The autobiographical film follows a child actor who looks back as a young adult and struggles to reconcile with his abusive father. It marks LaBeouf’s screenwriting debut and mirrors his own life in many ways — except there’s a twist: here, LaBeouf is stepping into the shoes of his dad rather than playing himself.
The script started in an unlikely place, which LaBeouf opened up about while sitting down with the cast and director Alma Har’el in the EW and PEOPLE suite at the Toronto International Film Festival.
“I was in a court-ordered rehab facility and it was part of sussing out my past, flashlight to your soul, trying to get to know myself, like a shedding of skin in a way,” he says of where the story began. For him, writing the script was part of his recovery process and a way of dealing with unresolved pain.
“I put it on a piece of paper like they told me, and then I get home and read it and it felt like it was in script form,” he elaborates. “I wound up sending all of my stuff to Alma who’s one of my closest friends and now a full-blown collaborator, so I was sending her all these pages and as the pages kept developing she’s like ‘Whoa, this is really a film.’ She was cheerleading from the outside and that was lifting my spirits inside.”
LaBeouf is earning praise for his transformation into a man who is a recovering alcoholic and older than LaBeouf’s 33 years. “What I’d do physically? I just gave up on routine,” he muses about making the physical shift.
Part of his challenge was perfecting a weight gain that eluded his younger self — getting the spare tire around his stomach while not gaining weight elsewhere. “If I would’ve started gaining weight, then it would’ve showed up on my face and my dad was a very tall, slim man with a little patch — that has to do with age and stuff, you actually can’t [replicate that],” he explains.
Instead, he focused more on his father’s nasal voice and heavy breathing. “My smoking got heavier and my dad was a very nasal guy, so the whole time we were doing the shoot, I had stuff in my nose,” he noted. “I had nose plugs and then smoking on top of that so the only way you could catch a breath was through the mouth.”
Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea) also stars as the young adult version of the main character, Otis, while Noah Jupe (A Quiet Place) plays the 12-year-old version of Otis.
Watch the clip above for more. Honey Boy hits theaters Nov. 8.