LaBeouf doesn't want to change simply to protect his image. He's discussed this at length with Harrison Ford, Gary Oldman, and John Malkovich, not to mention his father. "You should hear how they were living at 24. Everybody's got stories. I don't want to not have stories." Plus, there's an upside to posing for the occasional mug shot. "I've noticed that since this 'wild child' shit has been posted on my head," he says, "people seem a little more respectful."

• • •

El Compadre, the "Home of the Flaming Margaritas," is a Mexican cantina on Sunset with big Diego Rivera—style murals on the walls and plastic papel picado banners strung from the ceiling. It's late afternoon, and over a few Dos Equis, LaBeouf proceeds to offer up so many noteworthy yarns—his near blinding when a spike punctured his eye socket while he was filming Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (after 20 stitches, he returned to the set and "they shot from the other side," he says); his ill-fated sushi dinner with Hilary Duff ("probably the worst date either of us has ever had"); his backstage throwdown with Tom Hardy after a joke gone awry ("He never did that roughhouse stuff with me again")—that I suggest he write a book.

He laughs. "Nah, dude. People write books about important shit."

LaBeouf places a premium on honesty, which is why when he's asked about a movie he's appeared in, or his place in the business, or whether he's hooked up with Megan Fox (i.e., traveled to the Hottest County in the World), he tends to offer a forthright reply.

"He will say what he feels, almost too much so," notes Wettest County director Hillcoat. "He wears his heart on his sleeve, and it can sometimes blow back. But it's the same thing that also lets him access the truth of his emotions."

Such truth telling hasn't always amused his colleagues. After being anointed by Steven Spielberg, LaBeouf gave a lukewarm review to Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull, blaming himself as well as the legendary filmmaker for its failings ("When you drop the ball, you drop the ball," he said at the time). "I got lambasted for that, and understandably so," he says, smiling. "Because you can't be an actor and be honest—that's crazy!" Although LaBeouf tells me that Harrison Ford privately applauded his outspokenness, Ford recalls the conversation differently. "I think I told him he was a fucking idiot," the famously reticent star says. "As an actor, I think it's my obligation to support the film without making a complete ass of myself. Shia is ambitious, attentive, and talented—and he's learning how to deal with a situation which is very unique and difficult."

LaBeouf is also critical of last year's Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. While effusively praising the performances, story line, and cinematography, he says the problem was Oliver Stone's sentimentality. "He's trying to play nice. But for a movie like Wall Street that had so much bite the first time around to come out without fangs and preach a message of hope wasn't what people were looking for."

He also gave an emphatic thumbs-down to Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. "We were flying by the seat of our pants, with an unlimited budget," he says now, noting that they'd begun shooting without a finished script. "None of us had any clue what we were doing."

Worse, the franchise's coanchor, Megan Fox, had undergone something of a feminist awakening. Embodying the Eye Candy of the Apocalypse no longer felt like a worthy endeavor. "She felt like a prostitute," LaBeouf says. Fox quit her role in May 2010 after a dustup with the director, Michael Bay, and was replaced by the lingerie model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley for the third movie.