Shia LaBeouf has come a long way since starring in the Disney Channel kiddie series Even Stevens as a teenager a decade ago. He crossed over to the big screen with a $70 million hit called Holes back in 2003, providing an appealing Everykid performance at the center of the rare kind of kid film that was entertaining for adults as well.
Since then, he’s made an unbroken string of smart commercial moves, jumping from one blockbuster project to another as the star of films including Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Crystal Skull and the Transformers series. But despite solid performances and an all-American charisma that has led Vanity Fair magazine to call him the new Tom Hanks, he’s never really made a critically acclaimed film with more excitement in the writing than the visual effects.
Now, however, he’s made that move to working with world-class filmmakers on a smart project, as he’s taken the lead in the new film Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps [click here to see our review].
Speaking about the new film recently, LaBeouf described his role and what it was like to work with two icons of the modern cinema: Michael Douglas (who won an Oscar for his portrayal of Gordon Gekko in the first Wall Street), and writer-director Oliver Stone.
What drew you to this project?
LaBeouf: It was Oliver Stone. I wasn’t even told it was Wall Street—it was, “Oliver Stone’s making a movie and would [you] like to be involved?” I was like “What?” So I went over to meet with him but was never told it was this. He explained it to me, and I would have done anything to work on any movie with him.
Did you know much about the wheelings and dealings of the financial world prior to taking on the role, and what kind of research did you do?
LaBeouf: I knew nothing about the economy. I knew nothing about math, really.
Where does your character, Jake, come from before hitting Wall Street?
LaBeouf: Jake is a guy who came from nothing, scraps on Long Island. No father, he’s nonexistent, mother who’s as obsessed with greed as Gekko was, just in a very different way. She’s a real estate agent in the middle of the subprime mortgage meltdown. Jake went to Fordham and has an incredible mind in terms of money, the economy and business.
Do you feel like this is your big move into meaningful films?
LaBeouf: This is the first movie I made that feels that way. I’m usually running from aliens, or tagging along with Indiana Jones, things like that. Getting involved in something like this that’s a very tangible problem, and the solution’s not easily explainable. You’re making a movie about a problem many people can’t describe and can’t find a solution for, and it just feels very important.
What was Michael Douglas like to work with?
LaBeouf: Douglas’ lifestyle—he still lives that sexy life, he’s that smooth character. If there’s one way to describe Michael, it’s that he’s super super smooth.
Yet Gekko is one of the biggest, most iconic villains in movie history. Was it intimidating to work with the man behind that character?
LaBeouf: Outrageously so! It’s one thing to look Michael Douglas in the eye, but to look Gordon Gekko in the eye with Oliver Stone behind the camera is a surreal, out-of-body experience for the first couple takes. The first couple times we did scene work with Michael, you’ve gotta get all that past you. At the same time, Jake does look up to Gordon Gekko a la me looking up to Michael, so some of that stuff helped—he is an intimidating person but also very warm and welcoming to me personally.
And how about Oliver?
LaBeouf: Oliver was way harder on me than Michael was, [especially] at the beginning. Oliver is a Rhodes Scholar, a real genius. I never met anyone before in my life who knows everything about everything.