Who does Shia LaBeouf play from here (and is it Karl Rove)?
The occasional tabloid debacle or Frankie Muniz throwdown aside, Shia LaBeouf has proved he's one of the most bankable young stars out there.
Love him or hate him, with the actor in a lead role even movies with mixed reviews become mega-hits ("Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull") and sequels with questionable premises ("Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps") gain a sizable audience. And if he's in a big-budget special-effects tentpole, it's a barn-burner at the box office (the first two "Transformers" films). Critics -- and he has plenty -- will say he just chooses surefire projects, and there's something to that. But then, you need a certain appeal even to be offered those parts in the first place.
Yet after the third movie in the "Transformers" series is released next summer, LaBeouf, who's made five movies in four years, won't be seen anywhere for a while.
He's yet to book his next part, which means we likely will go through the end of 2011 and well into 2012 before catching him on the big screen again. His representatives in Hollywood have in recent weeks been talking up a storm with numerous executives and producers trying to figure out what his next part would be -- and furrowing their brows about his potential lag in taking one.
LaBeouf has been mentioned in conjunction with "The Associate," the adaptation of the John Grisham legal thriller. But that movie has been in development for two years and has no director, so that's probably not happening overnight.
Those close to LaBeouf have said that the 24-year-old is very interested in "College Republicans," the comedy-drama about a young Karl Rove vying for the position of chief campus conservative under the guidance of one Lee Atwater, who's his campaign manager. A lot of actors have expressed interest in either of the two lead parts -- Wes Jones' script, set up at "Beaver" producer Anonymous Content, has been a hot commodity in recent months and will likely end up high on the year-end Black List -- and LaBeouf is said to be among the actors who wants in. (There's officially no director yet, though Richard Linklater's name has surfaced, which means the recently studio-minded LaBeouf would be working with one of the forefathers of the modern indie movement.)
A part in "Republicans" would be a milestone of sorts. For one thing, it would be a more meaty part -- he's never played a well-known political or historical figure. LaBeouf also hasn't had a leading role in a major comedy in his film career. That's kind of hard to believe given his likability among younger women, but since he vaulted to megastardom about four years ago, most of the movies he's made have been thrillers ("Disturbia," "Eagle Eye") or action franchises ("Transformers," "Indiana Jones"). If there's comedy in his movies at all, it usually passes quickly while alien robots are exploding around him.
That's striking, and a bit of a conspicuous hole, for a star who's often compared to Tom Hanks. Hanks had diversified into "Big" and "The Bachelor Party" at a comparable point in his career. While LaBeouf's intensity might seem to militate against comedy, at the beginning of his career goofy was pretty much all he did (starring as the practical-joker younger sibling on the Disney Channel hit "Even Stevens." For an, um, reminder, check out the clip below.)
A star like LaBeouf is in an enviable position. He pretty much has the clout to star in any film he pleases, and get a costar and director he approves of along with it. For actors with similar carte blanche, this can mean repeated trips to the action-movie cash register (Tom Cruise, for a certain part of his career) or leveraging that power into quirky roles in passion projects (Matt Damon and Brad Pitt, at their most recent stages). LaBeouf is still young enough to decide which way he wants to go. But he may want to make up his mind soon -- there's another crop of even younger male stars coming up right behind him.
-- Steven Zeitchik
Photo: Shia LaBeouf as Sam Witwicky in "Transformers." Credit: Paramount Pictures. Video research credit: Amy Kaufman
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