Can you imagine Shia LabBeouf in the DC Extended Universe? Well, it almost happened. The actor has been diving deep into independent and experimental cinema lately with roles in Lars von Trier’s sexual epic Nymphomaniac and a buzzworthy turn in Amanda Arnold’s upcoming drama American Honey, but after his turn in David Ayer’s World War II film Fury, he nearly made a return to blockbuster filmmaking five years after his final appearance in the Transformers franchise.
As part of an extensive profile of the actor in Variety, which is timed to the festival rollout of American Honey, a now-sober LaBeouf revealed that Ayer tried to bring him onboard Suicide Squad in the role that eventually went to Scott Eastwood. Ayer approached LaBeouf as the film was coming together, but the actor’s troubling public image posed a problem for Warner Bros.:
“The character was different initially. Then Will [Smith] came in, and the script changed a bit. That character and Tom [Hardy’s] character [later played by Joel Kinnaman] got written down to build Will up.” LaBeouf says the studio vetoed his casting. “I don’t think Warner Bros. wanted me. I went in to meet, and they were like, ‘Nah, you’re crazy. You’re a good actor, but not this one.’ It was a big investment for them.”
Indeed we’re all aware now of the evolving nature of Suicide Squad throughout its development, production, and post-production, with Ayer writing the script at the same time as he was casting. It sounds like once Smith agreed to take on the role of Deadshot, the ensemble dynamic shifted a bit, which can certainly be felt in the final film. As it stands now, Eastwood’s character barely serves a purpose other than as an excuse to have a military aspect to the story, even though the Suicide Squad is put together for these missions precisely because they’re expendable. Would the role have been beefed up a bit more had LaBeouf’s casting not been overruled? We’ll never know.
But now it sounds like LaBeouf is pretty much over blockbuster filmmaking, at least for the time being. In reflecting on his work with Steven Spielberg, which includes Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull as well as the Spielberg-produced Transformers films, Disturbia, and 2008’s Eagle Eye, LaBeouf does not have fond memories:
“You get there, and you realize you’re not meeting the Spielberg you dream of. You’re meeting a different Spielberg, who is in a different stage in his career. He’s less a director than he is a fucking company.”
LaBeouf felt like there was no room to grow as an actor, and that he was stuck. “Spielberg’s sets are very different,” he says. “Everything has been so meticulously planned. You got to get this line out in 37 seconds. You do that for five years, you start to feel like not knowing what you’re doing for a living.”
Indeed, in hindsight LaBeouf says he only likes one film he made with the iconic filmmaker:
“I don’t like the movies that I made with Spielberg. The only movie that I liked that we made together was Transformers one.”
And of the oft-maligned Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, LaBeouf says he felt he was unfairly blamed for the quality of the disappointing sequel:
“I prepped for a year and a half. And then the movie comes out, and it’s your fault. That shit hurt bad.”
While I’ve never been on a Spielberg set myself, I’d have to disagree with LaBeouf’s assessment that the filmmaker works more like a company than a director. The direction in Lincoln and Bridge of Spies is downright masterful, and Spielberg is well known for editing in-camera, shooting only exactly what he needs. That could certainly result in feeling a lack of spontaneity, but it’s all in service of a singular vision, for better or for worse. And you know, I’m inclined to trust the guy who made E.T., Raiders of the Lost Ark, Minority Report, A.I., Saving Private Ryan, War of the Worlds, etc.
At this juncture, LaBeouf appears to be much more at home working in more improvisational environments. With American Honey, for example, he’d only receive script pages on the day of shooting, allowing for a free-flowing atmosphere. Suicide Squad director Ayer employs a similarly immersive experience beginning with intense rehearsals, and if LaBeouf had been cast in Suicide Squad, one wonders what kind of tune he’d be singing in the wake of that film’s release.