The GQA: The Uncensored Brilliance of Shia LaBeouf

Written by Siobhan on May 23 2021

The star of Transformers: Dark of the Moon gets exceptionally candid on his violent, contentious, and ultimately tender relationship with director Michael Bay, the Megan Fox feud, and the intergalactic robot franchise’s biggest failure.

GQ: How did you first meet Michael Bay?

**Shia LaBeouf: **I did a screen test and they sent my dailies to Michael, and Michael asked to meet with me. I still hadn’t met Steven at this point. I went and sat down with Michael; he had me read these really generic lines for what seemed like a stand-up routine; the character was—it was a neurotic monologue. And then he asked me to ad-lib my own separate monologue on the tail end of it and then combine the two of them, and then run in this parking lot and do the monologue, and then run up the stairs and do the monologue, and then do push-ups and do the monologue. Stuff like that—I mean literally, literally, literally. And then we went downstairs, and we talked about my upbringing and all that, and my family. We started talking about the stand-up routine and then he asked me to do some of my stand-up routine for him, which I did.

Not long after that—maybe a week later—I was still shooting Disturbia, that tape had gone to Steven and he had signed off, and Michael said that he had signed off, and they were working on my deal. Michael told me there was a guy in London who, if I didn’t sign up for, you know, a rebated deal [would replace me]. My whole thing was I wanted to work with Michael, because first and foremost, I’m a true fan of Mike’s movies. There’s not one movie he’s made that I’m not entertained by—not one. Not one where I don’t watch the entire thing all the way through. And there are a lot of movies I can’t get through. If there’s anything to say about Michael: he makes entertaining films. He knows his audience. When I met Mike, I was a seventeen-year-old boy. He was my fucking god.

And meeting him in person was a very different thing; he’s not at all this alpha male, this machismo legend shit—he’s not any of these things. When he’s on set, he’s different; when he’s on set, he’s a leader, a general; he’s relentless. He’s precise and he’s specific and he’s determined; he’s outrageously committed. He never flinches in a firefight. He’s always there for you; when the going gets tough, he never flinches. He’s helpful; he’s confident; he’s a risk-taker. But he’s also completely unreasonable and irrational sometimes and emotional and aggressive and demanding. He’s my coach; I love him; he’s my captain. When we’re on set, he’s my ace. He’s my best friend, but he’s also my worst enemy. He’s blunt with women; he lacks tact—especially on the stage that we’re on, there’s no time or room for talking around feelings. Sometimes it does have to be blunt. And Mike is good at that. He’s very goal-oriented; he’s motivated. He’s smart as fuck. He knows exactly what he wants; he understands his audience. I think the dude is a genius; I think he’s a visionary. He’s the greatest action director in film, I think. I’m proud that I’ve been able to work with him. You know what he is? New York. If you can make it on a Bay set, you can make it on any set. He’s really good.

GQ: What was your reaction the first time you were on set with him and he had the megaphone out and he began yelling?

**Shia LaBeouf: **Well, I mean, I’d just come from D.J. Caruso, who’s a very—while also as enthusiastic and committed and dedicated, he’s just not as blunt. He doesn’t have that real leadership. Michael walks around like an undefeated fighter. The first day I came to set, the first thing I was asked to do was run away from a pitbull/mastiff/Doberman combo, that was supposed to run at me, towards camera, and then run into this dog trainer’s arms. And I had just flown in from Disturbia; I was still filming that and came in for this one shot. And Mike said, “Okay, you’re going to go over there.” I’d never worked with this dude before. And when I came to see him on set, he had a different look in his eye. And I would come to know this Michael Bay over the next six years, but at this point in time—day one—I didn’t know shit.

And so I go over to the start mark and he yells action and these dogs chase after me. In my mind, I see the dog trainer; I’m thinking these are trained dogs. There’s no way he’s going to make me run around with dogs that aren’t trained. But, surprise surprise, these dogs have never done a fucking movie before. They were attack dogs from a retired police academy, and so they were trained to attack people. I guess this dude was like a retired cop who was like the dog guy; basically he recycled a bunch of dogs that were in the academy and then took them on his own little expedition to Hollywood and met me, and the dogs didn’t stop for him. They had no respect for him and they just wanted to eat my face.

So literally I just ran around set, and I remember all the crew—this is my first shot, first take—all the crew was throwing chairs at the dog, trying to distract these dogs who were on my tail and relentless and not going to stop. And I remember them finally corralling the dogs and looking over at Mike, who’s just giggling. Just fucking giggling. Giggling. And every director I worked with to that point wouldn’t have been giggling—here’s the star of his movie about to be mauled to death, day one, and Mike is just giggling. But when I would come in there later in life and the pedal was really to the metal—I’d really taken losses, physically—I’ve seen Mike drop to his knees and cry, to the floor. I’ve seen a different side of Michael Bay that, I guess, the legend doesn’t entail.

GQ: Can you give me an example of that?

**Shia LaBeouf: **Yeah, I remember, we were in Alamogordo and I’d just come back from mangling my hand in a car accident. I was like, four weeks in and we’re doing all right, and we’re now in Alamogordo, New Mexico, and I’m supposed to stab this spear into Optimus’s chest—which is a big blue mound on the floor. It was angular, because it’s supposed to look like a robotic chest. It was kind of moist in the middle of the desert, because the morning in the desert’s cold as shit and it’s very moist, actually—there’s a moisture out there. And the moisture was all over this blue tarp, and I kept slipping and sliding; I guess we did one take where I slipped and the spear went into my eye about three inches above my retina. And this purple liquid started dripping down my face. And I remember Michael running over—I’m next to this Marine, who’s an EMT actually, and he’s in the scene. But he’s also a trained EMT who’d just come back from Afghanistan.Most Popular

I remember him saying to me when Mike ran up next to him: “It’s purple, good. Thank god.” And Mike said, “Why is it good that it’s purple?” He’s freaking out like Sam, that Sam neurosis. He’s tripping and asking the guys: “Why is it good that it’s purple?” And the guy said, “If it was red, it means the moisture out of his popped eyeball would have mid in with the purple blood, because blood comes out purple when it first comes out. If the milky residue in that eye had mid with the purple, it would have come out red.” And that means I hadn’t popped my eyeball, and there’s too much blood to be able to decide whether it was in my eyeball or not, but made a decision based on the blood that was seeping out of my face—and I don’t know what’s going on. All I see is a purple film’s over my eye, my right eye, part of my vision, and my other vision is fine. I look at Mike, and Mike drops to his knees and puts his hands over his eyes and starts crying with the megaphone next to him. And that’s when you know the dude loves you.

He’s never going to come over and tap you on the back or give you a hug or say good morning to you—unless we’re off work. But when we’re at work, there’s no huggy, kissy shit. He’s a boss. He’s General Patton-like, and his affections are minimal, but the only time I felt, at least, his affection at work, was when I would take damage. Then he would really care, and I remember towards the end of the film run, he wouldn’t let me do a lot of the stunts he used to let me do. It was interesting. Because he became protective, parental. His maturation is taking him closer to the dude who belongs in a family, and I can see it reflected on me. That protectionist thing that he has in him—the man is a good man, but when he’s on set, he can’t allude to that. He’s got to be a motherfucker. Because there’s 90 people marching to the beat of his drum, and there can’t be any indecision. He has to look like the smartest shark in the water. Otherwise, people are going to follow him into the fire. And so it’s a character that Mike puts on; he’s very smart, and you need that guy to make these movies.

GQ: He described you guys as having a big-brother, little-brother relationship. Accurate?

**Shia LaBeouf: **Yes.

GQ: But he did tell me that you had one blow-up where you yelled at him on III. He was surprised about it—can you tell me about that a little bit?

**Shia LaBeouf: **Uh, I mean one Mike would tell you about was when I was—the first time—I’m a pretty explicit character, as is Mike, and I’d never met a director like him, and he’d never met an actor like me. When we got to the set—I met him when I was 18, so I didn’t have a whole lot of ground to stand on. My leverage was nil to none, and I was this new rookie who was in the middle of the Michael Bay Show trying to anchor it—in truth. And some of the shit he was asking me to do was asinine, and I would tell him, and he’d be baffled that this eighteen-year-old had the gall to step in front of Mike Bay, the master, on his set in his domain and say: No. So that got old really quick for Mike.Most Popular

I remember one time—and Jon Voight was there; if you talk to him, he can attest to it—and Duhamel was there, and Tyrese was there, and Megan was there. We were all in the middle of a like, sundry, like where we’re stashing weapons and a weapons shoot. And I think I had a problem with some—I forget what it was; it was superfluous at the time, but I remember, they just add up. You spend seven months with a person screaming at you; toward the end, you’re like, “You know what? I’m going to fucking stab you.” So any little thing and you’re ready to fly off the handle, and I think I lost my cool one day with Mike on some dumb, dumb shit like who I was entering with. And Mike lost it as well, because he had had enough at that point as well, and we got to the point where it’s shirts and hands, fist to chest, screaming, spitting—we’re about to fight. And I remember Jon Voight struts in and puts his arms between—and Jon is the biggest man on set; he’s an older dude, but he’s still ripped, and he’s still big. I just remember the force of Voight’s palm pushing me back and pushing Mike back. That was one time when we almost came to blows.

And then on the second movie, he was nice to me. Because that was in the middle of my sort of physical catastrophe, like Quasimodo-ing my way through the movie, so he was nicer. And he had his own problems with Megan. Towards the third movie—there’s really heavy emotional lifting. That’s the thing about Mike, and that’s what makes him a great leader also—I think a major director attribute is that he’s willing to take risks. And he does it in segments—so like, in the third movie, he’d never dealt with this type of emotional—he’d never really dive in this hammer-on-the-nail sort of approach to the emotional shit that we’d have to do in this movie, like dealing with loss and things like that. And Mike’s dealt with loss in his own life, and so when he’s having us depict something that mirrors something in his life, it starts to get too close to home, and he starts feeling less leader and more vulnerable. He starts shutting down, and in those moments, I need him the most; that’s when I need him to be the fucking—he needs to be my rock in those moments, because I need to be vulnerable, and you can’t have two vulnerable people trying to make a movie at the same time. It’s impossible. You need a leader. And so if I have to crack and you have to guide me, then you need to be strong in those moments.

On III, I think we were dealing with something where we were shooting underneath a big spaceship in Cape Canaveral, and there were all these NASA people around this. I’m having to deal with the loss of Bumblebee; I’m losing my best friend in the whole world now to another planet, and I’m never going to see him again. In order to make that real for me sometimes, I need to mindfuck myself. And part of that is having a speaker on set with an iPod plugged in so I can conjure emotions. And some of the songs that I like to play—you know, like Feist—Mike’s not going to have it. Because he’s on his set and he’s surrounded by 90 masculine worker bees who’ve been with him for seven months trudging uphill, and surrounded around those people are military and NASA, and everybody’s looking at Mike, who’s now dealing with someone—it’s a very vulnerable subject matter—not only just what we’re dealing with, but also for him and his career. People take a lot of hits at Mike based on character, actor, storyline type topics. And they think he doesn’t have a good hold on those things.Most Popular

I read as much as the next fan—as does Mike—and you read all the negative as well, and most of the negative I see targeted at Mike is dealing with things like what we had to deal with in this moment. And here we are at NASA and I can feel him bubbling, and I’m playing my song and he finally says to me, “No, we’re not going to play that song.” And he puts on some orchestral Batman soundtrack shit—not for me, you know? Like maybe, “Yeah, Mike, if you want to sit here and cry at the loss of your best friend, then play that. But you’re not here right now; it’s me here and I need this and this is what it’s gotta be.” And now we’re arguing about the music choice for my scene that he’s involved in from a distance, but in this moment, it’s me and that music, and I can’t get over the idea that he won’t allow the idea to play this vulnerable shit that gets me there. He’s just playing the soundtrack, and it’s like—to me, I can’t get my head around it.

And so, you know, again—we start wrestling again. And then I get really bold with Mike, when I’m like that. He gets bold with me also, you know? And then he sort of backed off, and the cameras finished off what we needed to finish, and then he came back and shot the rest of the movie. It was probably the worst verbal argument I’ve ever had with any coworker in my life—under a spaceship, screaming at him: “You motherfucker!” All this insanity. Really crazy stuff that I don’t even feel comfortable repeating, actually. Really gnarly. And then you pull your pants back up and you get back to work. There’s nothing you can do. He’s my best friend at points, and my worst enemy at points.

GQ: That’s exactly how he described it. What did you take away from that, and how does that reflect on working with other directors in the future?

**Shia LaBeouf: **Oh, I’ll never meet a Michael Bay again. Here I’m am, I’m at the tail end of a John Hillcoat shoot. It’s a totally different animal. There are attributes to John I wish I could bestow to Mike and vice versa. There’s more sitting around here. That’s one thing I never had to do on a Mike Bay set, is sit around and pontificate about the next scene; there’s no time for it. You’re already in the next scene. You’re never in your trailer—you don’t have to conjure much, either. That’s the beauty of Mike: if there’s going to be an explosion that you have to react to, you don’t have to do much. He’s going to blow the whole fucking building up; you just gotta be around.

**GQ: You mentioned that he had his problems with Megan; obviously, you worked with Megan a lot on the first two films. Did you have a sense that things were worse on II than they were on the first film? **

**Shia LaBeouf: **Well, I got the idea that—basically, what I saw happening is: I saw two people getting very strong-willed—well, I saw—well, here’s what I saw: I saw one person who was a commanding officer—and there’d never been any mystery there—but I saw a movie come out and a person’s personality change in terms of the exposure and the explosive fame element, which changes people’s mindset. And then I saw a power wash over this person, and a strength that could have been taken in a positive way and instead was taken in a negative way. And she started shit-talking our captain. It’s one thing to say something that’s criticism, that’s been talked about mutually; there’s no mystery, and criticism that is real and that the person would make themselves—and then there’s name-calling publicly, which turns into high school bashing. Which you can’t do; you can’t do.Most Popular

I think at one point, Megan had said something like that Mike was Napoleon or Hitler, and I think that…he’s a sweet man. He loves his mother, and he loves his dog, and he wants a family. Like all this talk about him being degrading to women and using women is all bullshit. He’s not that guy. I’ve only seen Mike with two women in the six years that I’ve known him. He wants a family and has the heart for it. And I think Megan thought that he was this sort of insidious being that she invented in her mind, and because she was—the whole world was saying she was the most beautiful woman in the world—she started reading a lot of Marilyn Monroe and got this woman-power protectionist vibe that she came to II with that wasn’t there in one. And while it did keep her safe, she lost her vulnerability and developed this edge that Mike didn’t enjoy—as a coworker. As a character, I see the attributes to having a new person, and I also see the challenges that we face in doing so.

But again, none of it was—none of it came down to a decision I had to make. I just had to sort of become okay with it. I love Megan, and I love Mike, and now, at the tail-end of working with Rosie, I have a love for Rosie as well. It’s a difficult scenario all around. But I think there’s no way we would have gotten through the third movie with them at each other’s necks the whole way.

GQ: Was the atmosphere of III different because of that? Did things change on the set at all?

**Shia LaBeouf: **Yeah, III was probably—while it was as hard to make as the others, this was our most concisely-directed effort—I think because this was one, our best script, and two, I think we knew how to make these movies really well. This is the third time we’ve had a go at it, and there’s a lot of things that these dudes perfected that we were sort of inventing on the way.

GQ: And that was obviously the goal—Michael has talked a little bit about his disappointment in II, and I think you’ve talked about it, too. How did you initially feel after it came out?

**Shia LaBeouf: **I remember being in London with Mike at the premiere, and I remember coming out of the premiere—and the audience reaction was incredible, actually. It was a really, really solid audience reaction: standing ovation and all that, and we get out, and Mike has this sort of—just this demeanor, he looks fractured. And he’s sitting in the chair next to Kenny Bates, who’s his lifelong best friend and stunt coordinator on all his movies, and they look at each other, and I remember Kenny saying: “I think it went over well, Mike.” And Mike says, “You think?” Mike is a very vulnerable guy when it comes to these moments in his life, and he’s always asking—you know, he’s the guy who will laugh at a joke and then ask you why it’s funny. He’s that guy. He’s very inquisitive as to why it’s good; tell me why we succeeded, why they like it. And I just remember him asking why and nobody being able to explain to him why we had succeeded, or why the action was what it was. Whereas the first time, everybody had a why. Everybody had an answer to the why. And the second time, nobody could figure it out. I just remember that sort of—that question mark in the air, and all of us—at least the key people—just sitting around in a room feeling like, “Yeah, we’re going to be okay, but we sure as shit didn’t blow it out the water like we intended to do and like we all worked for.” I remember that feeling being there and nobody ever really spoke about it, and then—I didn’t ever really make public mention until maybe a month later. And then after Mike had read this interview I put out there, he called me and we talked about it, and he agreed with me. And then we talked about what the next move was.Most Popular

GQ: How did you guys verbalize that? What did you decide needed to change to improve?

**Shia LaBeouf: **We lost a big human element. We lost a—you know, in the second movie, we went bigger, yes, and succeeded in doing that. And in doing that, he also lost a lot of the intricacies. The first one had a lot of texture, and there was actually lot of personality going around, a lot of character. And the second one didn’t expand on that; it actually sucked all of that dry and added this ridiculous storyline which was meandering and went nowhere, a complete shit storyline—crafted by the two dudes who wrote the first one. And so everybody felt like, “Well, if there’s anybody to do this again, it’s the guys who wrote the first one, because the first one’s fantastic.” And they were just—I think they were just sucked dry of ideas at that point; they had been writing “Fringe” nonstop. They had been writing J.J. Abrams’s Star Trek, and then they’re locked in a room for six weeks after the writers’ strike to write a second Transformers movies, and when it came out the oven, nobody wanted to eat it. We were forced on this fucking script because we had a release date.

And so now there’s a lot of me and Mike in a room trying to finagle ideas and ad-lib, bringing other actors in for rehearsal time, and then what you wind up with is you have a director who’s committed but doesn’t have the tools in the bag to be able to make what he wants in the canvas. Our script was flawed from the beginning and didn’t deal with what the audience wanted to watch. And so I think that because these dudes were rushed, the characters were rushed, and in rushing the characters, you lost the characters; and in losing the characters, you lose the human element, as well as the robot element. Those robots have a personality as well, and I think some of those robots almost became, like—one for sure was racist. The other one became like—they all became movie surface-y bullshit characters. And the first one, when you discover them, they’re actually rich and full of life—you know, in the first film. When they’re all standing around in a circle and they’re explaining to me how they got here—these characters are characters. They’re full of life, and they have textures to them. The first one, even though it’s a big movie, deals with all the semantics of those relationships. Whereas the second one was just dealing with, literally, set pieces. It’s almost like Mike threw a bunch of ideas at them in the preliminary stage, like: “Hey, it’d be cool to make it worldwide. It would be cool to have a scene at the Pyramids, at the foot of the Pyramids”—and I guess there wasn’t enough puzzle pieces between Mike and Kurtzman and Orci to be able to make a puzzle.

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