For three years, from 2000 until 2003, most people knew him as the mop-headed, wise-cracking younger brother Louis on the top-rated Disney Channel series Even Stevens. But in 2003, thanks to his breakthrough lead role in the movie Holes, teen actor Shia LaBeouf made an almost seamless transition from the small screen to the big screen. That same year LaBeouf appeared in no fewer than three other movies, taking small roles in Dumb and Dumberer and Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle, and starring in the acclaimed HBO show The Battle of Shaker Heights. It seemed LaBeouf was everywhere. He garnered praise from surprised critics, who called him an up-and-comer to watch. Teen People placed him firmly on their Young Hollywood Hot List in 2004, and his fan base grew broader by the minute. There was no stopping LaBeouf, who went on to costar in the 2005 blockbuster Constantine and to play American golf icon Francis Ouimet in The Greatest Game Ever Played (2005). In less than two years LaBeouf transformed from cheeky child performer to an adult star to be reckoned with.
Like many young entertainers, Shia (pronounced SHI-yuh) Shaide LaBeouf comes from a showbiz family. He was born on June 11, 1986, in Los Angeles, California, the only child of Jeffrey and Shayna LaBeouf. At various times Jeffrey was employed as a comedian, a rodeo clown, and a performer in a circus, where it was his job to train chickens. Shayna was a former ballet dancer who eventually turned to designing clothing and jewelry. When the couple had their son they named him Shia after Shayna's father, who was a Jewish comedian; Shia means "gift from God" in Hebrew.
In interviews LaBeouf claims that his Jewish mom and Cajun dad encouraged him to speak his mind from an early age. He took their encouragement to heart and began performing comedy routines at the age of three in the LaBeouf living room. As he told People in 2003, "I'd do five minutes on how crazy our life was, like how at Thanksgiving we'd have matzo gumbo or spicy gefilte." (Gefilte is a traditional Jewish dish; it is a type of seasoned fish.) By the age of twelve the precocious youngster was doing stand-up at local coffeehouses; he also landed a gig at the Ice House Comedy Club in Pasadena. In the same People article, LaBeouf explained that his material was "really dirty and gross," and "definitely not Disneyesque."
After getting a taste of the spotlight LaBeouf decided he wanted to branch out into acting, especially after a friend of his began appearing on the television drama Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. The industrious thirteen-year-old pulled out the telephone book, found the name of an acting agent, and auditioned by performing one of his stand-up routines. The agent signed him immediately and sent LaBeouf on his first casting calls.
"It's not like I'm Mahatma Gandhi. I'm just a kid from the Disney Channel."
Unlike most entertainers just starting out, LaBeouf did not have to endure hundreds of disappointing rejections. In fact, on one of his very first auditions he snagged a leading role on a new comedy series on the Disney Channel called Even Stevens, which centered around an upper-middle-class family living in Sacramento, California. Dad was an attorney; Mom was a state senator. Older son, Donnie, was a high school sports star; and Ren was the ideal daughter. That left the youngest son, Louis, the class clown who was less than perfect and who struggled to fit in with his perfect family.
With his easy grin, quick timing, and just the right touch of geekiness, LaBeouf was the perfect Louis. And, although the show was initially supposed to feature the entire family, it soon became apparent that Christy Romano (1984–) as Ren and LaBeouf as Louis were the program's true stars. When Even Stevens premiered in June 2003, Carole Horst of Variety gave it a tentative thumbs up, but she had nothing but praise for Romano and LaBeouf. According to Horst, they "should start plotting the rest of their careers, as these two young thesps [actors] bring polish and excellent timing to the material." Viewers agreed with the critics, and soon Even Stevens became the highest-rated daytime show on the Disney Channel. Over the next three seasons LaBeouf continued to be prominently featured, and he increasingly drew more and more fans of all ages. In 2003, when he was just sixteen, LaBeouf snagged a Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Performer in a Children's Series. (Daytime Emmies are awarded each year to honor excellence in all forms of daytime television production.)
Even Stevens was cancelled in 2003, but the lucky LaBeouf was not without a job for long. Competing against hundreds of other hopefuls, he auditioned for the Disney major motion-picture release of Holes. The movie is based on the enormously popular children's book of the same name written in 1998 by Louis Sachar (1954–). Director Andrew Davis had never seen an episode of Even Stevens, but he still tapped the talented LaBeouf to play the main character of both the book and movie, Stanley Yelnats. Stanley is wrongfully convicted of stealing and is sent to a juvenile detention camp called Camp Green Lake, where all the detainees are forced to dig holes in the blistering desert heat.
Before the film began shooting, LaBeouf and cast spent two weeks going through a training camp where they climbed ropes, did countless push-ups, and, of course, dug holes. Although the physical preparation was tough, in interviews LaBeouf said he was glad for the experience because it got him in shape to work in 105-degree heat; plus it gave him a chance to bond with the rest of the actors. The young stars also became tight because they attended school together in air-conditioned trailers on the set. As LaBeouf laughingly told Marie Morreale of Scholastic News, it "was the only time in my life where I ran to school because I was getting air-conditioning and water."
Author Louis Sachar also wrote the screenplay and was on the set every day providing pointers. He and LaBeouf became especially good friends, and as LaBeouf expressed in several interviews, he found the writer to be an "intriguing and knowledgeable character." An ironic twist is that LaBeouf had not read Holes before taking the role of Stanley, but he was assigned to read the book for school during the shooting of the film.
Holes was released in April 2003 to a great deal of critical acclaim. But LaBeouf was just getting started. In June 2003 he had small roles in two more big-screen offerings: the comedy Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd and the action-adventure Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle. His next big hit, however, came on the small screen when he took the lead in the HBO-Project Greenlight original movie The Battle of Shaker Heights. Project Greenlight is a production company started by friends-turned-screenwriters-turned-actors Ben Affleck (1972–) and Matt Damon (1970–) to support and encourage other aspiring writers.
Shaker Heights is a coming-of-age story that focuses on seventeen-year-old Kelly Ernswiler, whose primary passion in
The movie was originally broadcast in August 2003, but it received only lukewarm reviews. Frank Scheck of the Hollywood Reporter claimed it felt "choppy and unfocused," especially since it tended to veer "sharply back and forth between broad comedy and heartfelt drama, ultimately succeeding on neither level." LaBeouf, however, was singled out as the film's one bright spot. According to Scheck, "The character [of Kelly] is superbly realized by LaBeouf, who balances the role's comedic and emotional demands and whose screen presence always commands attention."
In 2003, sandwiched between film releases, LaBeouf somehow managed to graduate from high school. He told interviewers that he planned to attend college in the future, but in the meantime he was just too busy. As LaBeouf told Fred Topel of about.com, "I just wanted to work and get jobs at first. Now I get to be picky and have fun." Being picky allowed the teenager to join the cast of such blockbusters as 2004's I, Robot, a science fiction thriller starring one of LaBeouf's idols, Will Smith (1968–).
In 2005 LaBeouf costarred in Constantine with another of his favorite actors, Keanu Reeves (1964–). Based on the
When twenty-year-old Francis Ouimet won the 1913 U.S. Open, he became the youngest player and first amateur to take home the top prize in the country's most prestigious golf contest. He not only made sports history, but proved that the American dream was truly obtainable.
Francis Desales Ouimet was born on May 8, 1893, in Brookline, Massachusetts, the youngest son of Louis and Mary Ellen Ouimet. Ouimet's father, a French Canadian immigrant, was a gardener, and as luck would have it, he moved his family to a house situated just across the street from the Brookline Country Club, one of the oldest and most prestigious private golf clubs in the United States. At the time, golf was a sport of the privileged class, which meant that working-class people like the Ouimets did not play. Francis's older brother, Wilfred, however, became a caddy (person hired by a golfer to carry golf clubs), and when he was not working the younger Ouimet would steal a club and hit balls in the cow pasture behind their house.
When he was eleven years old Ouimet became a caddy like his brother and was soon hooked on the game. He often got up at 5:00 AM and played on the Brookline course until he was chased off by the greens-keepers. While attending Brookline High he formed the school's first golf team, and by 1909 the young swinger was the Greater Boston Interscholastic Champion. In 1910, 1911, and 1912, Ouimet tried to qualify for the National Amateur Championships, but failed. In 1913, he had better luck at the state level and scored as the Massachusetts Amateur Champion. To pay for his tournament fees and equipment Ouimet took a job at a local sporting goods store.
That same year, the U.S. Open was being played at Brookline Country Club. In a surprising turn, Ouimet was asked to fill a last-minute spot by Robert Watson, president of the U. S. Golf Association. At first Ouimet was reluctant, especially since he did not want to take time off work. But he assumed he would lose quickly, plus the opportunity to meet two of his heroes, legendary British players Harry Vardon (1870–1937) and Ted Ray (1877–1914), was too tempting to pass up.
Ouimet started off poorly, but he quickly gained confidence thanks to his firsthand knowledge of the course. By the September 19 playoffs he was neck-and-neck with Vardon and Ray, and on September 20, 1913, he pulled ahead, beating Vardon by six strokes and Ray by five. The victory made Ouimet an unexpected American sports hero. At twenty years old, he was the youngest player ever to win the U.S. Open, and the first amateur. Ouimet was also an unlikely celebrity, considering he was a very gawky young man—beanpole thin with ears that stuck out.
Although he became a stockbroker in 1919, Ouimet remained an amateur golfer the rest of his life, winning a number of championships both in the United States and abroad. He is considered to be the player who brought the game of golf to the masses. In 1913, approximately 350,000 Americans were golfers; ten years later that number had increased to two million. In 1949, at the age of fifty-six, Ouimet retired from amateur golf, but not from the sport. That same year he also established a college scholarship fund for caddies. Admired by
Hell-blazer series of DC/Vertigo graphic novels, the movie centers on the exploits of a supernatural detective named John Constantine, played by Reeves. LaBeouf plays Constantine's sidekick, Chas, who, according to Sarah Wilson of Interview, is a "bighearted, overeager demon slayer in the making." The movie fared well with fans of the original series and there was immediate talk of a sequel. In general, though, most of the praise went to LaBeouf, who provided the few glimpses of comic relief in the dark thriller. Wilson claimed that the fledgling actor stole scene after scene from Reeves. And, according to Peter Travers of Rolling Stone, LaBeouf turned in one "juicy" supporting performance."
By mid-2005, with several standout performances under his belt, the eighteen-year-old LaBeouf seemed ready to tackle his first significant, grown-up role. That chance quickly came when he nabbed the lead in The Greatest Game Ever Played. Released in September of 2005 The Greatest Game chronicles the life of Francis Ouimet, an almost forgotten golf legend who, at the age of twenty, became the first amateur (and the youngest player) to ever win the U.S. Open, a major golf tournament. LaBeouf trained for over six months to perfect his swing, sometimes playing golf for almost six hours a day. He also toured with the University of California Los Angeles golf team and worked with several professional trainers. As he boasted to Rob Allstetter of the Detroit News, "Nobody has trained (in golf) like this for a film. And there's no swing like this on film I don't think—ever."
Many predicted that his role as Ouimet would be LaBeouf's breakthrough performance, cementing him on the short list of performers who successful made the transition from child star to adult actor. And, in clips heralding the release of The Greatest Game, audiences were given a glimpse of a young man on the brink of being grown up—taller, leaner, and with a newly shorn haircut. Jessica Blatt of CosmoGIRL! commented, "He's always been hilarious and adorable.... Now he's hotter than ever in Hollywood."
Blatt also observed that the young star known for his wisecracking both on screen and off was also pretty deep and "whip-smart." When asked what it was like to be a celebrity, LaBeouf replied, "Celebrity has a different meaning from actor. I have respect for the word actor.... My ultimate goal is to be the most respected actor on the planet, not the most famous celebrity." Perhaps, however, LaBeouf may switch to directing. In his spare time he enjoys making short films, one of which is about a boy who has a lobster for a pet. But whether LaBeouf chooses to stick it out in Hollywood remains to be seen. As he admitted to Blatt, "I don't know if I want to be a director forever or an actor forever, but I just love film. Even before I was in this business, all I ever did was watch movies."
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