The facts, as we know them, are these: Shia LaBeouf, of the Transformers movies and Indiana Jones and Wall Street sequels that most of us can agree were just terrible, was slated to make his Broadway debut in a revival of Lyle Kessler’s Orphans, opposite Alec Baldwin. Yesterday, just over a week into rehearsals, the producers announced that LaBeouf was leaving the production. The official reason is that old standby, “creative differences,” but as the shit-storm around his exit has increased in intensity, and as we consider some of his other recent choices, it’s become clear that Mr. LaBeouf is either a) at least a little bit out of his mind or b) carefully cultivating the image of someone who is at least a little bit out of his mind.
Let’s not get bogged down in the particulars of what’s happened since LaBeouf’s exit (stage left, even): suffice it to say that he did some apologizing and some tweeting, and some tweeting of apologies and responses, and one of those apologies was apparently plagiarized from an Esquire article by Tom Chiarella, and Baldwin has responded, and — look, it’s all out there if you wanna get into the weeds with this thing, but frankly, the idea of The New York Times having to run a line like, “A press representative for Mr. LaBeouf confirmed on Wednesday that the actor had been posting these e-mails from his Twitter account,” is a little too depressing to contemplate.
The question is: what in the living hell is going on with Shia LaBeouf? First came his odd affiliation with Marilyn Manson, then that bananas naked, crying, smiling Sigur Rós video, then word that he was hitching his wagon to the always controversial Lars von Trier for a leading role in Nymphomaniac — complete with unsimulated sex scenes. Most of his moves over the past year — and the interviews he’s done to explain them, which have veered from pretentious to bridge-burning — haven’t just felt like a studio darling taking his “dangerous” indie side out for a spin. It’s felt more like We Need to Talk About Shia.
Or, quite possibly, like I’m Still Here 2: Electric Boogaloo. Much of the “new Shia” — the surly manner, the swearing off of “the industry,” even peculiarities w/r/t head and facial hair — feels an awful lot like the much-reported Joaquin Phoenix affair, which, ha ha, wouldn’t you know it, turned out to be an act. But even when that was all explained, it still felt like the line between presupposed persona and improvised out-of-control weirdness was blurry at best (and quite possibly the result of a controlled substance or two). One can’t help but wonder if LaBeouf’s social media-aided meltdown is playing out along the same lines.