EXCLUSIVE: The screenplay for Honey Boy wasn’t originally written for a movie screen. When Shia LaBeouf was ordered by a judge to write about the childhood trauma that seeded a fiery transition to adulthood punctuated by angry outbursts, car crashes and curious creative choices that transformed him from golden boy to pariah, the actor wasn’t comfortable simply writing a paper. He had been reading and acting from scripts since childhood, and the court-appointed counselors assigned LaBeouf the task of writing as a way to get to the bottom of his pain after he was diagnosed with PTSD. His decision to bare his pain in the screenplay format he was so familiar with, and to share it with his friend the documentary filmmaker Alma Har’el, turned out to be a life-changing experience.
Who could have imagined several years later that the resulting script they wrote together and Har’el directed, Honey Boy, would bring LaBeouf back inside Hollywood. Only a heartless person could watch the well-told story and not feel some level of sympathy for LaBeouf and understand how this young actor, once expected to be the next Tom Cruise, could instead take a more destructive path that conjured up images of the unfulfilled promise of actors like Jan-Michael Vincent. And the industry might well feel there is a place in the business for this formerly troubled young man who put himself on the outside.
After an acclaimed turn in the sleeper-hit indie The Peanut Butter Falcon and then Honey Boy as it gets its release long after an acclaimed Sundance Film Festival debut, LaBeouf’s career is very much on track. LaBeouf’s experiences informed the childhood of Otis Lort, a child star who has trouble transitioning to adulthood. Like LaBeouf, the youth in the film is escorted from the seedy motel they called home to auditions and then regular work on TV and film sets by his father, a substance-abusing alcoholic who also had a rough upbringing. Paid a monthly stipend by his son for serving as chauffeur during the day, and father at night, he tried to harden his son so he could avoid what the father experienced. The resulting infusion of toxic masculinity as a protection mechanism hardly helped LaBeouf as he tried to adjust to adulthood. Noah Jupe plays Otis as a child actor and Lucas Hedges plays him as a young adult. LaBeouf plays the complex character based on his own father, Jeffrey Craig LaBeouf, in a performance that is compassionate and thoughtful.
Har’el first met LaBeouf when he stumbled on her documentary debut, Bombay Beach, at a time when his personal struggles were beginning to show through. He bonded totally with Har’el, who bore her own scars as the daughter of an alcoholic father, and when no one would write a check for the director to make a follow-up documentary, LaBeouf financed the whole thing. On the eve of the film’s premiere at Sundance last January, Har’el wouldn’t say how much LaBeouf sent but noted that “I don’t ever expect to get a check that large in the mail, again.”
LaBeouf’s next important submission by mail was the script he was forced to write in an attempt
to get him to confront his anger-management issues. She was blown away by the script called
Stamen, named after the male fertilizing organ of the flower, and focused on the expectations of masculinity passed on by damaged parents. The script only dealt with the young actor and his love/hate relationship with his father. Har’el worked with LaBeouf to broaden the story and factor in the aftermath, and many drafts later, they had a movie.
Read the script here.