Too Shy Shia? Not really. Paul Byrne talks to the very self-assured Shia LaBeouf, star of Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.
Despite the fact that he’s the leading man in perhaps cinema’s most blazingly disposable blockbuster franchise of all time – Michael Bay’s bombastic Transformers outings – Shia LaBeouf is clearly in this game for the long haul.
Having struggled through a difficult childhood – at one point living in a car with his drug-addicted father – LaBeouf knows the true value of his success. And the importance of aiming for longevity in a career as opposed to the flash, bang, wallop of the hard sell and the easy buck.
So, alongside playing teenage Metal Mickey saviour Sam Witwicky in the Transformers outings, LaBeouf has also given us the far more rewarding Rear Window update Disturbia and the clever CGI cartoon Surf’s Up – as well as a bunch of well-intended if not well-executed dramas, such as A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints, Emilio Estevez’s Bobby and New York, I Love You. Oh, and Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull, an unashamedly old-fashioned and much-maligned resurrection of the much-loved franchise.
“The main thing is, I’ve been lucky enough to make all kinds of movies,” says the Los Angeles-born 24-year old. “Especially in the last few years, when the opportunities just became ridiculous. I mean, you get to make an Indiana Jones movie with Harrison Ford, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg? How could you not want to do something like that. But the darker stuff is important to me. The Wall Street movie kinda satisfies both that mainstream kick and that darker kick. Which made it especially fun to make…”
Having opened strongly in the US recently (giving director Oliver Stone his best opening weekend ever there), it would seem the world is ready for the return of corporate raider Gordon Gecko (Michael Douglas, back in the role that won him an Oscar in 1987), this time taking wide-eyed protege Jake Moore (LaBeouf) under his wing. Which is just as well, given that Moore and Gecko’s daughter, Winnie (Carey Mulligan), are an item. Set during the 2008 economic crisis, Stone plays it bright and breezy. Which makes the skulduggery all the darker when the dealer finally shows his hand.
PAUL BYRNE: A lot of people will be expecting more than a little finger-wagging from Oliver Stone here, but this movie clearly sets out more to entertain than educate…
SHIA LABEOUF: It’s the spoonful of sugar approach, definitely. Also, people don’t need to be told that these people are corrupt – there are corpses all over the news that prove that. Enron, Bernie Madoff, all those guys. This is still Gordon Gecko’s world, and you know he’s not going to roll over and play dead. He’s still the top dog, and he’s going to use every situation – good or bad – to his advantage.
Did you feel the need to research Wall Street?
I knew quite a bit about that world already, thanks to this great big recession we’re going through, and the banking crisis, so, I didn’t feel I was totally ignorant of what goes on here. I was happy to throw myself into that world though, and I did pretty well, actually. It’s a form of gambling, and the more you know about the game, the better your chances are of making some money. And these guys know everything about the game, pretty much. Once you get into that frame of mind, it’s amazing how easy it is to make money. And how addictive it can become.
You gained more than market savvy with this movie though; you gained a girlfriend too, in the comely shape of British Oscar nominee Carey Mulligan. Did that make your jobs easier or harder?
It makes it easier, full stop, when you like the person you’re working with. When you’ve got to pretend on screen that you’re dating them, and off-screen you actually are, that’s obviously going to make your job that much easier. But working with someone like Carey, or Michael, or Josh Brolin, Eli Wallach, Susan Sarandon, Frank Langella, that’s what makes your job easy. These are all people that are so good at what they do, they make anyone acting opposite them look good. And raise their game.
Money does indeed never sleep, but, for quite a few people out there today, it seems to be resting. How did being where so much making money is, for many, just a game when in the real world people are losing their homes for the lack of it?
It’s a cruel truth that money makes the world go round, and I’ve been on both ends of the spectrum. I am very, very aware of the value of everything I’ve got, and I would never take money for granted. When you’ve slept in your car, and you’ve gone out there to scrape just enough money so you can eat, I don’t think you could ever be flippant about these things. So, even though I was surrounded by all this dealing, even though I was in the lion’s den, I was still very much aware of the big bad world outside those walls.
You strike me as someone who’ll always find a way. During those difficult years, living on the streets with your dad, you even turned to – gulp! – stand-up comedy to make ends meet…
Hey, a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do. Or a boy, as the case happened to be at the time. Dad was in no fit state to go out there and earn some money, and so I thought it would be wise to come up with something that didn’t pay the minimum wage, and that didn’t involved sitting at a desk from nine till five. I still feel that way about work, you know. Sometimes, you’re on set far, far longer than nine-to-five, but the pay is far from minimum wage.
And you enjoy the work too, right?
Absolutely. This is a dream. At first, it was just fun, and a great way to pay the rent, but I gradually realised that there’s an art to this, and if I try, I can do it well. I shouldn’t say I realised that, because it was really more a case of my being taught that lesson, by Jon Voight, when we made Holes together. He just became a real mentor to me, and his wisdom, his years of experience, just gave me a whole new perspective on what I’m doing. I’ve always tried to do the best job I possibly can in every movie since, whether I’m entering into the murky world of Wall Street or battling giant robots. It’s all real to me, so it can be real for the audience…
Words – Paul Byrne
WALL STREET – MONEY NEVER SLEEPS is now showing in Irish cinemas