May 19, 2020
Shia LaBeouf Was a Mess — and a New Friend Changed Everything
2016, I went to visit America for the first time. While at LAX Airport, I bumped into a person who looked like Shia LaBeouf.
Something seemed off. Although the resemblance was similar, I was convinced it wasn’t him. This guy at the airport was ordering a juice and lined up in the economy line for his flight. He was wearing a headband and a 1980s tennis outfit, with a huge tennis bag on his shoulder. The retro look was completely out of place and strange.
My curiosity got the better of me and I Googled Shia to see what he was up to. There were reports that Shia was going around everywhere in a tennis outfit as he was preparing to star in a movie called Borg vs. McEnroe, which was about a famous tennis match. Apparently, Shia really loved to get into his character’s heads, and dressing like them in everyday life was part of his ritual for preparing to film a movie.
I sat a few seats away from Shia and admired his work. As an early fan of his work in Transformers, it seemed surreal to be so close to him. The happy story ends there as I didn’t work up the courage to talk to him out of the fear I would spoil this perfect moment and the public would jump all over him once they knew it was him.
Ruining Shia LaBeouf’s day seemed like a bad idea.
After seeing Shia at the airport, I began, as time passed, to dislike him. Stories of his past found their way to me and his present situation became an all too familiar Hollywood behind the scenes nightmare as a result of not knowing how to deal with success.
Shia had publicly become a drunk, he had been arrested several times, his ego was out of control, and he hooked up with Megan Fox which broke up her marriage. In one out of control incident, he showed up to The Berlin Film Festival with a paper bag on his head that read “I am not famous anymore.”
Things went from bad to worse. His acting career was done.
After Megan Fox left Hollywood behind, Shia says he “fell into bad habits.” These were the two subtle changes:
- He gave up his routine
- He started to drink alcohol regularly
It wasn’t only the Megan situation, but also pressure from his father. Growing up in poverty and watching his dad become a dealer after returning home from the Vietnam War was hard for him to watch. The flashbacks from the war would cause his father to lose control and put Shia in danger.
The escape from the madness, for Shia, was acting. His father wanted to be an actor and failed, so it was Shia’s chance to do what his father couldn’t.
Being on the film set was an escape and after the success of The Transformers Movie, Shia never really processed or understood what his father had gone through. Blocking out the past was the decision he unconsciously made.
It became apparent to Shia later on that he was desperate for his dad to like him. Getting arrested was just a way for him to understand what it was like for his father to spend time in prison.
Watching Shia’s public escapades after returning from America was overwhelming. Suddenly, I didn’t want to watch his movies anymore or be inspired by him.
His Life Was About to Change and He Had No Idea
Filming a movie called “The Peanut Butter Falcon” allowed Shia to be introduced to his co-star Zack Gottsagen who was born with down syndrome.
I stumbled across this movie in 2019, not knowing Shia was in it, and it took me by complete surprise. You could see the new friendship between Zack and Shia was real while you were watching the movie.
This was Zack’s big acting break and Shia’s behavior at the time was about to ruin all of that.
“That was just much bigger than me. I felt quite overwhelmed.”
Shia still couldn’t escape his troubled past and being arrested jeopardized the filming of the movie that Zack had waited his whole life to star in.
“I had no humility,” says Shia.“The world had been handed to me on a silver platter.” “I did not know why.” He burned all of his bridges and was on a dark path. No one was talking to him. Meanwhile, Zack’s dreams of stardom were put at risk by Shia’s selfish behavior.
“I was mad. Angry. Frustrated. I was worried about Shia doing the wrong things, being out in the middle of the night.” — Zack Gottsagen
There were two options: Get clean or self-destruct. Zack decided to help Shia get into rehab.
“[When] you hit the wall enough, you start reflecting.” “Sort of like [a] flashlight to your soul,” says Shia.
The whole way through rehab, Zack was there for Shia and helped him shed his old self so he could become somebody new. “He softened me,” says Shia.
This softening, as Shia describes it, led him to a previously inconceivable realization: he was fine to kill his own acting dream and burn it to the ground, but he couldn’t bring himself to do that to Zack’s once in a lifetime opportunity. Who could?
Zack managed to get through to Shia with his unconventional approach to life. Shia describes Zack as greeting the world with arms wide open and an open heart. “Everybody starts at a hundred with him.”
This view of the world caused Shia to act differently and be more like his new friend. It was beautiful to watch the movie and then see the message from the film play out in real life.
It’s incredibly rare for the characters in a Hollywood movie to become those characters in real life.
I have never seen anything like it. “It’s the small, simple things that change the world” is the way Shia describes the impact this friendship had on his life.
On February 9, 2020, Zack made Academy Awards show history by becoming the first person with Down Syndrome to present the Best Live Action Short Film with his Peanut Butter Falcon co-star Shia LaBeouf. He received a standing ovation.
Friendship helped Shia add more meaning to his life. That extra meaning took his life from a mess to an opportunity to do great things in the future. I’ll be watching from afar to see how far he can come.
Unlikely friendships change your life if you allow them in. Connections with others can lift you up and take you to new places. When your life has the power to positively impact another’s, you’re forever changed.