Shia LaBeouf, Star Of 'Greatest Game Ever Played,' Is One Excitable Guy

The 19-year-old waxes enthusiastic about glories of golf and his 'quintessential' new film about the game.

Imagine, for a moment, that people are constantly milking you for information about your job. You are relentlessly hounded — by acquaintances, colleagues, strangers on the street — with questions about what you plan to do later this week, why you did certain things the way you did them and whom you hope to work with next.

After a while, no matter how thrilling or mind-numbingly dull your work might be, the continual dissection of your short- and long-term career plans would likely grow a bit tiresome.

The same dynamic, of course, holds true with actors. Case in point? The skipping-record responses half-heartedly recited by movie stars when questioned about the ostensibly exciting profession that, in so many instances, is really just another job — another role, another junket, another opening night, another paycheck. All the more reason, then, to think that 19-year-old Shia LaBeouf either truly believes in his new movie, "The Greatest Game Ever Played," or he is simply a really good actor.

"A lot of people like to think that golf is a lazy man's sport," LaBeouf said recently (and animatedly) while discussing his character in the film, the 20-year-old 1913 U.S. Open champion, Francis Ouimet. "Or it's a rich man's sport, or it's a sport that they can't be involved in. But they don't know Francis' story, which is why the movie was made in the first place: To bring back this amazing tale so that people could be educated about how interesting it was. When golf used to be a rich man's sport, if you were poor you could not step foot on a course. Francis was a caddy. He grew up across the street from the course, looked up to Harry Vardon (played by Stephen Dillane in the film), this five-time British Open champion — but he was never allowed to play."

After pausing for a rare breath, LaBeouf ("Holes," "I, Robot," "Constantine") passionately launched back into his monologue with the fervor of a man revealing the Colonel's secret recipe.

"[Francis] would go on the course late at night, wearing no shoes, and he'd play. He met Harry Vardon at one point, and that sparked it. He fell in love with the game. And then he wound up qualifying [for the U.S. Open], which was insane for an amateur. He's one of the first to ever do it. He went on to be the first U.S. citizen to win the U.S. Open. That alone is insane, but the fact that he was an amateur when he did it, the fact that he had a 10-year-old caddy when he did it ..."

Taking a break from a talking pace typically reserved for disclaimer-spouting automobile hawkers, LaBeouf offered an opportunity for a follow-up question: So, was Ouimet the Tiger Woods of the WW1 generation?

Shia gets nervous on the green
Shia tells a white lie

"After Francis won, they started building municipal courses and making [golf] public," the star marveled. "Tiger Woods is the modern version of what Francis was. [Francis] changed the way you saw golf, changed who played it, just as Tiger did. You have video games now, after Tiger, and kids playing the game. Francis did that before Tiger, but Tiger reinvented it and did it a different way."

It's rare to find a Hollywood talent as genuinely enthusiastic about a movie as this critically acclaimed young actor is. Almost as rare, in fact, as finding a good movie about the game of golf.

"[Director Bill Paxton] told me to watch 'The Legend of Bagger Vance,' " LaBeouf remembered, acknowledging the sport's disappointing cinematic tradition. "I go watch it, and I come back and he goes, 'We are not making 'Bagger Vance.' "

Laughing, LaBeouf praised his director for transforming a sport long considered the official pastime of the somnambulant into something so extreme that you half-expect the participants to start swigging Mountain Dew.

" 'This is not gonna be some slow-motion, pretty-golf stuff,' " LaBeouf remembered Paxton decreeing. " 'This is gonna be — 'boom!' — a shootout. This is gonna be a football scene. We're gonna kill these scenes, and we're gonna make the audience go "whoosh!" ' "

Enthusiastically waving his arms about, LaBeouf insisted that he put the same level of energy into his golf training as he evidently brings to his interviews.

"The second a golfer sees a fake swing, they'll get up and walk out of the movie theater, because a swing is technical," he said. "It's not, 'Let's throw a football.' This isn't 'The Longest Yard.' You can't fake a swing. It's golf. And golfers are very technical, very intricate, which is why the quintessential golf film hasn't been made. They never did it like we did it. We trained for six months on this to get the swing right. 'Happy Gilmore'? 'Caddyshack'? They're comedies. But there hasn't been that quintessential 'Hoosiers' of golf yet. Until now."

Maybe Shia LaBeouf really is this enthusiastic about "The Greatest Game Ever Played." Or perhaps he's a really good actor. Or maybe, just maybe, he's both.

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