'Honey Boy' Director on Tackling Shia LaBeouf's Autobiographical Drama

Shia LaBeouf and Alma Har'el - Getty - H 2019
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'Honey Boy' marks Alma Har’el’s narrative feature directorial debut and LaBeouf’s narrative feature screenwriting debut.

Shia LaBeouf’s new film, Honey Boy, is deeply personal.

The autobiographical drama follows the upbringing of a child actor under the care of an abusive father and the impact that his dysfunctional childhood has on him as a young adult. LaBeouf explores his own childhood through the narrative, which he wrote while in a rehabilitation program where he was diagnosed with PTSD. In the film, he plays a version of his own father.

Honey Boy, which debuted at Sundance Film Festival in January, premiered at the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood Tuesday night to a crowded theater.

Director Alma Har’el said LaBeouf — whom she had become friends with while filming her documentary LoveTrue — sent her the script from his rehabilitation program, and she knew she wanted to help him tell the story. Honey Boy marks Har’el’s narrative feature directorial debut and LaBeouf’s narrative feature screenwriting debut.

“I’ve been waiting for this only 20 years, so no pressure,” Har’el joked as she introduced the film, before getting serious. “We made this film with children of alcoholics in mind, and they’re all my brothers and sisters, and I hope a lot of people that are seeing this tonight are seeing something they can feel.”

LaBeouf’s struggles occurred under the public’s eye — a detail that Har’el said she remained acutely aware of while trying to tell this story.

“[The challenge was] finding that line to walk between telling somebody’s story, but also being aware of what it means to popular culture and things he’s done that were in the public’s eye and people’s perceptions of that,” she told The Hollywood Reporter.

Despite the intimacy of the film’s story, Har’el said she took it as an opportunity to tell more universal truths about being impacted by alcoholism and struggling with mental health issues.

“I think this film is personal to a lot of people that see it,” she said, explaining how she approached LaBeouf’s narrative through a directorial lens. “You approach it from what it is about it that’s personal to you. I’m a child of an alcoholic and this story means the world to me. I’m also sober. I understand this, and I really feel like there’s nothing more burning sometimes than really educating the whole world about mental health issues.”

Honey Boy features A Quiet Place actor Noah Jupe as the 12-year-old Shia character, named Otis in the film. Lucas Hedges plays Jupe's adult counterpart. Jupe takes on a hefty role that, at 14, the young actor admitted challenged him.

“The whole thing was a mountain to climb, but I loved every minute of it,” he told THR. “The challenge is why I do this job in terms of just the thrill of it — the thrill of coming out the other side and watching the finished product is amazing.”

He credited both LaBeouf and Har’el for making him feel safe on set.

“The main part of it was creating that relationship between me and Shia and then me and Alma, and just getting that trust there and getting that safety there and being able to risk and play, but at the same time feel safe,” he said. “There was emotional stuff that we were going through, so you needed that place to come back to and have a hug.”