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Shia Labeouf - Biography

TalkTalk have created this exclusive biography of Shia Labeouf - we believe it to be the most comprehensive on the web

Shia Labeouf

Personal details

Name: Shia Labeouf
Born: 11 June 1986 (Age: 29)
Where: Los Angeles. California, USA
Height: 5' 10"
Awards: Won 1 BAFTA

All about this star


To most movie fans, worldwide, Shia LaBeouf came out of nowhere in 2007, bouncing from the hit thriller Disturbia to Michael Bay's effects-fest Transformers, then snatching a lead role in Steven Spielberg's long-awaited resurrection of Indiana Jones. Yet to American audiences LaBeouf, though still only 21, was already a well-known face. Having guested on many hit TV shows over the previous decade, he'd become a household name through the series Even Stevens and his association with the Disney Channel, and had consequently stood out in his cameos in the blockbusters Constantine and I, Robot. His apparently sudden success was in fact the culmination of years of hard work and deliberate planning.

It began most unpromisingly. He was born Shia Saide LaBeouf on the 11th of June, 1986, in Los Angeles (Shia rhyming with hiya). His father, Jeffrey Craig LaBeouf, was a Louisiana Cajun - LaBeouf being a clear corruption of the French surname La Boeuf - who, after seeing action in Vietnam became a hippy drifter, working as a rodeo clown and mime artist, at one point putting together an act with trained chickens and flaming hoops that saw him support the Doobie Brothers, for whom he became official joint roller. Shia's mother was Shayna Saide, a former ballerina of Russian-Jewish origin who, her career curtailed by a knee injury, became a visual artist, a draper and a jewellery designer. Performing was very much in the family. Shia's maternal grandfather had been a comedian working the Jewish resorts of the Catskill mountains known as the Borscht Belt, a scene that spawned the likes of Mel Brooks. His paternal grandmother, meanwhile, was a Beatnik poet and associate of Allen Ginsberg.

Growing up in the predominantly Latino area of Echo Park, off the Hollywood Freeway some six miles to the east of Beverly Hills, Shia had an unusual, often harsh upbringing. At the age of 2, his parents involved him in a family street act, hoping to raise money from locals intrigued at the sight of white clowns. Jeffery stole a maid's trolley from a hotel and decorated it with paint and streamers, selling hot dogs on the side. Shia would later recall hating the experience but revelling in the approval he received from his parents for his efforts. His early school life was no more enjoyable, Shia once being in a white minority of one and suffering some painful bullying. This, though, as well as the all-pervading hip-hop culture, did quickly lend him an advanced bravado, a sharp tongue and a vocabulary of impressive crudity, all of which would aid him in his soon-to-be-launched career. In keeping with the family's artistic leanings, he'd be sent to study at the 32nd Street/USC Magnet Centre, a public school specialising in visual and performing arts. Magnet schools, taking pupils from across normal school boundaries, were intended to break down racial segregation.

Beyond his problematic official schooling, Shia would receive a further, more exciting, frightening and eye-opening education from his father. Jeffrey would pull the boy from his homework and sit him down to watch Steve McQueen movies. He took him to AA meetings and to watch The Rolling Stones. On one occasion, during a particularly vivid and terrifying Vietnam flashback, he even pulled a gun on him. Together they would smoke dope, Jeffrey having taken to growing cannabis, for personal use and for sale, in the scrub beside the nearby freeways. By the time he hit double figures, Shia would be an accomplished smoker and card player.

Even before the age of 10, his life was getting rough. Jeffrey had descended into heroin addiction and he and Shayna split up, the boy living with his mother. Her income only just kept them afloat and Shia found himself denied smart trainers, cool gear, even the simplest bling demanded by the street culture that surrounded him. At the beach one day, he met a kid who had it all - a wicked surfboard, all the stuff - and, learning that the kid was financing himself by appearing in the Jane Seymour hit Dr Quinn, Medicine Woman, he was struck by the realisation that performing could give him everything that he materially lacked. Though the kid informed him that the quickest way into the industry was through modelling, Shia had no confidence in his own looks and - at the age of 9! -decided to go his own way. Thus, following in his family's footsteps, he put together a stand-up routine and began performing at nearby venues - Pasadena's Icehouse, coffee clubs and the like. Utilizing the street talk he'd learned from his peers and his father's associates, his schtick was to come on like a foul-mouthed angel. Wearing overalls and a pudding-bowl haircut, he'd immediately undermine the audience's expectations of this 9-year-old sweetie by opening up with the line "Listen, assholes..." The rest of his act was similarly designed to shock as he'd discuss his first erection (at length, as it were) and, asking questions of audience members, he'd scream "SHUT UP!" at them as they began to answer. Not all the material went down well, however, Shia finding that some of his tales of life in Echo Park with a junkie father simply made the crowd feel sorry for him.

Having decided to bypass modelling, Shia now aimed straight for the big-time, calling up an agent he'd found in the phone-book and launching into a stand-up routine. It worked, how it worked. The agent was Teresa Dahlquist who'd very recently purchased the Beverly Hecht Agency. Keen to boost her new business, she was hungry to find and nurture new talent and saw real potential in this young upstart. Paying for photographs, driving him to auditions, even helping out with the rent, she made a cause of him. Within weeks she'd found him commercials, within months he was onscreen in a string of low-budget movies and high-profile series.

His first appearance would be a bit-part in 1998's Monkey Business, a follow-up to Little Cobras: Operation Dalmatian, where a gang of kids, aided by the titular chimp, would battle to save their clubhouse from closure. After this would come a meatier role in The Christmas Path, heavily influenced by the classic Miracle On 34th Street. Here, Dee Wallace would lose her husband, the tragedy turning son Shia into a troubled, angry boy. His lost faith in Christmas means there's now a gap in Santa's path to Earth and so angel Vincent Spano is sent to restore Shia's belief, a job he must complete by December 24th or the traditional riot of consumerism cannot take place. Another prime role would be found in Breakfast With Einstein. This time his mother has died and, with his cartoonist dad being pursued by Priscilla Presley, he's all alone - alone, that is, until he befriends a tiny hound and sneaks it into the house - with predictable chaos ensuing.

LaBeouf's final appearance of 1998 would begin his extraordinary run of guest spots in hot shows, when he popped up in Caroline In The City, in an episode where cartoonist Lea Thompson's colourist enjoys an unusually late bar mitzvah (LaBeouf would be bar mitzvahed himself at the age of 13). Next would come an episode of Jesse, where star Christina Applegate's son is bullied at school and the bully's mum (Lesley Ann Warren) turns out to be Applegate's own long-lost mother. The impressive list would continue with Brooke Shields' Suddenly Susan, LaBeouf appearing in the final episode of Season 3, a very sad affair paying tribute to cast regular David Strickland who'd recently committed suicide. Then would come Touched By An Angel where three angels are sent to Earth to restore the faith of the despairing, LaBeouf's episode concerning a poor soul being gradually possessed by a demon. The year, and the millennium, would end with a stand-out part in The X-Files with Mulder and Scully tracking down Henry Weems, a building superintendant blessed with supernaturally good fortune, a helpful asset when you're targeted by the local mafia. Shia would play a kid in Weems' building suffering from severe liver problems, Weems using his luck to pay for Shia's hospital treatment.

2000 would bring yet more kudos when LaBeouf would appear in Judd Apatow's 1980s-set Freaks And Geeks, a more true-to-life picture of high school life than, say, Dawson's Creek and therefore more shortlived. In this episode Shia would play the basketball team mascot, attending games wearing a giant Viking head, complete with beard, helmet and horns. When he breaks his arm there's intense rivalry over who should take his place, Shia being on the verge of collapse throughout as his mother won't let him sleep for fear of deadly concussion. This would be followed by a part in ER where he'd play a young teen with muscular dystrophy, angry with the world and especially Dr Carter for trying to help him. Finally breaking down in painfully convincing tears, he was already begin to exhibit an impressive emotional range.

Now came the big one, a starring role in the series Even Stevens. This had been on the cards for some time, Teresa Dahlquist having scored LaBeouf a Disney Channel pilot to be called Spivey's Kid Brother, another sit-com dealing with the problems of kids of various ages in a comically dysfunctional family. Unfortunately, it hadn't tested well and viewers had not taken to Shia's depressed loner. Disney, though, were convinced of LaBeouf's talent and appeal and decided to redevelop the show from scratch in order to make the most of their find. It was a risk they considered worth taking because they believed they'd discovered a new "tweenie" market, a huge and faithful audience of 8-15 year-olds keen to have a hero of their own, a kid their age using his wits to take on the powers-that-be.

Thus Louis Stevens was born. Hailing from an upper-middle-class family in Sacramento, he was not a popular kid, using his smart mouth to get in and out of trouble. He warred constantly with his older sister Ren, flirted with schoolmate Tawny Dean, cheated at track, wheeled and dealed and generally learned a lesson each week - a navigational tool for the audience. The very first episode would point to what was to come, Louis exchanging a rare trading card for a date with Ren then having to persuade Ren to fulfil the agreement. The only clue to the character's former depressive nature would come in flashbacks during the episode A Weak First Week that pillaged the original pilot. Lip-read closely and you'll find that you're hearing Stevens but seeing Spivey.

The series would air from June 2000 to June 2003, LaBeouf starring in 65 episodes and a TV movie. His irrepressible prankster Louis was a huge hit, eventually winning LaBeouf a Daytime Emmy, and made the show the first tweenie breakthrough - closely followed by Lizzie McGuire and That's So Raven. LaBeouf was working hard, filming for 9 hours a day, as well as reading scripts, attending auditions and completing 4 hours of homework. Enrolled at Alexander Hamilton High School, he'd be educated mostly by tutors. And it paid off, the show raising his family from poverty and bringing him a reunion with his father. When he'd scored the series he was told the law required that one of his parents be on-set. Shayna was too busy with her business, so Jeffrey, having just kicked his habit in a Virginia hospital, took on the job, taking Shia to work every day on his motorbike. There was still weirdness - one day a driver pulled a gun on them on the freeway when Jeffrey cut him up - but none of it was caused by Jeffrey's chemical intake. This was an immense relief for Shia. In later interviews, he'd recall that the lowest point of his life came when his father was in that Virginia hospital. Jeffrey would phone his son regularly and, telling him he'd discovered a great new song, he'd sing James Taylor's Mexico to the boy. This he'd do over and over, each time forgetting he'd sung it before, each time revealing to his disappointed son that he had still not recovered.

During Even Stevens' successful run, there was little time for extras, LaBeouf spending much of his downtime making surreal comedy shorts with co-star AJ Trauth. One was called The Albino Pimp Daddy, another Polio Lobster. The next couple of years would see LaBeouf only in a few Disney productions. First would come Hounded, yet more kids' comedy with pesky dogs. Here young Tahj Mowry would battle with headmaster's son Shia for a scholarship, only to have his smug and devious rival steal his presentation. Seeking revenge, he breaks into Shia's family's pool-house, only causing yet more trouble when their dog follows him home and wrecks the place. Next would come an episode of The Nightmare Room, a sort of Twilight Zone for children, where Shia would play a boy keen to leave childish things behind. His favourite toy, though, is not prepared to be thus abandoned. Then there'd be a brief part in the animated series The Proud Family, where Shia would voice a wheelchair-bound schoolmate and secret admirer of heroine Penny Proud, creating controversy when he spray-cans his love on the walls on Valentine's Day. And finally there'd be the TV movie Tru Confessions. This was much more of a test for LaBeouf as he and Clara Bryant would play twins, Shia being "developmentally challenged" due to being deprived of oxygen in the womb. Suffering guilt at not sharing her brother's fate and frustration at not being able to help him, journalist wannabe Bryant would make a documentary of their life together, examining Shia's problems and achievements. It was good-hearted stuff but tougher than usual Disney fare, with LaBeouf already showing a desire to expand his repertoire and become something other than what he termed "that Disney kid".

LaBeouf's first big step away from Even Stevens and Disney would, oddly, be with Disney. The movie in question woudl be Holes, based on the novel by Louis Sachar and concerning unruly kids sent to a brutal desert detention camp. Shia would star as a lad falsely accused of stealing a sports star's trainers put up for charity auction. Shipped off to the camp, he's pushed around by the inmates and guards, led by Jon Voight's gnarled and snarling Mr Sir, and forced to dig all day in the blistering sun. As the action flashes back and forth across 150 years we see how an ancient curse and promise of hidden treasure has bound together Shia's family and that of obsessive warden Sigourney Weaver, their story involving comedy, tragedy, racism, murder and love. It was not ordinary Disney material, and LaBeouf was clearly no ordinary Disney star, his character being likeable but genuinely troubled, downtrodden, rebellious and wholly real. Doubling its money, the film would impress the industry and win Shia a host of new fans, one being Steven Spielberg who saw it with his own children. LaBeouf's name would be duly noted.

Perhaps even more importantly, Holes would give LaBeouf a mentor in Jon Voight. After his years of poverty, Shia still saw his career primarily in terms of the money to be made and had thus far had a reasonably easy ride. Voight, though, saw the lad's potential and convinced him that there was more to be gained than dough. He taught the boy about acting and the actor's life, how to deal with the fame and the press, introduced him to Stanislavsky and Chekhov. In turn, LaBeouf watched Voight's movies - Midnight Cowboy, Coming Home and the rest - and recognised the work that needed to be done to convincingly portray such disparate characters. He'd learn from others, from John Turturro's intensity and imagination, from Keanu Reeves' dedicated preparation, but it was Voight who really opened his eyes.

2003 would see LaBeouf climbing onto the Hollywood ladder. Set in the 1980s, Dumb And Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd had Derek Richardson and Eric Christian Olsen play younger versions of Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels, meeting up in high school in a prequel to the enormo-hit Dumb and Dumber. When headmaster Eugene Levy and mistress Cheri Oteri plan to embezzle a grant intended for a new special needs class, they persuade the two anti-heroes to recruit students for a bogus class, Shia being the last onboard when Harry and Lloyd mistake him for a centaur - he's actually the school mascot, wearing only half his costume when they see him. Following this would come another bit part, this time in Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle, where Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore and Lucy Liu must try to stop information on the Federal Witness Protection Programme falling into the wrong hands. Shia would play an endangered witness rescued by the girls on motocross bikes and taken in by the mamma of their new Bosley, Bernie Mac, but he was given little chance to shine amidst the explosions. He did, though, almost nab the role of Jimmy Olsen when Full Throttle director McQ was offered a chance to remake Superman, a project that would soon fall through.

LaBeouf's final release of 2003 would be The Battle Of Shaker Heights. This was the second product of the Project Greenlight show, fronted by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, where many potential film-makers would present their ideas, the winners having their movie made by Miramax. The making of the film was screened as a documentary series with LaBeouf coming over as smart and committed, the film itself seeing him star as schoolkid infatuated with his brother's older sister and taking revenge on his classroom enemies by drawing on his hobby - the re-enactment of famous battles.

Quickly, he'd move on to larger, far larger productions. In 2004, he'd take a 10-minute slot in Will Smith's I, Robot, Smith playing a technophobe cop in the year 2035, who suspects robots of breaking their own laws and committing murder, with Shia appearing as a foulmouthed street urchin with a serious attitude, who joins Smith briefly as a wholly unnecessary comic sidekick. There'd be more full-on action in Constantine, based on the Hellblazer graphic novels, where Keanu Reeves would play a man doomed to hell, constantly warring with the invisible demons that walk amongst us. LaBeouf would provide the audience-eye view, unable to see recognise the demons but driving Reeves between his appointments with danger. In between would come Let's Love Hate, a compelling short LaBeouf made with his friend Lorenzo Eduardo where kids attempt to prevent a conflict stemming from their parents' racial intolerance. The film was good enough to win a prize at the Newport International Film Festival.

Thankfully, Shia would rapidly break the sidekick habit, moving on to a lead role in The Greatest Game Ever Played, directed by Bill Paxton and produced by Larry Brezner (whose daughter, China, LaBeouf would date for the next three years). Set in 1913, this would see LaBeouf star as Francis Ouimet, a youngster from Brookline who defies his poor immigrant father and takes up golf, eventually taking on and beating his hero, the great English champion Harry Varden, the inevitable class tension being added by Peter Firth's repulsive Lord Northcliffe. It was sunny stuff, but gripping, the latter being a fair description of Shia's next effort, A Guide To Recognising Your Saints. This was a gritty urban drama set in the Astoria district of Queens, with Robert Downey Jr playing a successful novelist returning home to see his sick and bitter father Chazz Palminteri. Flashing back to 1986, the film would have Shia as the young Downey, running wild in the streets and being forced to choose between his friends' life of cheap thrills and gang war and a new acquaintance's offer of an existence coloured by poetry and music. Naturally, LaBeouf was called upon to attain severe emotional extremes and, when winding himself up for his confrontations with Palminteri, he'd call his real-life father and ask him to sing James Taylor's Mexico down the phone - a sharp reminder of his most anxious times. LaBeouf had a point to prove. Still considered by many to be like that cute Louis Stevens, he needed to publicly exhibit the Sean Penn-like inner rage that had carried him through his early youth. Guide's writer and director, Dito Montiel, had wanted nothing to do with him until LaBeouf visited his office and smashed his hand through a wall.

Shia's other release of 2006 was another prestigious project designed to leave "that Disney kid" behind. This was Emilio Estevez's Bobby, an all-star exploration of the life, times and final hours of Robert Kennedy. Following 22 separate characters, including Helen Hunt, Anthony Hopkins, Sharon Stone, William H Macy, Heather Graham, Laurence Fishburne and Estevez's own father Martin Sheen, the film would cover Vietnam, drugs, racism, infidelity, most of the prime topics of the late 1960s, with LaBeouf and Brian Geraghty playing members of Kennedy's campaign staff who take a break from work to score acid from Ashton Kutcher and trip out, man. Again Shia would make use of his old man to perfect his performance, Jeffery being something of an LSD PhD.

Come 2007, LaBeouf was ready for the big time. Steve Spielberg certainly thought so as he'd hire Shia for three films. First of these would be Disturbia where Shia, yet again, would play a kid who's lost a parent, this time his father, and has become angry and sullen. Punching a teacher, he's put under house arrest and becomes intrigued by the world as seen through his window, much like James Stewart in Rear Window. And, also like Stewart, he comes to suspect his neighbour of murder, risking his safety and that of Sarah Roemer, another neighbour, in his search for the truth. It was a good character role for LaBeouf and he carried it well, being smart, hurt, cocky and rebellious. It was a hit, too, making $80 million at the US box office on a budget of $20 million.

Following this would come Surf's Up, an animated kids' film, presented like a documentary, where LaBeouf would voice a penguin desperate to be a surfing champion like his hero Big Z (Jeff Bridges) and taking on the mighty Tank. It was effective fun but suffered financially from being released after March Of The Penguins and Happy Feet. No such worries would be faced by his second Spielberg production, Transformers, Michael Bay's eye-popping revival of the children's toy franchise, where Earth would host a hi-tech war between the Autobots and Decepticons, led by Optimus Prime and Megatron respectively. Shia would play a high school kid whose car turns out to be an autobot, first allowing him to win Megan Fox, then drawing him into an intergalactic war. Again, LaBeouf's emotional depth and charismatic ordinariness - which had Spielberg wonder if he wasn't the new Tom Hanks - gave the movie a heart it would surely otherwise have lacked. Spielberg was impressed enough to then cast LaBeouf alongside Harrison Ford and Cate Blanchett in the long-awaited fourth installment in the Indiana Jones series, easily the most prestigious part available to young actors at the time. Shia LaBeouf had out-run them all.

With such a prodigious talent and go-getting attitude, Shia LaBeouf could yet do anything. He might continue his directing career and will surely get into production. He might continue the musical career he began with friend Lorenzo Eduardo, having formed the label Element and band Element Cru. Signed up for a further two Transformers movies, we can be fairly sure that he'll follow his mentor Jon Voight in slipping between blockbusters and more arty or socially conscious works. Also, once any fear of slipping back into his early poverty has passed, he might well follow Voight in his charitable endeavours. Like Kurt Russell before him, he's evidently so much more than "that Disney kid".

Dominic Wills

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