It’s hard to imagine an actor getting any closer to their material than Shia LaBeouf did with his latest role, in which he plays his own father in the Alma Har’el-directed biopic, “Honey Boy.” Written partially while he was in rehab, the film also serves as LaBeouf’s feature screenwriting debut, and it’s surely as personal as the actor has ever gotten.
The film debuted at the Sundance Film Festival on Friday afternoon at the Eccles Theatre, where the addiction drama earned a standing ovation from an attentive crowd. The fractured narrative flips between scenes that take place when LaBeouf — here referred to as “Otis” — was embarking on his early Disney career (the 12-year-old version is played by a revelatory Noah Jupe) and a decade later when he had reached international stardom after starring in films like “Transformers” (this Otis is played by Oscar nominee Lucas Hedges, who turns a LaBeouf impersonation into something special). In both sections, Otis’ life is informed — mostly for the worse — by his addict father (LaBeouf himself).
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In a post-premiere Q&A, LaBeouf shared how the writing of the script helped inform his real-life rehabilitation, even as he rebuffed the kind of reasons that often accompany such narratives.
”It’s strange to, like, fetishize your pain and make product out of it and feel guilty about that,” he said. “Because it felt very selfish, this whole thing felt very selfish. I never went into this thinking, ‘let me fucking help people,’ that wasn’t my goal. I was falling apart.”
LaBeouf ultimately took his rehab writings, which he’d written in script form (because as the long-time actor explained, “that’s how I read, which is weird”), to Har’el, whose documentary “LoveTrue” the actor produced. It was a long-time match in the making.
“It just felt like this was the perfect thing,” he said. “Where there wouldn’t be much acting required or directing required, in theory. It was a very difficult movie to make, because there’s nowhere to go. You’re just in it a lot.”
Turning to Jupe, he added, “And I leaned heavy on this young man here. Alma let us have our time together and was also super-supportive in the beginning. And then it was sort of like, there was so much shit to deal with, she couldn’t baby us anymore. Just a lot of stuff going on.”
One benefit to the experience: LaBeouf shared that he and his father, who were estranged for nearly seven years, are speaking again.
“Honey Boy” premiered at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. It is currently seeking U.S. distribution.