David Ayer says Shia LaBeouf is more ‘calculated’ than the public understands

Visiting the set of “Fury” last October, it was impossible to imagine what cast member Shia LaBeouf would be up to less than two months later.

It all began in December with a halfhearted response to allegations of plagiarism that backfired spectacularly. In February, he walked the red carpet at the world premiere of “Nymphomaniac” at the Berlin Film Festival with a paper bag on his head with the words “I'm Not Famous” scribbled on it. A month later he opened a Maria Ambromvic-inspired performance piece entitled #IAMSORRY that found him openly sobbing in front of the public participants. All in all, in eight months LaBeouf has gone from noted Hollywood bad boy to something of a hipster enfant terrible. And systematically, based on the events of let weekend, it's gotten worse.

During our visit to that impressive period set, director David Ayer stopped and chatted for a few minutes, but was unavailable to talk in depth about the picture. Sony Pictures was kind enough to set up an interview last Wednesday, June 25 as background for an embargo that lifted today regarding the original visit. On that chilly October day, however, producer John Lesher spoke about how passionate LaBeouf had been to star in “Fury” after he'd been fired from the Broadway play “Orphans.” Lesher recalled, “He had read it and we started talking about it. He was like, 'I want to do it. Tell David I'll do anything.' So he said he would fly to LA to meet with him and David's like, 'I love Shia. I'd love to meet with him.' They met and David loved him so we cast him kind of from that.”

Last week, I asked Ayer about Lesher's comments and why he had cast him in the film. Ayer recalled LaBeouf coming to his home and that he loved his passion. In his view, LaBeouf's an “actor”

“He's all heart,” Ayer said. “He's all passion. I think the problem is there”s a public idea of who he is and then there”s who he really is. And those are two different things. And, you know, he was a child actor and he”s basically trying to shed his old skin and he”ll do anything to do that and grow and be recognized for what he really is, which is an outstanding actor. So he”s broken all the PR rules big time. But it”s a chance here now for him to be rediscovered and I think that will be the fun of this movie for a lot of people, to kind of rediscover Shia and see a new version of him. But I [love] him. I would go to bat for him vice versa.”

Ayer continued: “Everything that”s happening out there in the public with Shia is, I think, a lot more calculated and intentional than people really understand. So it”s kind of like for him, if he does something, if he goes on – he”s sort of an artistic project basically. If he goes out and it does something artistic you”ve got to commit fully. And that”s exactly what he did in that tank. It”ll be a pleasant surprise when people realize oh, just a regular guy.”

The next day LaBeouf was arrested for disrupting a live performance of the recent revival of “Cabaret.” He reportedly spat and swore at police officers who decided to then book him downtown. Witnesses say before the performance he chased a homeless man in the area trying to get what he said was his own hat back.

Has all of his behavior really been a “calculation?” Will he turn around in six months and pull an “I'm Still Here” claiming his actions were a larger performance piece intended to show us the ills of the Hollywood studio system, pop culture and social media? If so, he'll spend years trying to win back the court of public opinion. If not, he's one 28-year-old who needs less internet scorn and, instead, more legitimate help.

Ayer, on the other hand, will likely wince after seeing his comments (hey, it happens).  Luckily for him, “Fury” looks like it is shaping up to be not just a commercial hit, but a serious awards contender.