Wall Street star Shia LaBeouf speaks to JOE about Hollywood, the recession and making lots of money.

By Jordan Reife

One-time stand up comic Shia LaBeouf rose to fame in 2007’s Disturbia, playing the ever-so-slightly bad boy next door who spots a crime but can’t leave his home because he’s wearing a tag, before going on to have huge success in the big budget Hollywood flick Transformers, playing the geeky guy turned world-saving hero.

In his latest role he joins the über-rich sharp-suited 21st Century city boys in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, a follow up to Oliver Stone’s classic movie starring Charlie Sheen and Michael Douglas. Both Charlie and Michael reprise their roles as Bud Fox and Gordon Gekko, plus Oliver Stone is back in the director’s chair.

As the global economy teeters on the brink of disaster, young Wall Street trader Jacob Moore (played by Shia) partners with disgraced former Wall Street corporate raider Gekko on a two-tiered mission: to alert the financial community to the coming doom, and to find out who was responsible for the death of the young trader's mentor.

We caught up with the 24-year-old actor to see if life among the city traders has worn off on him. We soon discovered that yes, it has.

JOE:  You're a star of the new Wall Street movie. We’re assuming you saw the original?

Shia:  Oh, sure.  I am a movie buff.  It’s one of those movies you have to watch.  A classic.  And Oliver Stone is one of the best filmmakers ever.

JOE:  Wall Street has been under a lot of scrutiny these past couple years. How did you relate to these financial guys?

Shia:  I was kicked out of every school I ever went to in my life.  So my education in terms of finance and maths is not heavy.  I do, however, come from a money- hungry background. I never had any, and I wanted it.  I come from that.  I gained and lost family to money.  So I can relate to that hunger for money.  All these Wall Street guys share that hunger.

JOE:  How do you feel about money?

Shia:  My feeling on money is peculiar.  I’ve never really understood what money really is.  I feel that this movie came to me at the right time in my life.  I needed it for more than just the education of it.

JOE:  What do you mean by that?

Shia:  Money is time, freedom, gives you options.  But I never really understood who controls money and I feel I learned that I learned this with this movie and let me tell you, what I learned was not pretty.

JOE:  Some say that money equals greed and corruption.  Do you have to be in a pretty bad mindset to be able to make a movie like this?

Shia:  Yes, absolutely. I came out of a very dark spell when we shot this film.  I had to get a lot off my chest and this movie was a perfect vehicle to work through all these issues; for all the apprehension and the drama and the tumultuous crap I had gone through at that time.

JOE:  Do you feel you could work as a financial advisor now, with all that knowledge about Wall Street?

Shia:  We had a financial advisor on the set, the go-to guy for money questions, and I realised quickly that he was making mistakes. Three or four times it happened.  At the end of the shoot I was pretty well prepared to answer the questions myself.  I know how to trade stocks.  I am good at it.

JOE:  How good?

Shia:  Well, my account with brokers Charles Schwaab is up from US$20,000 a couple months ago to more than US$495,000.  I am rich now. Put it this way, I am not making movies for money anymore. Despite the money I’ve made I’ve always been good living on a budget.  I invest wisely and I don’t need to buy Lamborghinis. A truck will do just fine for me.

JOE:  Last year you topped the list of actors who give film studios the best return on their investment, with your films earning, on average, $160 for every $1 you’re paid. You came to Wall Street off a huge success with the Transformer franchise.  Do you ever feel that Hollywood is just using you?

Shia:  Are you kidding? ­ Of course I know that.  They call me when they need to fill seats in cinemas.  I understand that.

JOE:  So as one of Hollywood’s young bucks – how do you see Hollywood today?

Shia:  Put it this way: Bollywood makes twice as many movies than we do.  We need to make more “Twilights” as fast as possible.

JOE:  What is your take on Wall Street now that you’ve made this movie?  Do you get angry when you hear that these executives make millions in bonuses, or do you have another view after having spent time on Wall Street?

Shia:  It’s easy to point fingers but that’s not the way it all goes down.  There are structural problems in the financial systems.  I know that now.  We have a big problem today.  There is no possible way to pay off our national debt.

JOE:  Sounds bleak...

Shia:  It is bleak.  We are the ninja generation.  No investments, no jobs, no assets, That’s what my generation has to look forward to; zero, nothing, shrinking economy. A smart kid coming out of a business school has two avenues.  They can go down the avenue of regulation, which has zero incentives, or they can go down the avenue of an investment banker where every dream comes true.

JOE:  How seductive is it for you to invest in the stocks and shares? It sounds like you’ve really got into the whole trading thing.

Shia:  Yes, I play it hard and heavy.  I love it.

JOE:  Do you feel that people are really feeling the effect of the current recession yet?

Shia:  No, I don’t.  It’s going to hit us much harder.  People will feel it when the post office only opens one day of the week, when we can only go to college on Mondays, that’ll affect people.  I am not hopeful at all.

JOE:  Your character in this film eventually meets Gordon Gecko.  He is kind of a mentor.  Have you ever had a mentor in your life?

Shia:  Yes sure: Robert Downey Jr. Jon Voight has been a samurai, a real backbone for me. Then there’s Spielberg, Oliver Stone...  there’s a bunch of them.

JOE:  How are you dealing with the whole celebrity status? You’ve got the fame and money. You’re dating hot British actress Carey Mulligan who you met on the set of Wall Street. You’ve got girls falling at your feet. You must be lapping it up...

Shia:  As long as I stay famous for my work, it’s all good.  If I mess up then I am famous for my mess up.  I am the first one to admit that it makes great news when you hear that Robert Pattinson robs a bank.  Vampire robs a bank.  That’s fun.  I am 23.  I am a normal guy.  I never walked into this to be Brad Pitt.  The goal for me is to work with the best.  And I am fortunate beyond belief.  I’m not ready to mess it up for a drink.  Do you know what I mean?

JOE: Back to the film, do you think this version of Wall Street is better than the first one?
Shia:  Yes, I do think it is.  The landscape is more confusing this time around.  There are more twists and turns.  It’s a very different world.  The first movie dealt with a family dilemma.  This one is a bunch of sharks trying to screw each other over.

JOE:  When you were on the trading floor on Wall Street, what was that like?

Shia:  These are guys my age.  I was trading a million dollars a day, for real, and four of the five guys that helped me prep for the movie are all locked up now.  They are in jail.  They’ve been arrested for insider trading that went down when I sat right next to them.  They did that on Twitter.

JOE:  Despite the big bucks you’re getting now, both for your films and thanks to your trading success, do you remember your first small pay cheque?

Shia:  What do you mean? ­ I never had a small pay cheque (laughs).

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps starring Shia LaBeouf opens on 6 October.

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