Why Actors Act Out – James Franco on Shia LaBeouf’s Recent Antics

Singer and actor Shia LaBeouf

American actor and director Shia LaBeouf

Excellent piece by James Franco!

The New York Times
By JAMES FRANCO, FEB. 19, 2014

THE recent erratic behavior of Shia LaBeouf, the 27-year-old actor best known as the star of the “Transformers” movies, has sent the press into a feeding frenzy. Though the wisdom of some of his actions may seem questionable, as an actor and artist I’m inclined to take an empathetic view of his conduct.

Let’s review the facts. First, in December, Mr. LaBeouf was accused of plagiarism after critics noted similarities between “Howard Cantour.com,” a short film he created, and a story by the graphic novelist Daniel Clowes. Though Mr. LaBeouf apologized on Twitter, conceding that he had “neglected to follow proper accreditation,” it turned out that the apology itself appropriated someone else’s writing. Was that clever or pathological?

Then, earlier this month, with these actions focusing the tabloid gaze on him, he wore a paper bag over his head that read “I am not famous anymore” at the red-carpet premiere of his latest movie, “Nymphomaniac.” And last week he staged an art show called “#IAmSorry” that involved having him sit opposite visitors to a Los Angeles gallery while he wore a similar bag over his head and stared at them through cutout eye holes.

This behavior could be a sign of many things, from a nervous breakdown to mere youthful recklessness. 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.

Actors have been lashing out against their profession and its grip on their public images since at least Marlon Brando. 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.

At times I have felt the need to dissociate myself from my work and public image. In 2009, when I joined the soap opera “General Hospital” at the same time as I was working on films that would receive Oscar nominations and other critical acclaim, my decision was in part an effort to jar expectations of what a film actor does and to undermine the tacit — or not so tacit — hierarchy of entertainment.

As an actor, you are often in the uncomfortable position of being the most visible part of a project while having the least amount of say over its final form. In one of the most striking scenes in “I’m Still Here,” a 2010 film co-written by Joaquin Phoenix that purported to document his life as he retired from acting and became a hip-hop artist, Mr. Phoenix paced around his yard at night, ranting about the submissiveness of being an actor. Even if the conceit was ultimately a joke (and initially it wasn’t clear that it was, for Mr. Phoenix stayed in character in public throughout the filming), the movie was nonetheless earnest about an actor’s need to take back a little bit of power over his image by making such a film.

Any artist, regardless of his field, can experience distance between his true self and his public persona. But because film actors typically experience fame in greater measure, our personas can feel at the mercy of forces far beyond our control. Our rebellion against the hand that feeds us can instigate a frenzy of commentary that sets in motion a feedback loop: acting out, followed by negative publicity, followed by acting out in response to that publicity, followed by more publicity, and so on.

Participating in this call and response is a kind of critique, a way to show up the media by allowing their oversize responses to essentially trivial actions to reveal the emptiness of their raison d’être. Believe me, this game of peek-a-boo can be very addictive.

Mr. LaBeouf has been acting since he was a child, and often an actor’s need to tear down the public creation that constrains him occurs during the transition from young man to adult. I think Mr. LaBeouf’s project, if it is a project, is a worthy one. I just hope that he 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.

James Franco is an actor.

Meet Music’s Next Superstar: Shia LaBeouf

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The 26-year-old Transformers star has thrown as many punches as he has parties, he has a rap sheet as long as his filmography, and when he’s not pissing off studio heads, he’s messing around with another guy’s girlfriend. But Shia LaBeouf may also be the most honest—and complex—actor/film director/musician alive. More than meets the eye? Damn right.

The many faces of Shia LaBeouf

Shia LaBeouf born June 11, 1986, is an American actor who became known among younger audiences as Louis Stevens in the Disney Channel series Even Stevens. LaBeouf received a Young Artist Award nomination in 2001 and won a Daytime Emmy Award in 2003 for his role. He made his film debut in Holes (2003), based on the novel of the same name by Louis Sachar. In 2004, he made his directorial debut with the short film Let’s Love Hate and later directed and shot the music video for “I Never Knew You” by rapper Cage.

In 2007, LaBeouf starred in the lead role of the commercially successful films, Disturbia, and Surf’s Up. The same year he was cast in Michael Bay‘s science fiction film Transformers as Sam Witwicky, the main protagonist of the series. Despite mixed reviews, Transformers was a box office success and one of the highest grossing films of 2007. LaBeouf later appeared in it sequels Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009) and Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011), both also a box office success. In 2008, he played Henry “Mutt Williams” Jones III in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, the fourth film in the Indiana Jones franchise. The film was a critical and commercial success.

His other films include Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010), Lawless (2012), The Company You Keep (2012) and Nymphomaniac (2013).

He directed the music video for “I Never Knew You”, a single off rapper Cage‘s third album, Depart From Me. It was shot in LA and features cameos by other Definitive Jux artists.The two will also team up to make a biopic about the rapper’s life, starring LaBeouf.  Of making the video, LaBeouf said, “I’m 22 and I’m directing my favorite rapper’s music video. This shit is better than riding unicorns.” In addition to directing the short film, MANIAC for Kid Cudi and Cage’s collaborative track he also directed and filmed Kid Cudi’s music video for “Marijuana” at the 2010 Cannabis Cup.

The now 26-year-old actor was to star opposite Alec Baldwin and Tom Sturridge in the revival of Lyle Kessler‘s 1983 play, which follows two orphaned brothers living off the proceeds of petty theft in a run-down North Philadelphia row house. LaBeouf’s role was the elder brother who supports his simple-minded younger sibling (Sturridge). One night he kidnaps an enigmatic rich man, played by Baldwin, who becomes the kind of father figure the boys have always longed for.

Weeks before previews were to begin, Shia LaBeouf dropped out of his planned Broadway debut in the play Orphans because of “creative differences.”

“I’m done,” he vented to The Hollywood Reporter last summer. “There’s no room for being a visionary in the studio system. It literally cannot exist. You give Terrence Malick a movie like Transformers, and he’s f—ed. There’s no way for him to exist in that world.”

His recent film credits include Lawless, the Robert Redford-directed The Company You Keep, and The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman, in which he stars opposite Evan Rachel Wood and Melissa Leo. He also has a racy role in Lars von Trier‘s Nymphomaniac, co-starring Charlotte Gainsbourg and Stellan Skarsgard.

Meet Music’s Next Superstar: Shia LaBeouf

Last week, actor and LSD-enthusiast Shia LaBeouf and synth-pop duo Future Unlimited debuted the gloomy video for “Haunted Love” directed by none other than everyone’s favorite Michael Bay leading man. LaBeouf has had many an odd foray into music video. From a thirty-minute musical of interpretive dancing to sad Icelandic piano music, let’s look back at some LaBeouf deep cuts and no longer regret that his film Disturbia and Rihanna’s song of the same name were not related.

Even Stevens

“Influenza: The Musical”

In 2002, Even Stevens did what has since become commonplace on almost every Disney series nowadays — they had the cast flex their vocal skills and participate in a musical episode. In “Influenza: The Musical,” Ren (Christy Carlson Romano) has a flu-fueled hallucination. Shia’s character Louis, the troublemaking younger brother, attempts to avoid then subsequently sings about an over-the-top physical endurance test in gym class. With his raspy pre-pubescent voice, baby Shia graces our ears with classics like “I Always Find a Way” and “I’ve Got Hot Soup…” as he begins taking his first steps into low-key involvement with the music world.

Even Stevens

“Another Perfect Day”

Getting a little Partridge, Louis and Ren join some friends to form the the Twitty-Stevens Connection a few episodes after they just couldn’t stop breaking out in song. This time, Shia’s Louis is a drummer who encourages the band to play on the school’s roof. Shenanigans ensue and it ends with this stereotypically Disney tune and its feel-good message.

Holes

“Dig It” by The D-Tent Boys

Oh, you thought he could only kind of sing? Enter #RAPGAMELABEOUF in a film based off every ten-year-old’s favorite fifth grade reading assignment, Holes. Having started being typecast as a good guy caught in bad situations early, Shia takes on the role of Stanley Yelnats, who finds himself in a juvenile detention camp run by Warrant Officer Ripley and Angelina Jolie’s dad, who make Stanley and the other boys dig holes every day. A bunch of other Important Things occur in both the film and book, but the most important takeaway is that Holes brought us #RAPGAMELABEOUF, and for that we’re all pretty lucky.

SNL

“The Best Look in the World”

In 2007, Shia began making his real career breakthrough as a non-child actor with starring roles in blockbusters Transformers and Disturbia after paying some acting dues in small but critically acclaimed indie flicks. Naturally, this meant he’d get a chance to host an episode of Saturday Night Live, as many an upcoming “it” star has done. Over the course of 13 months, Shia hosted not one but two episodes of the series and participated in some of the early digital shorts Andy Samberg helped create and make popular. During his second hosting gig in 2008, Shia helped sing and perform an ode to white shirt-black socks-no pants look, otherwise known as “The Best Look in the World.” It also marks the first time he let his junk air out in a video. We’ll get to the second time in a few.

Cage

“I Never Knew You”

Shia’s contributions to the music industry go above and beyond kind of singing and kind of rapping. Actually, his directorial work has probably been some of the more shining moments in his career. Shia marked his debut as a music video director with the clip for friend Cage’s “I Never Knew You.” The clip features Dan Byrd (Easy A) stalking a woman between clips of Cage’s highly emotive and body-jerking performance. While the video is as twisted and dark as Cage’s brand of hip-hop, it feels lighter than some of Shia’s later creations.

“Maniac”

Starring Kid Cudi and Cage

In what may be the actor/director’s Career Highlight, Shia based a short film off of the song collaboration between Kid Cudi and Cage, “Maniac.” It features the rappers speaking French and doing some gruesome things as they play two serial killers being willingly followed by a documentary film crew. It’s got the same biting snark and gore of early Tarantino films, and like Tarantino, LaBeouf steps on camera for only a minute to take a small and grotesquely memorable role.

Kid Cudi

“Marijuana”

Shia also directed the “Marijuana” video for Cudi and the final product looks like a test of every Instagram filter. It’s a simple video featuring Cudi smoking a lot of weed at Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam (way to think outside the box, LaBeouf). Dig beneath the surface of both song and video, though, and you’ll see Cudi is actually no longer saving the last dance for Mary Jane and brought an enthusiastic Shia along to document it.

Sigur Rós

“Fjögur Píanó”

Last year, atmospheric and always ~2 artsy 4 u~ Icelandic band Sigur Rós released a 16 video series that accompanied their album Valtari. This time, rather than directing the music video, Shia starred in the Alma Har’el clip for “Fjögur Píanó” alongside Denna Thomsen as a tormented couple. There’s interpretive dancing, cross-dressing, nudity, and lots of butterflies. Though it feels like an inaccessible artistic exploration at first, the video has an oddly compelling tone and Shia is captivating when scored by the piano-driven track.

Future Unlimited

“Haunted Love”

The aforementioned video that made us think back on all Shia’s strange and varied history with music is for Future Unlimited, a duo from Nashville. There are quite a few things happening in the video and all of them are terrifying. Starring LaBeouf’s current girlfriend and Nymphomaniac castmate Mia Goth, “Haunted Love” scores a Southern gothic nightmare involving a baby on fire, poison, one-armed interpretive dancing (looks like he became inspired after his project with Sigur), and a ridiculous amount of blood. We told you “I Never Knew You” was the tip of an iceberg of horror and this is proven not even a minute into the video.

Rob Cantor

“Actual Cannibal Shia LaBeouf”

Shia did not direct the video for or write this song. Rob Cantor of Tally Hall blessed Tumblr users everywhere by creating the most inescapable meme on the blog last year. “Actual Cannibal Shia LaBeouf” details an encounter with a flesh-eating Shia and doesn’t seem like a departure from the actor/director/singer/#rapgamechanger’s current visual trajectory in music. Beyond that, the track may be the most ridiculous Shia related moment since Indiana Jones 4. (OH SNAP)

Awards and nominations

Year Award Nominated work Result
2000 Young Star Award for Best Young Actor in a Comedy Series Even Stevens Nominated
2001 Young Artist Award for Outstanding Performance in a TV Comedy Series: Leading Young Actor Even Stevens Nominated
2003 Emmy Award for Outstanding Performer in a Children’s Series Even Stevens Won
2004 MTV Movie Award Best Breakthrough Male Performance Holes Nominated
2004 Young Artist Award for Best Performance in a Feature Film – Leading Young Actor Holes Nominated
2007 Teen Choice Award for Choice Movie Breakout Male Disturbia Won
2007 Teen Choice Award for Choice Movie: Chemeistry (shared with Bumblebee) Transformers Nominated
2007 Teen Choice Award for Choice Movie: Liplock (shared with Megan Fox) Transformers Nominated
2007 Teen Choice Award for Choice Movie: Horror/Thriller Actor Disturbia Won
2008 BAFTA Orange Rising Star Award Won
2008 MTV Movie Award for Best Male Performance Transformers Nominated
2008 MTV Movie Award for Best Kiss (shared with Sarah Roemer) Disturbia Nominated
2009 MTV Movie Award for Best Male Performance Eagle Eye Nominated
2009 Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Screen Couple (shared with Megan Fox) Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen Nominated
2010 Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Award for Favorite Movie Actor Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen Nominated
2011 Teen Choice Award for Choice Summer: Movie Actor Transformers: Dark of the Moon Nominated
2011 Teen Choice Award for Choice Movie: Actor Drama Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps Nominated
2011 Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Screen Couple (shared with Rosie Huntington-Whiteley) Transformers: Dark of the Moon Nominated
2011 Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Ensemble (shared with the cast) Transformers: Dark of the Moon Nominated

Sources:  Alternative PressGoogle, Village Voice, Wikipedia, YouTube