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Shia LaBeouf says playing tennis star and hothead John McEnroe in the drama Borg/McEnroe was “quite cathartic.”
“It expressed something I feel deeply,” LaBoeuf added as he promoted the opening night movie for the Toronto Film Festival, Borg/McEnroe, ahead of a world premiere on Thursday night. The troubled Hollywood actor plays McEnroe in the biopic about one of the greatest sports rivalries of all time, as Borg/McEnroe traces the long-running battle for supremacy in the tennis world between McEnroe and Swedish star Bjorn Borg in the 1970s and ’80s.
LaBeouf said McEnroe has been misunderstood by critics, including the British tabloids who dubbed him “Super Brat” soon after he began playing at Wimbledon in 1977.
“It’s more complicated,” LaBeouf said. “He’s a tactician. He added something different to the game. When he entered, it was a baseline game. He brought a touch and feel to the game.”
And McEnroe’s infamous court-side outbursts reflected the work of an artist, LaBeouf added.
“It’s not just screaming rage. He (McEnroe) used rage to throw people off. In that way, he’s an artist. It was very thought through, even though it’s hard to explain,” he said.
LaBeouf, who never played tennis before taking on the movie role, said he learned the sport during six months of training more as a dance. “We rehearsed things like a ballet, including his outbursts. I would literally play them on a screen right before we would film and look at where everything was. It was very paint-by-the-numbers in a way,” he explained.
LaBeouf didn’t address his own recent erratic behavior during the moderated TIFF presser, which allowed only a handful of questions from the assembled media. He recently apologized after he was arrested on suspicion of obstruction, disorderly conduct and public drunkenness.
The actor was taken into custody by the Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police in Georgia during the early morning hours of July 8 after he lashed out at a bystander for refusing to give him a cigarette. The actor said at the time he was taking steps “toward securing my sobriety.”
LaBeouf said he has yet to meet McEnroe in real life after watching endless videos of the tennis star online to prepare for the film role. “John, I’d love to meet you. He’s a busy guy,” he told the media in Toronto.
Borg/McEnroe is set to be released by Neon in North America in 2018. The Toronto Film Festival continues through Sept 17.
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