted this new backpack, that's how I got into this business – I wanted a new backpack; I started doing comedy at this place called The Ice House in Pasedena. By the time I was 12, I was doing HBO, Baked Potato, I was opening up for people, doing that whole thing; an agent saw me and asked me if I wanted to be an actor. I said ‘No, no, no.' I went home that night and went ‘wow' cause I had been thinking about it for a while. So then I went surfing with my dad a couple weeks later and I met this kid who was on Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman; he had this really nice surfboard – it all started with greed for me. And I asked him for his agent's number and he said ‘No, you don't want to be an actor, you're not ready, you're not good enough.' Then it turned from greed to competition – ‘Why are you so much better, blonde hair, blue eyed bastard.' I went to the Yellow Pages, looked up an agent, and I'm still with that same agent. I did Even Stevens and then Holes and that's how the relationship with Disney started.
Do you remember the kid with the surf board?
Shia LaBeouf: I don't think I should name him.
Is he still around?
Shia LaBeouf: Not in this business. (laughing)
How old when you phoned that agent?
Shia LaBeouf: 11
You were pretty cocky then, too.
Shia LaBeouf: I wasn't cocky, just confident; I went to an all black school, a white kid. It's kind of bread into you; if you're not confident, you just get run over.
Do you have a contract with Disney or is it just a good relationship?
Shia LaBeouf: It's a good relationship. I have contracts with other studios, but Disney's like a house, Disney's like my home, depending on the projects they do. Cause they have a whole bunch of projects that I don't want to be a part of; they have other actors for that – Hillary Duff and Lindsay, ‘Go.' It's not me.
When you got your first job, did you stay at home or did you leave?
Shia LaBeouf: No, my parents were never married; I don't know about all that stuff. Even now, I don't have parents, I have 50-year-old children; it's sort of true though, they don't work and I'm sort of the soul provider; but I found a company that lets me do good projects and feed my family. My life is ok, my life is pretty good.
Do you still live at home?
Shia LaBeouf: No, my mom lives in her house, my dad lives in Montana, and I live in my house.
Shia LaBeouf: No, Burbank.
What's next for you?
Shia LaBeouf: Well, I just finished that movie. I'm starting a movie with Jeff Bridges, Zooey Deschanel, James Woods, and Jon Heder called Surf's Up. I'm going to do a movie called Elvis and Annabel with Amber Tamblyn. I've got a couple more projects I'm working on; I'll tell you this independent world is rough. When we get our cash flow together, we'll go to Calgary; when you're doing movies because you like them, not because there's some chick in a bikini, or because there's an explosion, it's hard to make them.
Has there been any talk about returning to Constantine?
Shia LaBeouf: Yeah, I talked to Keanu today actually, I don't know, I don't know, probably not. It didn't make enough money domestically for the studio to want to invest again. We'll see, maybe down the line; who thought they'd do another Terminator, you never know.
How did a kid from L.A. become a Giants fan?
Shia LaBeouf: (laughing) Cause my family's from New York, it's a family deal, all my friends are Giants fans; if I wasn't a Giants fan, I wouldn't have any friends.
What have you learned about the business since you've been in it for so long?
Shia LaBeouf: I've learned to be more reserved, watch what I'm saying; I got in a little bit of trouble. People tell me ‘Never lose that, never lose that,' but then I get in trouble so I have to lose it. I'm trying to keep a little bit; I'm never going to lose who I am, I just gotta tone it down a little bit, it is a Disney film. (laughing)
Do you ever have any inspirations to become a director?
Shia LaBeouf: I directed a movie called Let's Love Hate with my friends; we won some awards at festivals, but no. It's too much, there's too much business and not enough art. There's the art aspect, but that's just one of the aspects you have to deal with; I couldn't sit in a bear cave editing a movie for three months and watching the same scenes over and over and over again, I wouldn't know if the movie is good or not. I made a short film, that's a completely different world. You make a movie, Bill has seen this movie a hundred times or more than that; I can't stand seeing movies over and over and over again.
Watching some of the shots where the ball becomes a character, is there anything that interested you?
Shia LaBeouf: I remember when Bill said we're going to shoot the mind of a golfer, and the mind of a golfer makes the ball a character; there's scenes when Vardon's ball is here and the fairway is there, and the trees, and it goes through the trees. There are no words said, but you know the thought process. That's good filmmaking; it's good filmmaking when you don't have to say anything and you can still tell the story. 95% of communication is non-verbal, 95% of the communication in this movie is non-verbal. Francis doesn't talk that much, Harry Vardon and Francis really don't talk that much, but you can sense love, respect, and admiration, that's great directing, cause you only talk when you need to narrate something, you only talk when you need to direct your audience. What's cool is when you're able to give your audience imagination and you don't have to cage them in like animals.
The Greatest Game Ever Played is rated PG; it's directed by Bill Paxton. It tees off into theaters on September 30th.