Asked if he hooked up with Fox, LaBeouf nods affirmatively. "Look, you're on the set for six months, with someone who's rooting to be attracted to you, and you're rooting to be attracted to them," he explains. "I never understood the separation of work and life in that situation. But the time I spent with Megan was our own thing, and I think you can see the chemistry onscreen." When I inquire about Fox's status at the time with her longtime boyfriend, Brian Austin Green, LaBeouf replies, "I don't know, man. I don't know. I don't know. I don't know. . . ."—repeating the phrase exactly 12 times with various intonations, as if trying to get it just right. Finally, he says, "It was what it was."

• • •

Whatever audiences think of Dark of the Moon—which LaBeouf swears is by far the best of the three Transformers films—the actor is plainly relieved to have fulfilled his commitment. Not that it isn't a comfortable existence, being one of the most reliable earners in Hollywood—last year he topped Forbes' "Best Actors for the Buck" list, which means his asking price of $15 million per film is considered a bargain. But LaBeouf, who also starred in Disturbia and Eagle Eye, isn't in it for the money. After a number of well-compensated roles that did little to showcase his talent, he is aware that he still has plenty to prove. "I am trying to impress myself," LaBeouf says. "I have yet to do it."

As a result, he's gotten choosy. He says he's done with the action genre. Not only did he walk away while in talks for The Bourne Legacy and Rise of the Planet of the Apes, he says he lost interest during negotiations to appear in Oscar bait like 127 Hours and The Social Network. While they were all fine movies, he says, "I'm looking for Warren Beatty—type game changers."

The independently financed Wettest County just might be one. "Shia was always first on the set, and he treated the crew with incredible respect," Hillcoat recalls. "It can be hard to keep your bearings, especially at that age with that kind of access to money, but he's remained very decent." As an actor, Hillcoat adds, LaBeouf reminds him of a young De Niro. "He has amazing depths of emotion and heart and curiosity. There's a real masculine power to him, but he can play vulnerable, warmer, emotional aspects of himself."

With that film wrapped, LaBeouf is considering a number of projects but hasn't committed to any. All of them have one thing in common: They won't pay him anything close to $15 million. I ask him what his agent, CAA president Richard Lovett, thinks of his leaving all those chips on the table. "Oh, I'm the villain now, for sure," LaBeouf says. "But I mean, I don't give a fuck. At this point I have enough money to live 25 lifetimes. You couldn't spend the money I've accrued now. I have no interest in the materialistic bullshit money can buy."

Having grown up poor, LaBeouf says he feels "real shame" about the wealth he's acquired. He has no assistant, no driver. He bought his house, in a low-key part of town, for about $1 million. LaBeouf remembers his Wettest County costars Clarke and Hardy discussing sports cars. "They're talking about Ferraris and shit, like it's a cool car. If Clarke pulled up in a Ferrari right now, my idea wouldn't be, 'What a cool fucking guy!' It would be, 'Look at this clown.' I think the fact that I despise that stuff keeps me safe," he adds with a smile. "I hang on to my dirt. I like my dirt."