- Shia LaBeouf has a long and public history of violent misdemeanours, but this has not stopped his career and star power from ascending.
- As his private life became increasingly volatile, so too did his onscreen characters.
- Insider spoke to three industry experts about Shia LaBeouf’s career, the potential result of FKA Twigs’ lawsuit, and the dangers of abusive behaviour off-screen being rewarded on-screen.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
“Shia LaBeouf hurts women. He uses them. He abuses them, both physically and mentally. He is dangerous,” British musician FKA Twigs alleged in her lawsuit filed last month against her ex-partner actor Shia LaBeouf.
Soon after the lawsuit was revealed by The New York Times, Australian singer Sia, who worked with LaBeouf on a 2015 music video, also tweeted her own allegations against the actor, calling him a “pathological liar” who conned her into an “adulterous relationship, claiming to be single.”
These recent allegations are the latest and darkest in a long and violent line of misdemeanours that have plagued but never halted LaBeouf’s career.
In fact, as LaBeouf’s private life became increasingly violent and abusive, so did the characters he played onscreen, creating a toxic cycle of abuse that rewards extreme behaviour with lucrative roles, critical acclaim, and leaves LaBeouf victims vulnerable at the centre.
LaBeouf was positioned to be Hollywood’s next big leading man
The 34-year-old actor, and one-time star of the Disney Channel’s popular family comedy “Even Stevens,” began his big-screen career in the position most former child actors and their parents pray for: at the feet of Steven Spielberg.
The pair worked together on the 2007 thriller “Disturbia,” which Spielberg executive produced, and when LaBeouf officially traded in his Disney credentials, he found himself at DreamWorks taking up the role of Spielberg’s go-to tween. The legendary director handpicked LaBeouf to be the face of Michael Bay’s “Transformers” franchise and drafted him in as the son â€” and heir apparent â€” of Harrison Ford’s Indiana Jones in 2008’s “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.”
Back then, LaBeouf was assumed to be Hollywood’s bankable lead for his generation â€” an admittedly talented white man who could be cast in any role from action thriller to family comedy.
In 2007 when he was only 21, Vanity Fair put him on the cover of its August issue with the title “the next Tom Hanks.”
“He was being positioned as a mega Hollywood male star,” Stacy Jones, CEO of Hollywood Branded, a Los Angeles-based entertainment marketing agency, told Insider. “He became not only a recognisable name, but one that can command and drive his peer audience to watch his films, making him largely responsible for bringing millions of dollars to the movies he has worked on.”
And he was paid handsomely too. By 2011, after the release of “Transformers: Dark of the Moon,” LaBeouf was paid a reported $US15 million.
A few years later, however, LaBeouf’s rap sheet, which had previously been populated by juvenile misdemeanours, was becoming increasingly longer, fuelled by repeated cases of public intoxication. It eventually led to numerous DUI, assault, and disorderly conduct cases.
But as LaBeouf’s life became darker, the acting roles didn’t stop coming. Instead, while he was persona non grata at Disney and excluded from all other family-friendly work, another side of the industry opened up and seemed to tap into his extreme and abusive behaviour â€” knowing that audiences understand LaBeouf is willing to flagrantly push past the safe and established boundaries of dramatic performance.
In 2012’s “Lawless,” for example, LaBeouf plays a young and violent moonshine maker during America’s prohibition era. And his erratic behaviour on set, which included naked wrestling with his co-star Tom Hardy, was so extreme that his female costar asked to leave the film.
LaBeouf later explained that during the length of the film’s shoot, he was fuelled by so-called method drinking in order to achieve a “drunk bloat” look.
Soon after, he was enlisted by the infamous Danish director Lars Von Trier for the erotic and controversial “Nymphomaniac” series, which he followed up with a role in the WW2 drama “Fury” alongside Brad Pitt.
Again, tales of his violent state on-set made it to the press. LaBeouf admitted to slashing his own face with a knife, pulling his tooth out, and refusing to shower for weeks on end to get into character. It was later reported that both Brad Pitt and director David Ayer repeatedly warned LaBeouf about his behaviour on set.
A few months later, the actor made headlines once again after a video recording published by Entertainment Tonight shows LaBeouf arguing with his then-girlfriend actor Mia Goth. During the footage, LaBeouf can be heard saying: “This is the kind of thing that makes a person abusive.” And later in the video after he has left the scene, he says: “If I’d have stayed there, I would have killed her.”
Soon after, LaBeouf enjoyed the best reviews of his career for his performance as an unruly, violent drifter in Andrea Arnold’s epic road movie, “American Honey,” which premiered at the Cannes film festival.
LaBeouf himself acknowledged the trend of being rewarded for his bad behaviour during a 2016 interview with Variety.
“I don’t think I’d be working with the directors I’ve been working with if I had not f—ed up a bit,” he said. “They wanted a f—ing fireball. They wanted a loose cannon.”
And in response, he willingly stepped into the role.
“Part of it was posturing,” he said, speaking about his issues with alcoholism during the same interview with Variety. “I never knew how to drink. I never liked to drink, but I knew you had to drink.”
“It was a weird post-modern fascination with the f—-ups. When I met Robert Downey Jr., I was like, ‘Man, you got all this fâ€”king texture. How do I do this? How do I build texture?'”
‘Where is the line between reality and fiction? Does it become blurred?’
Despite the industry’s supposed reckoning with abuse in the wake of #MeToo, particularly against women, LaBeouf’s behaviour didn’t affect his ability to get hired all the way up to his most recent Netflix’s new drama, “Pieces of a Woman.” The powerful film is led by British actress Vanessa Kirby but is haunted by the eerie similarities between LaBeouf’s violent, alcoholic character and the allegations reported in the Times.
Independent Los Angeles-based casting director Nicki Katz, who has had an extensive career casting numerous award-winning films, commercials, and television shows told Insider that she is always searching for performers who can bring “authenticity” and the “willingness to dive into a character when they walk into a room.” LaBeouf’s “rugged” looks and “imperfect life” she explained would be seen as preferable traits for dark, dramatic roles.
“So if I might be casting a role that is in recovery,” she continued, “we might actually look at actors that have experienced recovery. But it might be a red flag if the actor’s just got out of recovery, so that could be a typecasting scenario when you’re not sure it’s a safe choice for them or your crew.”
Although Katz explained that on many independent feature films, which LaBeouf has predominantly starred in over the last decade, “the budgets are so tight that you have to take risks” and “if an offer is made and the actor accepts then you set up a meeting with the director and see if they can creatively get on the same page and then give it the green light.”
This negotiation between “risk” and production perhaps explains part of the reason why so many dangerous practices have been able to pervade the film industry for so long. Still, it’s impossible to ignore how what we see on the big screen can have both a direct and indirect impact on real-life, especially for the actors embodying oftentimes violent and abusive portrayals.
Media psychologist Charlotte Armitage told Insider that, in many ways, acting out abusive behaviour onscreen can often blur the lines for actors.
“The problem is if you have an abusive background and you have abusive tendencies, and then that continues to almost be rewarded in your film roles,” she began, “it is reinforcing that negative behaviour as a positive because you’re acting it on screen.”
“And if actually the two people are quite closely linked, so the individual themselves is very similar to the character that they’re playing, but the character gets recognition and film roles, and a heck of a lot of money for doing it, then that line will become blurred on some level for that individual, without a doubt,” Armitage added. “Where is the line between reality and fiction?”
‘It’s possible that there will be criminal charges, but unlikely’
The accusations leveled against LaBeouf in Twigs’ lawsuit are both disturbing and plentiful. But legal experts told Insider that the actor is unlikely to face any legal consequences.
“It’s possible that there will be criminal charges, but unlikely,” Neama Rahmani, a former federal prosecutor, told Insider. “Domestic abuse and sexual assault are two of the most under-reported crimes where the victims often don’t come forward, but they’re also the two most falsely reported crimes, and it’s very difficult to pursue a criminal case as a prosecutor when there is no contemporaneous account of the assault or the violence.”
But Neama explained that the inconsistent apology LaBeouf gave to the Times, where he admits to having a “history of hurting the people closest to me,” is unusual and helps the prosecutor’s case.
As does stylist Karolyn Pho, another ex of LaBeouf’s, who described similarly violent experiences to the Times, some of which are also outlined in the lawsuit, including one incident where LaBeouf drunkenly pinned her to a bed and head-butted her until she bled.
“That is what we call a prior bad acts witnesses and that can be powerful,” Neama said. “That’s how Bill Cosby was convicted and Harvey Weinstein.”
When presented with the claims made against him, LaBeouf responded to the Times saying: “many of these allegations are not true”
But within days of the allegations, Netflix scrubbed LaBeouf’s presence from their “Pieces of a Woman” publicity material. His name is no longer a part of the film’s synopsis and isn’t featured in its “for your consideration” awards ads.
The streamer’s actions were swift â€” thankfully studios can no longer ignore allegations of abuse as they once did â€” though the amount of bad publicity makes its decision rather easy.
But what happens next in this toxic cycle?
Perhaps a better question for Hollywood’s gatekeepers is how can they stop contributing, facilitating, and profiting from cycles of abuse for their bottom line?