Actor Shia Lebouf has opened up about how a newly-forged friendship with his disabled co-star completely transformed his own perspective on life.
LeBeouf and Zach Gottsagen, who has Down Syndrome, star in “The Peanut Butter Falcon,” an adaptation of Mark Twain’s infamous 1884 novel “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” which has enjoyed widespread critical acclaim since its release earlier this month.
“I had never worked with an actor like him,” Shia explained to the UK’s Channel 4 News. “I’d never been involved in a project like this. It felt like it was going to be a really freeing experience, and to be quite frank, I was terrified.”
But as the pair developed in the professional relationship, LeBeouf said that Gottsagen “softened” him and urged the “Even Stevens” star to stop taking himself so seriously.
“The kid in me died and I just got over all this,” LeBeouf explained. “This roller coaster wasn’t fun after a while. You ride the same roller coaster, it just loses its appeal. Then you go on it with someone who hasn’t been on it before, and somehow, it sparks back up.”
Shia may have come a long way since his being a child actor on the Disney channel, but he has also disgraced himself on several occasions — getting into regular trouble with the police.
Tabloid headlines about brushes with the law have become frequent for the talented performer, and this continued during the filming of his latest movie when LeBeouf was arrested for being drunk and disorderly.
Gottsagen was not happy at all.
“I was angry. Mad. Frustrated,” he told Esquire last year after the incident. “I didn’t want to work with Shia anymore.”
“‘You’re already famous. This is my chance. And you’re ruining it,'” the actor explained to Shia.
LeBeouf said the timely rebuke hit him hard.
“To hear him say that he was disappointed in me probably changed the course of my life,” he said. “Cause I was still fighting…. Just on my defense-mechanism-fear garbage. And you can’t do that to him. He keeps it one thousand with you…. Zack can’t not shoot straight, and bless him for it, ’cause in that moment, I needed a straight shooter who I couldn’t argue with.”
But it was Gottsagen’s kindness that really struck LeBeouf and completely changed his attitude.
“To hear him say that he was disappointed in me probably changed the course of my life,” LaBeouf said. “Cause I was still fighting…. Just on my defense-mechanism-fear garbage. And you can’t do that to him. He keeps it one thousand with you…. Zack can’t not shoot straight, and bless him for it, ’cause in that moment, I needed a straight shooter who I couldn’t argue with.”
“The day after I got arrested, we were on a boat. I couldn’t really look at anybody in the eye. I was sitting next to him, and he put his hand on my shoulder, and like, nursed me back on a boat during the scene where we’re talking about the painful past. That stuff hurts, that stuff hurt to go through and to feel.”
When the interviewer suggested that the film “saved” LeBoeuf’s life, the actor replied, “No, that’s not too dramatic to say.”
Impacted profoundly by the experience, LeBeouf told Sky News that he “prays” he’ll work with Gottsagen again.
“He shows up there and he’s some sort of beacon of hope, in a whole room of people looking up to him,” LeBeouf said of Zach after he won the Global Down Syndrome Foundation Quincy Jones Exceptional Advocacy Award last year.
“He’s a strong man.”