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Is Shia LaBeouf the Next Marlon Brando? James Franco Seems to Think So

Photo of Nigel M Smith By Nigel M Smith | Indiewire February 20, 2014 at 11:18AM

Always one to keep busy, Hollywood's Renaissance Man James Franco took some time out of his schedule to pen an op-ed in The New York Times about Shia LaBeouf's recent headline-making antics and whether there's an end point to the whole charade.
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Shia LaBeouf

Always one to keep busy, Hollywood's Renaissance Man James Franco took some time out of his schedule to pen an op-ed in The New York Times about Shia LaBeouf's recent headline-making antics and whether there's an end point to the whole charade. 

It should really come as no surprise that Franco feels a kinship to the "Transformers" star. Franco has never toyed with the media to such destructive effect as LaBeouf, but like the former child actor, he's gone out of his way to prove his mettle as an artist by staging gallery installations, like the one LaBeouf launched last week during which he sat across from visitors while wearing a bag over his head that read "I am not famous anymore." (The bag made its first appearance at the "Nymphomaniac" Berlinale premiere.) And like LaBeouf, Franco's never been afraid to make left-field choices, like joining the soap opera "General Hospital" in 2009.

Does LaBeouf's erratic behavior (the bag, plagiarizing his short film "HowardCantour.com," walking out on a "Nymphomaniac" press conference after quoting soccer player Eric Cantona) suggest the actor is pulling a Joaquin Phoenix on us, or is he just having a major and very public breakdown? Franco's not so sure, but hopes it's the former.

"For Mr. LaBeouf’s sake I hope it is nothing serious. Indeed I hope — and, yes, I know that this idea has pretentious or just plain ridiculous overtones — that his actions are intended as a piece of performance art, one in which a young man in a very public profession tries to reclaim his public persona," he writes.

In his best passage, Franco goes on to draw parallels between what LaBeouf might be attempting, and what Marlon Brando famously did.

"Actors have been lashing out against their profession and its grip on their public images since at least Marlon Brando," he writes. "Brando’s performances revolutionized American acting precisely because he didn’t seem to be 'performing,' in the sense that he wasn’t putting something on as much as he was being. Off-screen he defied the studio system’s control over his image, allowing his weight to fluctuate, choosing roles that were considered beneath him and turning down the Oscar for best actor in 1973. These were acts of rebellion against an industry that practically forces an actor to identify with his persona while at the same time repeatedly wresting it from him."

So, is LaBeouf a Hollywood rebel we should take seriously? Only time will tell. For now, Franco just hopes that the actor is "careful not to use up all the good will he has gained as an actor in order to show us that he is an artist."

This article is related to: Marlon Brando, New York Times, Nymphomaniac: Volume I, Nymphomaniac: Volume II, Nymphomaniac, James Franco