No movie based on toy robots was ever going to be a wholly fulfilling venture, but for the Transformers franchise’s first star, it operated as a series that locked him into a role that felt more like a cage. This was more than typecasting, it was a bad match for a young actor with different priorities. In a moving, candid interview with Esquire, Shia LaBeouf opened up about why the Michael Bay-helmed action films felt artistically lacking.
LaBeouf, who also starred in the latest Indiana Jones film (Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull) for Transformers executive producer Steven Spielberg and has moved on to dramas more based in realism, played Sam Witwicky — the boy who befriends the Autobots. He reprised the role in two more films, ending in 2011 after the release of Transformers: Dark of the Moon.
These movies, while being financial smashes that earned the actor healthy paydays, didn’t quite scratch LaBeouf’s artistic itch — however, he is still hesitant to bad-mouth anyone, saying “Michael [Bay] and Steven [Spielberg] did a lot for me. I’m not going to pooh-pooh those dudes anymore.”
That said, he continued with, “My hang-up with those films was that they felt irrelevant. They felt dated as f**k.”
Comparing his work to those that he aspires to be, he says, “You come up on these stories about Easy Rider and Raging Bull and [Robert] De Niro and [Martin] Scorsese and [Dennis] Hopper, and you find value in what they do. Meanwhile, you’re chasing energon crystals.” “Riding the wave” wasn’t worth this “gilded cage” he inhabited. Coming out of a franchise relatively young, he still had a keen perspective on his career goals. That made it “very hard to keep doing what you’re doing when you feel like it’s the antithesis of your purpose on this planet.”
The role of Witwicky may have opened a lot of doors for the actor, but the time he spent in it seemed like nothing more than wheel-spinning — even if those wheels could turn into a giant fighting robot.