From performance art to plagiarism
Most people were first introduced to Shia LaBeouf in 2000 when he starred in the Disney show Even Stevens. As Louis Stevens, the mischievous ne’er do well little brother of a perfectionist older sister, he seemed to fit right in with the glossy kids the channel was prepping for stardom.
But LaBeouf’s career has taken some interesting twists and turns in the intervening dozen years, as he’s appeared in franchises like Transformers as well as prestigious indies, and then hit some controversial and legal snags.
“The star is a by-product of the machine age,” he told ArtNet News earlier this year, “a relic of modernist ideals, it’s outmoded.” So instead of playing by the script, LaBeouf has continually made choices that are, well, unusual. Think: performance art projects, cryptic interviews and swathes of time spent without bathing.
Now that American Honey, a gritty road trip movie co-starring newcomer Sasha Lane and Riley Keough is here, LaBeouf is back in the spotlight. To prepare ourselves for this return, here’s a trek down the memory lane of the actor’s enduring, awesome weirdness.
July 2009: After LaBeouf was charged with a misdemeanor for criminal trespassing following his 21st birthday, he told David Letterman that he’d just been trying to buy some cigarettes at four in the morning. “I got really wasted in Chicago and ended up celebrating in Walgreens,” he says. He ended up making multiple late-night Walgreens visits, each of them involving a costume change. Ultimately, the store dropped the charges.
December 2013: LaBeouf releases a short film online that viewers discover is a plagiarized enactment of a short story that was actually written by author Daniel Clowes, who is not credited. This incident kicks off LaBeouf’s notable phase of borrowing quotes, lines and works from other people. In a 2016 interview with ArtNet News, he cited this moment as transformational in terms of moving him introducing him to a future in performance art. “The idea of the ‘star’ could become a prime site for the formulation of new stances whose honesty might advance a more satisfying kind of affect,” he said. He apologized via Twitter to Clowes—but the tweets were all unattributed quotes themselves, too.
February 2014: LaBeouf wears a paper bag on his head as he walks the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival for the premiere of his movie Nymphomaniac. The bag reads “I am not famous anymore” in large letters across his face.
February 2014: During a press conference to promote Nymphomaniac at the Berlin Film Festival, he delivers a cryptic line: “When the seagulls follow the trawler, it is because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea.” Then he stormed out. Journalists noted that the line is actually from a Manchester United football player named Eric Cantona, who reportedly said these same words before walking out of a news conference in 1995 after being convicted for assault.
February 2014: LaBeouf launches the #IAMSORRY project, in which he appears alone with that same paper bag over his head in a room in a Los Angeles art space. Visitors are allowed, one by one, to visit him and use a variety of props in their interactions, including a bottle of Jack Daniels. Afterward, LaBeouf said in an interview with Dazed that he had been raped by one of the visitors during the 5-day experiment. Afterward, his collaborators Turner and Rönkkö publicly noted that they “put a stop” to the incident when they became aware of it. No charges were pressed against the alleged perpetrator.
June 2014: During a Broadway performance of Cabaret, LaBeouf is escorted from the audience after allegedly engaging in disruptive behavior. (Witnesses say he went up on stage and grabbed at actor Alan Cumming.) He subsequently spends the night in jail, and eventually pled guilty to disorderly conduct.
June 2014: LaBeouf reportedly heads straight to an audition after spending his night in jail. The movie is War Dogs, directed by Jake Phillips—and the actor he’s auditioning with is current late-night host James Corden. (Ultimately, War Dogs would be made starring Jonah Hill and Miles Teller and released in 2016.) In the audition, LaBeouf reads his line while wearing his shoelaces dangling over his face. As Phillips later explained, the actor’s shoelaces had been removed during his jail stint. “So he was carrying his shoelaces, and he put them on his face because he was being weird and wanted to throw you off a little bit,” he told Corden in a later interview.
January 2015: In Sia’s music video for “Elastic Heart,” LaBeouf and dancer Maddie Ziegler don nude leotards and circle each other warily in a large metal bird cage. The pop singer later apologizes after some find the interaction between LeBeouf and Zieger potentially sexually suggestive, stating that the pair were the only two actors she felt could play “two warring ‘Sia’ self states.”
March 2015: LaBeouf sets up a livestream of his heartbeat.
May 2015: Along with art students at Central St. Martins, LaBeouf films 30 minutes of seemingly improvisational acting in front of a green screen. The soundbites from the footage would become prime meme material. “Seen from a distance, almost everything looks beautiful,” he muses poetically. At one point, he yells: “Do it! Just do it! Don’t let your dreams be dreams!” This particular segment spawned a series of its own memes, his tough-love acting taking the Internet by storm.
November 2015: He and a writer for Dazed magazine both don GoPro video cameras on their heads and sit filming each other, in silence, for an hour. There are moments of levity throughout as the two can’t help but laugh.
November 2015: It’s a busy month of self-reflection for LaBeouf, who invites fans to join him as he watches all of his movies—in order—at Manhattan’s Angelika Film Center. He also livestreams his own face during the experience, sharing the varied emotions of his reactions with the world at large. They’re pretty good.
February 2016: He spends 24 hours in an elevator as performance art, again with frequent collaborators Rönkkö and Turner. They livestream the whole thing, naturally.
April 2016: A man in New York City was punched out by a stranger who said he looked like Shia LaBeouf. The actor called and left a message to apologize to his victimized doppelgänger—and offer him some soup as a condolence. “He was like, ‘Hey, this is Shia LaBeouf… I just read an article that you were punched in the face because you look like me?’ And he was like, ‘Aw, man. That sucks. I’m so sorry. But I get it. It’s happened to me before.’ And then he was like, ‘I don’t know. I wish I was in New York. I’d come bring you soup,'” the lookalike told the New York Post.
May 2016: Shia, Turner, and Rönkkö launch an open-sourced, monthlong cross-country journey. Called “#TakeMeAnywhere,” LaBeouf tweets out their geographic coordinates daily, allowing fans to find him, pick him up and take him… anywhere. (And do nearly anything with him in the process.) He shared some pretty weird revelations with some of his fans, but others came away impressed. “Sometimes when you meet your heroes, you’re disappointed when you meet them, but not Shia,” one fan who met up with him said afterward. “He was just an amazing guy. He was so receptive and conversational. I think he’s a true artist.”
We eagerly await Shia’s next move.