Just How Much Of Shia LaBeouf’s Honey Boy Is Taken From His Real Childhood?

Photo: George Lange/Getty Images.
For most of the past eight or so years, news about Shia LaBeouf has either been about one of his notorious arrests or one of his performance art stunts. His real life has largely overshadowed his indie film performances, even ones that were actually quite good. But with Honey Boy, it seems like he's come up with a clever trick: Rather than let real life detract from his work, he turned his real life into his work. You can read all the praise for the film elsewhere; here we'll go over the true story LaBeouf mined for Honey Boy.
Advertisement
"Everything that's in the film happened," LaBeouf said on The Hollywood Reporter's Awards Chatter podcast last month.
In Honey Boy, we see a 20-something version of LaBeouf  — actually, his character is calls Otis Lort for some reason, and played by Lucas Hedges — in therapy and recalling a particularly traumatizing era of his childhood. LaBeouf began writing Honey Boy as a form of therapy when he was in rehab two years ago and realized that he is still suffering from PTSD as a result of his dysfunctional upbringing. While the process was therapeutic for him, it's given audiences a very different perspective on the LaBeouf we know from the headlines.
"What honey boy does is it contextualizes who I was publicly and kind of plays on that," he told THR.
The real LaBeouf was born in Los Angeles in 1986 to Shayna, a former ballet dancer-turned-fabric saleswoman, and Jeffrey, a Vietnam war veteran who was trained as a clown but often made his living as a drug dealer. In interviews, LaBeouf has recounted a happy memory of when he was 3 years old and he and his parents dressed as clowns and sold shaved ice and hot dogs out of a cart in the park. This, it seems, was his first introduction to performance. But mostly, his childhood was chaotic due to his father's drug problem and a constant lack of money. His parents split up when Shia was around 5 years old.
Advertisement
When LaBeouf was 10, Jeffrey got a job at the Ice House, a bar that hosted stand-up shows. The bar let young Shia do quick stand-up routines — mostly recitations of old Lenny Bruce jokes — before they served drinks. This got him the attention of someone at the Tonight Show, who booked him to warm up the crowd and even do a couple of skits on the air. That's where Shia met another child actor and realized that he might actually make a living doing this.
"I just knew that money was a solution to whatever the hell was going on in my household," he told Parade magazine in 2009. "With money, I and my family would have had more options. So I went after a job that I thought I could make the most money for a 10-year-old or an 11-year-old boy."
He landed an agent by going through the Yellow Pages and calling them one by one, pretending to be his own manager with a terrible British accent. It worked, not because an agent believed him but because she thought he was gutsy. He started working in student films and guest roles shortly after that. Then, at age 12, he started the long process of competing against 2,600 other kids to star in the Disney Channel show Even Stevens.

Of course, he landed the part, and this is where the moviepicks up with the barely fictionalized version of Shia and his dad. Because hismother lived far from the studio, father and son set up a home of sorts in amotel that was closer to his work. Shia actually paid his father to be hisguardian, which also involved him coming to the set.

Advertisement
In the movie, Jeffrey (called James and played by LaBeouf) calls himself his son's cheerleader. Shia has called his dad other things, too, such as his "gasoline" in an interview with Esquire last year. Even as a kid, Shia recognized that he could use his relationship with his father to fuel his performances.
"He’s the marionette puppeteer," he told Interview. "My dad is the key to most of my base emotions. My greatest and my worst memories are with my father, all my major trauma and major celebration came from him. It’s a negative gift. And I’m not ready to let go of it, because anger has a lot of power."
For example, when he was making The Christmas Path in 1998 and needed to cry, he asked to have his dad stand on the dolly.
"Right before we filmed, I looked at him and my dad mouthed, 'You can do it, honey boy,' " he said in Interview. "He was really supportive, and still is. He broke me and it worked. Ever since then it’s been my way of working."
Along with that support, there was a lot that a child shouldn't have had to go through. Jeffrey is rumored to have been accused of sexually harassing someone on the Even Stevens set. He also would take his son with him to his 12-step program meetings, which I'm pretty sure is not how those are supposed to work.
Advertisement
"That was my daycare center," he told Esquire of the meetings. "Then I’d go to work. That was my whole life."
Shia was, unfortunately, not able to confine the results of Jeffrey's abuse just to his performances. It's translated into the past decade of drunken outbursts and arrests, culminating in the 2017 incident in which LaBeouf was caught on video ranting at a Black police officer in Georgia. That's how he wound up in rehab, which we can assume was something like the one Hedges' Otis goes to in the movie.

There's one difference between the movie and real life: Themovie version of events seeks to resolve things between father and son, to giveaudiences a satisfying arc. But LaBeouf said that back when he was living withhis father, he didn't necessarily want to fix his father.

"I wasn't looking to change what I had," he told THR. "In a very simple way, to me, having money meant having a family. The more money I had, the more I could have my family around. That's just how I equated it."
Related Content: