Inside Shia LaBeouf's Career Meltdown After Sexual Battery Lawsuit




 

Just a year ago, Shia LaBeouf was having a career resurgence. After being widely praised for his autobiographical film, "Honey Boy," which he wrote and starred in, and the indie drama "The Peanut Butter Falcon," LaBeouf landed a coveted role in the upcoming thriller, "Don't Worry Darling," the highly anticipated follow-up to Olivia Wilde's directorial breakout, "Booksmart."

The project was buzzy around town, sparking a major bidding war, before landing at New Line, with a handful of high-profile actors angling for the role that ultimately went to LaBeouf. For LaBeouf, "Don't Worry Darling" represented a professional victory. After a well-documented string of legal woes and a bizarre timeline of erratic behavior and stints in rehab that that caused many studios to distance themselves from him, the film signaled LaBeouf's possible return to a more mainstream career.

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But then in September, LaBeouf was officially moved off the project. Instead, studio sources announced that Harry Styles would be replacing him, citing a scheduling conflict.

It turns out that wasn't the full story. Variety has learned LaBeouf was dropped from the film. Though shooting had not started yet when LaBeouf departed, insiders close to the project say LaBeouf displayed poor behavior and his style clashed with the cast and crew, including Wilde, who ultimately fired him.

Wilde didn't respond to requests for comment for this story. LaBeouf's publicist declined to comment. A representative from New Line also declined to comment on the matter.

"He is not an easy guy to work with," a source close to the film says, adding that LaBeouf was "off-putting" to those associated with the project, particularly Wilde, who is known to build collaborative sets with a "zero asshole policy."

Last week, Wilde was one of many women who lent their support on social media to FKA Twigs, the singer, dancer and actress, who dated LaBeouf for roughly a year after meeting him on the set of "Honey Boy." Last week, FKA Twigs made headlines after she filed a bombshell lawsuit, alleging sexual battery against the actor and painting a lurid picture of the former Disney child star, who was accused of verbal and physical abuse, ranging from violent attacks to strangulation. Some of the disturbing allegations in the lawsuit include LaBeouf knowingly infecting FKA Twigs with an STD, and shooting stray dogs with a gun to get into character for his film, "The Tax Collector."

The lawsuit has brought into question the career prospects for LaBeouf, who became known in Hollywood known for battling demons in public. And it's presented new challenges for Netflix, which will release his next movie, "Pieces of a Woman," on Jan. 7, where he plays the husband of the title character, portrayed by Vanessa Kirby, who loses her baby during a home birth.

Following the lawsuit, the musician Sia backed up FKA Twigs with her own accusations against LaBeouf, tweeting, "I too have been hurt emotionally by Shia, a pathological liar, who conned me into an adulterous relationship claiming to be single." Songwriter Katy Rose, who says she grew up with LaBeouf when they were both children in the same entertainment business circles, also came forward with her own claim, posting on Twitter that when she was 14 years old, "He groped me violently at a party in the Hollywood Hills."

"Honey Boy" director, Alma Har'el, who collaborated closely with LaBeouf in telling his childhood story, also issued a statement supporting FKA Twigs, "Like many of Shia's collaborators and fans who battled substance abuse, suffered childhood trauma and face mental illness," Ha'rel said in a statement. "I am painfully aware of my past investment in his recovery. I want to send a clear message today that none of the above should excuse, minimize, or rationalize domestic violence."

LaBeouf has retained celebrity attorney Shawn Holley, who served on OJ Simpson's defense team, to represent him in the case. Before hiring Holley, LaBeouf responded to the lawsuit, telling the media that not all the allegations are true, but admitting to abusive behavior.

"I'm not in any position to tell anyone how my behavior made them feel," he said in an email to The New York Times, adding that he is a sober member of a 12-step program and is in therapy. "I have no excuses for my alcoholism or aggression, only rationalizations. I have been abusive to myself and everyone around me for years. I have a history of hurting the people closest to me. I'm ashamed of that history and am sorry to those I hurt. There is nothing else I can really say."

While FKA Twigs and stylist Karolyn Pho, who made similar claims of sexual assault against LaBeouf in the lawsuit, declined to comment for this story, their attorney, Bryan Freedman, says his clients came forward to help other women identify warning signs of an abuse.

"This isn't about Shia's career," Freedman tells Variety. "This is about making sure the trauma and pain inflicted on my clients and others doesn't happen again. Shia is an admitted abuser and he needs to get meaningful help that addresses his violent behavior."

Freedman said that his clients attempted to settle the matter privately, before going public with the lawsuit, asking LaBeouf to make a donation to an organization for domestic violence victims and "agree to receive meaningful and consistent psychological treatment." The plaintiff's attorney says his client filed the suit when LaBeouf was "unwilling to agree to get appropriate help."

In a statement to Variety, LaBeouf's attorney, Holley, disputes Freedman's claim that LaBeouf was unwilling to settle the matter. At the time, LaBeouf had different legal representation. LaBeouf's attorney also says the actor is currently exploring options for long-term, inpatient treatment.

"When these allegations first came up a year ago, Shia immediately accepted responsibility for the many things he had done wrong and expressed his willingness to do what Twigs wanted him to do, almost all of which were perfectly reasonable," Holley says. "To that end, he paid for, scheduled, rescheduled (when she changed the date), and traveled from another country to attend the mediation set up by the lawyers for both sides. When Twigs' lawyer cancelled the mediation, Shia's lawyer tried to get it rescheduled. Shia's position has never changed and I have reached out to Mr. Freedman to see how things might get back on track."

Today, LaBeouf's attorney says he acknowledges his issues, and remains open and willing to make things right.

"Shia needs help and he knows that," LaBeouf's attorney tells Variety. "We are actively seeking the kind of meaningful, intensive, long-term inpatient treatment that he desperately needs."

FKA Twigs is demanding a trial by jury in the civil suit, which states she never reported anything to law enforcement, at the time of the alleged abuse, feeling misguidedly that she would harm LaBeouf's career if she went to the police. She also did not trust that the police would take her account seriously - a common fear of sexual abuse victims.

Asked if FKA Twigs has any current plans to go to the police to bring about criminal charges, her attorney declined to provide any insight, citing client privileged information.

LaBeouf first shot to fame at age 14 on the Disney Channel series "Even Stevens." Throughout his 20s, he continued to have a series of breakdowns and struggled with drugs and alcohol, an issue for many child actors fight. But the industry's pushback to perpetrators of abuse has been clear in the #MeToo era.

Last month, Warner Bros. asked Johnny Depp to resign from the "Fantastic Beasts" franchise, after he lost his libel trial against British tabloid, "The Sun," which printed an article labeling him a "wife beater" over allegations of domestic violence from his ex-wife, Amber Heard.

FKA Twigs' lawsuit has changed LaBeouf's redemption narrative, which this fall included a role in the buzzy award season offering "Pieces of a Woman," which Netflix bought out of the Venice Film Festival. The streaming goliath has already removed LaBeouf's name as a best supporting actor contender from its online "For Your Consideration" ads, instead focusing on stars Kirby and Ellen Burstyn.

A Netflix representative says that even before FKA Twigs filed the lawsuit, LaBeouf was never a major focus or part of the awards campaign strategy. In the past, LaBeouf - who has never been one to follow mainstream Hollywood practices like press tours, and even once showed up to a red carpet with a bag over his head for the premiere of "Nymphomaniac" - has shied away from heavily promoting his projects. Another source says that the actor had never planned to campaign for "Pieces of a Woman," as he felt the film was always centered on Kirby's lead actress performance.

Five days after the lawsuit was filed, Netflix scrubbed LaBeouf's name from its site. But somewhat awkwardly, his name was already printed on FYC materials that have been mailed out to Academy members and critics.

Directed by Kornél Mundruczó ("White God"), the film's cast members have yet to complete their press commitments, and they'll likely be inundated with questions about LaBeouf in the weeks ahead on the awards trail.

Speaking for the first time about the lawsuit against LaBeouf, Mundruczó tells Variety: "These are serious allegations that were hard to read. My heart was full of sorrow and sadness to read the accounts. I believe all humans should feel like they can come forward and tell their truth. I stand with you."

The director adds, "We are proud that the film centers on the complexity and beauty of a female journey. Our focus remains on shining a light on our deeply personal story."

Although he would be considered a longshot for a nomination, LaBeouf's Oscars chances look to have entirely evaporated.

Before the lawsuit, Hollywood seemed to be willing to put LaBeouf's past behavior in the rear-view mirror. Following the success of "Honey Boy," Marvel was even eying LaBeouf for a superhero role, according to reports that surfaced as recently as this summer, though, at the time, insiders told Variety that there was initial interest, but a meeting never took place and discussions never ensued.

After starring in "Transformers" and "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," LaBeouf had a series of public meltdowns that played out in the tabloids. After a 2014 drunken arrest for causing a disturbance while watching a Broadway performance of "Cabaret," and another arrest in 2017 for public intoxication when LaBeouf made racial remarks to a police officer, prompting him to seek therapy for anger and substance abuse issues, Hollywood appeared to be distancing from LaBeouf.

David Ayer had approached him for a role in "Suicide Squad," but LaBeouf says Warner Bros. wasn't interested. "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," LaBeouf told Variety in a 2016 interview.

He's burned bridges and torpedoed essential relationships, feuding with Steven Spielberg, who was responsible for casting him in "Indiana Jones," "Disturbia" and "Transformers." ("He's less a director than he is a f-ing company," LaBeouf said in 2016.)

Even after a 2015 altercation with his then-girlfriend, actress Mia Goth, was caught on camera, LaBeouf continued to garner professional praise. In the footage, LaBeouf turned nearly violent and was heard telling strangers in the street in Germany, "If I'd have stayed there, I would have killed her." The leaked video had a brief media blitz, but the couple remained in their relationship, and one year later, LaBeouf received the best reviews of his career for "American Honey," which won the jury prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 2016.

And yet, unlike Lindsay Lohan, LaBeouf still got a pass, constantly working, even if not on multi-million dollar tentpoles, but in independent movies, such as Andrea Arnold's "American Honey," and mid-budget films, like Ayer's "The Tax Collector," released earlier this year. His erratic behavior almost seemed to steer his career in a new artistic direction, as his brand became synonymous with unpredictability. And in a town where recovery is rightfully de-stigmatized, his struggle with addiction has garnered sympathy, as has his troubled upbringing and formative years as a child star.

But allegations of sexual battery are a different matter. Claims of such serious nature are categorized apart from other types of showbiz scandals that are largely forgotten, or even celebrated.

"Sometimes, if you are a loose cannon, you can parlay that into some of your best roles, and there can be pros and cons, frankly, to some of these controversies," says Ryan Baker, a founding partner at the Los Angeles based law firm Baker Marquart, which has represented high-profile talent, always adverse to the studios in litigation.

"But when you talk about sexual harassment or sexual abuse, especially in today's world," Baker adds, "It presents a different set of problems than somebody who might be drunk and yelling things or arrested from a DUI."

LaBeouf has no upcoming projects on his radar, and it may be difficult for him to get cast even in indies now, given that financiers will want to know the outcome of a potential trial before committing to LaBeouf as part of an upcoming movie. He is still represented by CAA, but the agency declined to comment on this story. Before the lawsuit was filed, LaBeouf was selected to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2021, though his ceremony date has yet to be scheduled.

Should he get the help he needs - and his attorney says he is currently seeking that out - LaBeouf has an opportunity not only to fix his own self-admitted abusive behavior, but to also help those struggling with substance abuse, according to Jennifer Musselman, a former Nickelodeon executive who made a career shift to become a clinical psychotherapist, specializing in addiction. (Musselman, who has extensive experience working on-set with child stars, has never treated LaBeouf.)

"Substance addiction does not come tied to sexual abuse, physical abuse. There are plenty of people in recovery who don't do those things. Those are often anger issues and trauma issues," Musselman says. "When someone is suffering from a drug and alcohol issue, frequently, it's a coping mechanism. In this case, I would guess these issues are tied to his traumatic childhood, including the way that he was supported, if you will, by the Hollywood industry to be dismissed of these bad behaviors."

The therapist, who is licensed by California State Board of Behavioral Science, believes LaBeouf's response shows a level of awareness, but says accountability is key in making a full recovery.

"It is the behavior that we need to see moving forward consistently that should allow people to decide - producers, agents, mangers, networks - whether or not he should be allowed to show up and work, frankly," she says. "You see celebrities go away for six months and go to rehab, but often for the wrong reasons. To truly heal and develop the kind of character for someone who allegedly has this extent of violent behavior, they have to actually want to do the work, and not just want to work again."

If you or anyone you know is experiencing abuse or domestic violence please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).

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