Shia LaBeouf’s 71-year-old father Jeffrey, whose turbulent life and parenting skills come in for unsparing scrutiny in the actor’s new autobiographical film, Honey Boy, is more than ready for his turn in the limelight. You can tell by the way he cheerfully agrees to an interview within minutes of receiving an out-of-the-blue Facebook message from a random stranger. Whether the PR folks at Amazon Studios are quite ready is another question.
Materializing on my laptop screen, black beret fitted tightly over his stringy gray hair, a bushel of what appears to be “mota,” or marijuana, drying on the wall behind him, Jeff’s a lot like the guy his son plays in the film: wily and garrulous, if a few decades older and several notches less menacing. Now a bewhiskered codger with a sly, toothy grin, he brings to mind a cagey gold prospector in an old Scooby Doo episode. And for more than 90 minutes, he regales me with the highlights and lowlights of his colorful biography, occasionally “spitting” his poetry or pointing his webcam to display this or that feature of the modest home in the mountains above San Jose, Costa Rica, where he’s resided for the past six years.
Jeff has been a soldier, a rodeo clown, a biker, a poet, and a painter. He has also been a drug addict, a weed dealer, and a convicted sex offender. Perhaps most famously, he has been a somewhat deranged-sounding stage dad — think of a dirtbag Joan Crawford — the role for which he is, for better or worse, about to become famous.
As depicted in Honey Boy — in which Shia stars as James Lort, a character based on Jeff — his approach to fatherhood consisted of raising his son in a squalid motel; subjecting him to emotional and psychological (and borderline physical) abuse; tormenting him with erratic tirades on the finer points of juggling and other comedic techniques, and once threatening physical harm to a Disney Channel production liaison. The crazy part is, the way Jeff sees things, the approach worked. “He was a millionaire at 18!” he says. Indeed, despite Shia’s public struggles, the kid managed to become one of the most compelling actors of his generation. And the blistering Honey Boy, directed by…