Working actors are generally either enigmas or exhibitionists. Usually the good ones are the former and the bad ones the latter. But if you want to propel yourself from noteworthiness to superstardom, you have no choice but to sacrifice some of your mystery for relatability. George Clooney did this with his ring-a-ding-ding boys' club; Tom Cruise does it by styling himself the village elder of Hollywood Mr. Propriety. Demigods of the public imagination onscreen and in life, these actors are insulated from the damage that a few lackluster films or even a box-office bomb can do. "There's a form of selling out," LaBeouf says. "It's necessary. You have to become edible for people in Texas. You have to become edible for the Christian right, for mass audiences." Right now, he's doing that two ways: by joining up with two tent-pole franchises Transformers and Indy and by micromanaging his own palatability. Being a 22-year-old kid, though, he sometimes runs into image-management problems.
Over a three-month period in the past year, LaBeouf got into a series of entanglements with the law. Last November, he walked into a Chicago Walgreens to buy cigarettes, had a drunken argument with a security guard, and was arrested for trespassing after refusing to leave the store. In February, he was cited for smoking a cigarette on public property in Burbank, California. A few weeks later an arrest warrant was issued when he failed to appear in court for that charge. "I don't ever remember getting arrested sober. I was always arrested drunk," he says. "It's when I'm drinking that I don't have the wherewithal to be able to realize the position of my life. There's too much at stake for me to throw it away. I enjoy what I'm able to give my family. I enjoy the people that I'm able to wake up and work with. And I don't want to throw away what I've worked so hard for 12 years to achieve, based on an argument that takes place in 20 minutes." By the time LaBeouf lit out on the Indiana Jones promotional tour in the spring, the mini-scandals were regularly being used by reporters as segues into questions about his upbringing.
LaBeouf on his childhood fascination with the Indiana Jones franchise
An only child, LaBeouf grew up poor in Echo Park, then a working-class Latino neighborhood in L.A. "None of my friends were ever as broke as I was," he says. "That's not some dramatic spinning of a tale my uncle was going to adopt me at one point because my parents couldn't afford to have me anymore. They had too much pride to go on welfare or food stamps."