If you ever have reason to meet Shia LaBeouf, you should be prepared to be addressed as "boss." Or "bro," or "man," or "baby," or possibly "son," depending on how much you know about hip-hop. "Hey, boss," LaBeouf says to the guy behind the counter at a Santa Monica restaurant one afternoon in late May, "is it cool if we just get a couple of coffees and sit outside?"
It's hard to tell whether the waiter recognizes him. LaBeouf is doing reshoots for this month's Eagle Eye, directed by D.J. Caruso it's a highbrow thriller about two Americans framed as political assassins by a terrorist cell so he has a little more scruff than usual, and with his cap pulled down far enough he could be any underemployed L.A. actor getting his caffeine fix. He's wearing skinnyish black jeans, a threadbare Emerson, Lake & Palmer T-shirt, and beat-up brown Nike Cortezes. His girlish eyelashes, cheeks, and mouth are obscured by the beard and the cap, which makes him look older than he does in the YouTube video that made the rounds in the spring the one of him drunkenly calling his friend a "faggot" and begging to be slapped in the face. But LaBeouf's swagger the "boss"ing and "man"ing suggests fresh confidence, the kind that comes from having recently had your name attached to two blockbuster franchises. It also suggests some defensiveness. That "faggot" video, plus a misdemeanor arrest and a few other glancing blows this year to his still-developing image, has made him zip himself up a little tighter. While once he publicly joked about his regrettable movie choices, like Dumber and Dumberer, and break-danced with abandon for Craig Kilborn, LaBeouf is more inhibited now, more likely to use terms like role model.
LaBeouf in the trailer for Eagle Eye, due in theaters September 26, 2008
Since his first major part, in Disney's 2003 sleeper hit Holes, LaBeouf, 22, has been in some very big movies. Last summer's Transformers grossed $700 million worldwide, and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull may whip-crack past that. He's also been in some smaller movies that outperformed expectations last year's teen thriller Disturbia made more than five times its $20 million budget at the box office. But he hasn't really been the focal point of a big movie until now. Much as Disturbia recalled Rear Window, Eagle Eye, in which LaBeouf stars opposite Michelle Monaghan, brings North by Northwest into the age of the Patriot Act. LaBeouf, who cold-called his first agent at the age of 12 and promptly nailed an audition with a Disney casting director, leans heavily on his swagger to downplay the pressure of doing a movie with a $100 million-plus budget that is executive-produced by Steven Spielberg who has reportedly called him a young Tom Hanks. "I never chose to do this because there was meaning in it or I was talented or gave a shit about acting," LaBeouf says. "I got into this because I was broke."