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MONDAY, JULY 2, 2007


Shia LaBeouf doesn't have anything against vegetarians, really, but it's not for him. It just wouldn't suit his unique name.

"Shia means a gift from God, which is Hebrew, and my mom's a Jew from New York," explained LaBeouf, the star of Transformers. "And LaBeouf is Cajun, French -- my dad is from Louisiana -- and it means the beef. So my name means 'thank God for beef.'"

LeBeouf, 21, is making quite a name for himself these days. Transformers figures to be his second No. 1 movie of the year, following Disturbia, when it is released this week. He also voiced the lead character in the animated Surf's Up and is currently working on the fourth Indiana Jones movie.

Comics fans might remember him for his supporting role in Constantine, but Transformers is a far cry from being Keanu Reeves' sidekick, with LaBeouf front and center in the often-precarious action, which included hanging onto a building dozens of stories above the ground.

In Transformers, LeBeouf plays Sam Witwicky, a teenager who, through his new Camaro, is brought into the worlds of the Autobots and Decepticons.

"Sam is just a normal kid," Transformers director Michael Bay said. "I didn't want him to be the stud or the geek, just a normal Joe. He's the type of guy who finds his edge through humor. He's a little awkward, but you immediately like him."

"Sam becomes a messenger for the robots," LaBeouf said. "He referees the entire situation between the Autobots and the Decepticons. He's the human anchor for the movie so that you can have this outlandish plot of two kids in high school with no special skills, no cape, no big gun, who get the upper hand over evil robots, the government, hackers, everyone."

LaBeouf said Sam is a sheltered character.

"He hasn't seen much of the world, so he's searching for an adventure," LaBeouf said. "Of course, in his mind adventure comes in the form of a girl named Mikaela, but he finds out soon enough that his adventure is more than finding a girlfriend.

"When he's first approached by Optimus, it's not something he's ready for, but through the course of the film he becomes a man. Sam starts as a kid with no responsibilities and big dreams, but his focus changes. His friendship with this girl grows from a shallow infatuation to a very intimate relationship and he finds a best friend and a guardian in these robots."

Producer Lorenzo Di Bonaventura worked with LaBeouf on Constantine and praised his likeability.

"There's no question that having grown up in the movie business Shia has learned how to make a character his own, how to interpret the character's choices and how to create the character's inner world," Di Bonaventura said. "For his age, Shia is beyond sophisticated."

"Shia is one of the funniest people I've ever met," said Megan Fox, who plays Mikaela."He's just naturally funny. "Sometimes it was hard to get through scenes with him. And he's so good at improv, he just gets funnier and funnier, which made it harder and harder for me to stick to the script and try not to laugh."

Like most of Bay's action movies, Transformers requires his actors to be involved as much as possible.

"The effects guys point out every bomb, so that no one is in danger, but you never know which will go off first, second, third, fourth," he said. "I'm just a normal kid. I'm not supposed to know how to do Jet Li-style acrobatics."

Transformers also stars Jon Voight, LaBeouf's mentor whom he met on Holes, one of the early stepping stones in his career.

"He saw something in me that he felt reminded him of himself," LaBeouf said of Voight. "And I'm extremely intrigued and I soak up stuff like a sponge. I'm always asking him questions -- which can get annoying -- but it's sort of like a psychiatrist type of thing for him. He likes to talk. And not a lot of people honestly want to listen.

"He teaches me a lot of things and he says I teach him a lot of things, which is cool. It's a relationship I really cherish. Few people get a mentor like Jon Voight."

"Shia's quite a sensation," Voight said. "He's the real thing."

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