Can you take us to the beginning of this process, when you had bits and fragments of the story?
Shia LaBeouf: I was in an emotional rehab facility. It was court ordered that I go to a mental institution in Connecticut. I got arrested in Georgia and they sent me to this place. I got there and they said, “you have PTSD. We have a solution called Exposure Therapy for you.” It’s in the film. You go into a room and do a sort of Gestalt therapy two-step, with a therapist who walks you through your deepest darkest. You pick at your shadows. It is all recorded and then you listen back to it at night. You go over this stuff. Once a week I had access to a computer, and I was never good with grammar, so there’s this website called Grammarly. I would take my notes, transcribe them on Grammarly, and then once a week send them to Alma as good as I could get it. This went on for close to two months. Even before that, she said, “hey maybe there’s a narrative here.” We’ve been collaborating with each other on and off throughout the years. She’s got the best taste of any woman I know. There’s a whole lot of love between us. We collaborated on a bunch of auxiliary projects and we were looking for a narrative. I knew her process felt good as an actor. I would send her these pages and she would send me back notes and we wrestled this thing into something with structure, and even that changed later on. It was enough for us to go shoot, and we found this incredible young man, we found Lucas. They made it their own, relinquished all agency and were focusing on this one little thing I was trying to do. Everybody zeroed in on what their gig was and together we built something we felt was close to the truth.
That is what broke me and made me feel like I had to make this film.
What elements came to you that you really gravitated towards in this story, Alma?
Alma Har’el: It definitely was not imagery that captured me the most at first. It was actually the dialogue and Shia’s ability to bring me into the room in the motel and I think it all started with that. The idea that we can step into his father’s shoes and writhe in both the pain he inherited from him and the addiction and anger, but at the same time have so much kindness and humor in him. That is what broke me and made me feel like I had to make this film. A lot of the imagery was actually something I was shoving down his throat. Those are things that came to me. The “no no no” thing came from youtube clips where Shia says “no no no” during Transformers. It’s one of my favorite things to watch. It tells the story of what Shia had to do on those sets in order to make things real. He’s such a talent, and is being treated, in a way, like a marionette. Hanging from that harness was something that felt haunting to me, but it wasn’t what got me to do the film. It was more like the thing I put on top. What made me want to do the film was the relationship between father and son and the way Shia wrote the script.
Noah, Could we talk about the motel scene and how it was built with your performance?
Noah Jupe: I guess this movie felt like a family to me. I think that came down to Alma a lot and the producers. The crew was really close and also me, Shia, Alma, Lucas, Byron were all hanging out all the time in the months before the shoot. We were building that relationship, friendship, and trust. I think that massively influenced how the scenes played out. We wouldn’t have got the emotion that was found if we didn’t have that safety to take risks. There were a lot of hugs on this set.
There is a calibration between the dark parts and the humor in this film, and I was wondering how you were able to find your performance as Percy, Byron?
Byron Bowers: The only thing that was solid was what his character was going through. In my mind I knew what this character needed in the moment, so I was just trying to make him feel comfortable. I know he didn’t want to be there, and I was just trying to make him feel comfortable and relaxed. I told him there are worse places he could be. You get to finish, but I don’t get to finish. It’s my fourth time here. I was feeling guilty about being the son of an addict myself. My brother and sister both did extensive years of crack. Me and my cousin Mike turned out different. He was in prison at the time. They gave him ten years, and I was doing this. And I complain about this! It was a version of my real story too. I used that to help Otis get through those scenes.