There’s a famous, though embellished, story about classically trained actor Laurence Olivier and method actor Dustin Hoffman on the set of Marathon Man. According to the legend, Olivier asked Hoffman why he looked so tired on the set one morning, and Hoffman explained that he had stayed up the whole night in order to properly play a character who had stayed up all night. As a joke, Olivier replied something to the effect of, “Why not try acting? It’s much easier.”
While Hoffman has since revealed that the story had become a bit embellished, it does strike at one of the common gripes about method acting: the idea that it’s not really considered acting to those who believe that when you’re actually doing something you’re not utilizing any acting ability. But don’t tell that to Shia LaBeouf, who has turned from the dorky kid from Even Stevens to a mature adult actor.
In an interview with USA Today, LaBeouf explains everything he has tried to do in his recent career in order to gain respect as an actor.
Like Hoffman, LaBeouf has full immersed himself in his recent roles. Despite having some legal troubles relating to alcohol, LaBeouf drank the actual moonshine his character makes in Lawless on set to get himself in the proper mindset of the role. He also admits to taking acid himself before starring as a character on acid in The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman, set to be released next year. He explains, “There’s a way to do an acid trip like Harold & Kumar, and there’s a way to be on acid. What I know of acting, Sean Penn actually strapped up to that (electric) chair in Dead Man Walking. These are the guys that I look up to.” Recently he even declared that for Nymphomaniac, the next film from Lars von Trier, he is totally willing to have actual sex on screen. While he doesn’t call himself a method actor, LaBeouf refers to his preparation as “Method-like.”
Because of that, LaBeouf admits that he’s not willing to do just about anything. He explains, “There are rules. I have ethics, I’m not completely out of my mind.” For example, he would not film the sex scenes on Nymphomaniac without speaking with his girlfriend about the film first. However, he doesn’t see it as such a big deal, saying, “But I don’t think there’s anything wrong with sex. Sex is beautiful if it’s done right. And I wouldn’t just do it for no reason. … Sex is different than love, and there is a separation, and that middle gap is what the movie’s about.”
The reason LaBeouf is willing to go to these lengths is because of respect. Despite his fame and the huge paychecks he accumulated from starring in blockbusters like the Transformers franchise, LaBeouf swears he would give it all up in order to be respected as an actor. He admits, “If I could give the money back and get all the credibility in the world that I’m seeking, I would do it tomorrow. In a heartbeat.”
However, LaBeouf is still learning how to become that credible actor he aspires to be. He recalls an experience during filming The Company You Keep with director/star Robert Redford, revealing, “I wound up getting into a bar fight. I have to go to work the next day with (Redford) and Stanley Tucci. And I need to get my confidence back. And now I’m sitting in front of legends, and I feel like a (jerk). And Bob goes, ‘Come with me.’ And he shows me scenes that we had been shooting. And then he goes, ‘Listen to me. The only thing that matters is the work, kid.’ And that was it.” He also admits forgoing the big paychecks from blockbusters in order to work for “free.” On that he admits, “I’ll probably try to repeat this year for the next 10 years,” adding that he aspires to only take roles, “where literally the viewer is like, ‘Really? He’s doing that?’ That’s what I want.”
While it’s certainly admirable that LaBeouf wants to be taken seriously as actor, he should remember that respect is earned in this profession. Robert DeNiro putting on weight for Raging Bull or Christian Bale losing it for The Machinist are both remarkable, but there is much more to a role that the physical aspect of it and both men are admired for much more than just physical transformations. Perhaps if LaBeouf wants to be taken seriously as actor he could start by taking Olivier’s classic advice!