Tribeca 2015: Shia LaBeouf Gets Candid on Rehab, 'Transformers' and "Al Pacino Acting"

Shia LaBeouf Tribeca H 2015
Rex Features via AP Images

Shia LaBeouf Tribeca H 2015

"Bumblebee never sounds real, it's just a f—ing name. The name alone you can never make real, no matter how much you put into it, because on the other side, you have a director who doesn't believe it either," says the actor and executive producer of Alma Har'el's documentary 'LoveTrue.'

"I've never shown anything so unfinished to anybody," said director Alma Har'el just before a Tribeca Film Festival work-in-progress screening of her documentary, LoveTrue, on which Shia LaBeouf is an executive producer.

"I wrote a check — I'd get clips all the time and would cheerlead from the sidelines," LaBeouf said of his creative control on the project. "I've been on film sets where the executive producer feels like he paid for his f—ing opinion to be a part of something that's just not needed, and I've just been around so many disgruntled directors who were like, '[This EP,] ah, f—, this guy,' so being on the other side of that, I didn't want to be this guy. ... I literally was just facilitating the pragmatic shit."

LaBeouf and Har'el first began collaborating after he stumbled onto Har'el's Bombay Beach while skimming through Amoeba's music section. "I was in a really shitty relationship at a time, and it was an escape and I watched it over and over and it blew my mind," he told the audience, which included Michael Cera. LaBeouf then "wrote her a fan letter," and she then asked him to be part of a video for Sigur Rós' "Fjögur Piano." "Because of my shitty relationship and me f—ing around with drugs and drinking — it hit me hard," said LaBeouf. "I thought, 'Let's f— around with this.' "

Comparing that project to his "Elastic Heart" music-video dance with Maddie Ziegler, LaBoeuf said, "I think the Sia is much more about aesthetics — it's performance gymnastics; the big crying scene is like dance moves: 'Here, you're gonna cry.' ... And it's cool, but it's like Scarface, like Al Pacino acting — nothing against him, but there's a big difference between something that's presentational and something that's representational. I think even Pacino would agree that his work is representational, whereas someone like Joaquin Phoenix is presentational. ... [With Har'el,] we had far less structure when we went to work, and it was just really heavy and really honest. We didn't know what was going to happen. They're great for different reasons."

LoveTrue follows three storylines, set in Hawaii, New York and Alaska. Though the director downplayed her divorce as the impetus for the emotional footage that resulted, LaBeouf repeatedly chimed in to clarify: "She's being frosty about it, she was in deep, deep pain," he said. "She broke her back in Alaska and was filming in New York in a wheelchair. ... All I know of my favorite art, it all comes out of pain. So when a genius is in pain, the Warren Buffett is me is like, 'Go,' " he joked. "Not that there's a big Warren Buffett in me or that I got in this for financial shit! But I knew she was in pain, and going for it instead of running from it."

The documentary features reenactments by the subjects themselves. Har'el said of the approach, which used techniques from improvisation and psychodrama, "F— the fly on the wall; let's talk about the elephant in the room. We're making a film together, you're performing yourselves and you need to take ownership of your own story."

LaBeouf agreed with Har'el that such reenactments affected all involved in a scene. "I just got out of rehab nine months ago, and in rehab you do this kind of operatic therapy, where you go in and sit with your small little group, three or four people, and you work through your shit. Somebody will play your father, somebody will play your mother, and there's literally like an action/cut thing and you go all the way there. For me, it's like method acting. ... The only way you can actually have something like that go on is when everyone agrees that that's what the reality is. You rarely get that on a film set because you got people looking at you like, 'You're just a f—ing actor.' "

Alluding to his time leading Transformers, LaBeouf said, "Bumblebee never sounds real, it's just a f—ing name. The name alone you can never make real, no matter how much you put into it, because on the other side, you have a director who doesn't believe it either. So when you work with certain directors who give over and do something that's presentational and you both believe it, then there is no f—ing around, and you really are in this alternate universe."

Throughout the panel, LaBeouf elaborated on his views of acting in life. "We're all performers, on our Twitter, we perform. We're constantly performing; that's why people don't pick their nose on CNN. ... [But] you can have two selves," he said, quoting Oscar Wilde. "The Internet pushes this: You have one f—ing email address, and that's it, that's you. There's just one you, the true you — which is bullshit. ... You can have multiple selves that are just as true; one doesn't negate the other."

Altogether, Har'el said she's not ready to talk about how her views of love have changed while making the film. "Love is a very subjective thing that happens to you with somebody else in the privacy not only in the relationship, but your own head. Sometimes they don't know half the story, and sometimes more than that. … When we enter a relationship, many times we start out by playing a certain part. … It takes years, sometimes, until you let go of all of that, and you really understand what you have. And sometimes when that performance is over, the relationship is over, because what you had is only that echo. … [Love] is always going to be a mystery for me, and probably the most important thing in my life. I'm just trying to live with it, like everybody else."

Twitter: @cashleelee

April 16, 5:20 p.m. A previous version of this article included an incorrect title for the Sia music video. THR regrets the error.