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Shia LaBeouf Wrote Movie 'Honey Boy' About His Traumatic Childhood While in Rehab

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Shia LaBeouf’s latest movie, which he wrote while in rehab, is based on LaBeouf’s real-life relationship with his abusive father and the source of his post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and struggle with alcoholism.

• What is PTSD?

“Honey Boy” was written by LaBeouf and follows James Lort (played by LaBeouf), a Vietnam veteran and convicted sex offender who struggles with alcoholism and addiction. His son, Otis Lort, is a child actor (played by Noah Jupe) and then a young man (played by Lucas Hedges) who navigates his father’s addiction and abuse while trying to find his way in the world. James Lort is based on LaBeouf’s father, Jeffrey LaBeouf, while Otis is a fictional stand-in for LaBeouf.

LaBeouf wrote “Honey Boy” while in rehab after he was arrested in 2017 for public drunkenness while filming “The Peanut Butter Falcon.” After his arrest, a judge ordered him to rehab in lieu of jail, where LaBeouf began to face his traumatic past. According to an interview with the Hollywood Reporter, LaBeouf said “everything that’s in the film happened.” He wrote “Honey Boy” based on notes from his therapy sessions after receiving a new mental health diagnosis in rehab.

“It was the first time I was told I had PTSD,” LaBeouf told the Hollywood Reporter. “I had just thought I was an alcoholic. The stuff that’s in ‘Honey Boy’ comes out of these exposure therapy sessions.”

One of the other major themes in “Honey Boy” is money, which LaBeouf told the Hollywood Reporter was a major driving force when he worked as a young actor on popular TV shows like “Even Stevens.” Like many people who have experienced a traumatic childhood, LaBeouf attributed the issues his family had to an external source — money. At the time he thought if he could bring in more money, he could bring his family together.

“In a very simple way, to me, having money meant having a family. The more money I had, the more I could have my family around. That’s just how I equated it,” LaBeouf said, adding:

My dad wasn’t around for a lot of my life because he was chasing cash. And my mother wasn’t around because she was chasing cash. And I just looked at capitalism as the reason my family didn’t work out and the reason their marriage failed. I looked at it as an economic thing. They loved each other deeply, and all of their fighting came from money, and so I just thought, ‘Well, if we had money, there’d be no fighting and I’d have a family. This is what created this hustle in me.’

Filmmaker Alma Har’el served as the director for “Honey Boy” while Natasha Braier was the cinematographer. And because LaBeouf was diagnosed with PTSD as a result of his experiences, Braier said she had to be mindful of LaBeouf’s mental health while they were filming. Most of the scenes in “Honey Boy” were only filmed one time because they were so triggering to LaBeouf.

“It’s being in the skin of the person that created the biggest wounds in his childhood, that are still hurting a lot and make him who he is,” Braier told IndieWire, adding:

He’s triggered by men, and his father, who he’s portraying, it’s like a kind of very concrete type of energy, of masculine energy. And so normally you would imagine that grips and electrics are also strong guys that are very masculine. So they can, even if they are not abusers, they could really trigger Shia. So ideally he would have wanted a whole group to be female.

So far “Honey Boy” earned critical acclaim at the Sundance Film Festival and Toronto Film Festival. LaBeouf also earned “breakthrough screenwriter” during the Hollywood Film Awards on Sunday for his writing on “Honey Boy.” Upon presenting the award to LaBeouf, Robert Downey Jr. told him, “[It’s] easily the best and bravest film I have seen in years,” according to the New York Post.

Har’el told the Wrap making “Honey Boy” served as a kind of “artistic exorcism” for LaBeouf, a creative way to process the trauma he experienced as a child. She added his choice to write and star in the film was brave, and that the entire team learned to support LaBeouf in telling his story.

“Obviously we all went through a lot of deep feelings while making the film, but nothing was too much,” Har’el said. “Whenever the demons came, we danced with them.”

Honey Boy” is playing in select theaters in the U.S. and will premiere on Amazon on Nov. 8. You can watch the movie’s trailer here:

Image via Creative Commons/JiBs.

Originally published: November 5, 2019
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