How Shia LaBeouf Brought His Past Into The Present and Made His Most Important Work Yet

'Things have been really beautiful so far'

Shia LaBeouf wouldn’t have gotten to where he is without having gone through where he was, and for that, he is grateful. The storied actor brought MTV News correspondent Josh Horowitz to the Slauson Multipurpose Center in South Los Angeles for his episode of Personal Space, where they talked about LaBeouf’s latest community-based project and everything it took to get him there.

“We're in the Pueblos or the Low Bottoms. You're in the heart of probably the most marginalized area in Los Angeles. That's part of what brought us down here,” LaBeouf said. For the past 10 months, he and Bobby Soto, whom he met while filming The Tax Collector, have been working with community members to build the Slauson Rec. Theater Company. The five-hour class takes place every Saturday, attracting friends LaBeouf has made along the way, people like James Cameron, Tim Robbins, Kid Cudi, Thundercat, and more. “We're trying to build a cultural hub, a place where we can sprout out from,” he said. “And so we've been building devised theater in that rec center right there, and things have been really beautiful so far.”

To be clear, this project wasn’t just about giving back to a community. “I also need friends, man. I'm lonely as fuck, you know?” LaBeouf said. “So part of me was like, yes, I wanted to build this thing, but it was also me and Bobby fell in love with each other. The dude became my best friend. And then we sort of clicked up on well, what do we wanna do after this movie's over?” Both being from different parts of Los Angeles — and neither being from the wealthy parts — mixed with their own experiences growing up with the Boys & Girls Club and YMCA naturally led them to this place.

And now, they’re getting ready for the first major fundraiser for the Slauson Rec. Theater Company, taking place on Saturday, June 29, in Los Angeles. The event will feature performances from Jaden Smith, Vic Mensa, YG, Kamaiyah, and more — plus a five-minute preview of what the theater company has been working on.

This is another case of LaBeouf leaning on old friends, with Smith having been the first artist to join the benefit. “I knew Jaden when we were playing Sonic the Hedgehog in his dad's trailer,” he said. “I didn't even really give a shit about acting at that time, you know? I was just grinding.”

He mentioned this idea a few times during the interview. It’s not something he’s been shy about in the past; LaBeouf first got into acting because his family needed to pay the bills, and he wasn’t exactly passionate about all of his work. He’s said and done some regrettable things that need not be rehashed here — mainly because this time, when he talks about his past, his evolution is so apparent.

Trokon George

Shia LaBeouf 2019

The actor smiled when asked about Even Stevens, fondly remembering what a “great time” he had and how the Disney Channel show taught him to feel comfortable in front of a camera. He sweetly talked about the friends he still holds close from Holes, noting that Byron Cotton drops by Slauson on Saturdays. He raved about his Constantine co-star Keanu Reeves, deeming him a “mensch.”

But it was perhaps his framing of his blockbuster years that revealed the most about LaBeouf’s growth. “That was just much bigger than me,” he said, reflecting inward. Later, he compared the experience to grabbing onto a rocket ship. “When you're on a rocket and you're in space, there's no reflection,” he said. “You're in awe. ‘I’m in space.’” The sudden rise left him feeling insecure, like he was handed the world, yet did nothing to earn it.

So he did what he thought he had to do in order to earn it — “and that's not just through the roles,” he said. “You gotta get arrested a few times. At least this was my thinking, my Daria, post-modern view of acting. And so I chased a certain kinda thing. I'm not saying every fuck-up was conscious, but I wasn't not conscious of it.”

Trokon George

Shia LaBeouf 2019

Eventually, LaBeouf spun out, reaching his rock bottom and ending up in court-ordered rehab after a 2017 arrest. It was exactly what he needed. “I wasn't gonna stop doing what I was doing until that happened to me. Some people are just really stubborn. I'm one of those,” he said. It was there that he wrote his semi-autobiographical Sundance hit, Honey Boy, due out in theaters this November.

Through all the ups and downs, LaBeouf now recognizes his career as one of his greatest gifts. “It’s been the most consistent relationship I've had with anything in my whole life. It's been nothing but blessings for me,” he said. “You hear these horror stories of people in Hollywood — it’s never been that way for me. Hollywood's always saved me from the other stuff.”

And for now, as he recycles his life experiences back into the community, things are good. Not always good — “that’d be fascistic,” he said — “But I'm in a good spot more now so than I ever have been.”

Watch the full interview above. Slauson Rec. Center Theater’s First Annual Sacred Spectacle will take place on Saturday, June 29, in Los Angeles.

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