For Shia LaBeouf, acting was never about fame; it was about family.
Now starring alongside Harrison Ford in the new "Indiana Jones" blockbuster, not only has LaBeouf become one of Hollywood's hottest young actors, but he has provided for his family and found new fatherly figures along the way.
"I was poor, and I didn't want to be poor. It had nothing to do with acting," he told Peter Travers candidly on ABC News Now's "Popcorn" about his childhood decision to seek a career in acting. "Money seemed to tear my family apart. ... For me, money was the glue."
In the new Indy film, the Los Angeles-born LaBeouf plays the role of Mutt Williams, a 1950s-style, switch-blade-wielding rebel, modeled after Marlon Brando in "The Wild One." As Mutt he dodges bullets and hunts for treasure together deep inside the South American jungle alongside Indy. In real life, the experience also helped bring him closer to his own father and fostered a paternal relationship with the film's creators, Stephen Spielberg and George Lucas.
"This business gave me my family back. … That's what I have now, is a solid group of people," he said proudly.
LaBeouf's career has enjoyed a meteoric rise since his debut on the Disney Channel's "Even Stevens." That's when he first got to know his own father, whom he describes fondly as a "hippie" who never had a "job job."
"I didn't really get to know my father till we were living in a motel for three years, and he was driving me on a motorcycle to the Disney set. … It was wild, but we got to know each other in that room."
Time with his own dad was often spent watching "Indiana Jones," which he calls "bonding time with pops." In fact, now that he's in an Indy film, it's the first time he said his dad has wanted tickets to a premiere.
Reflecting on his relationship with his dad, LaBeouf told Travers "both George and Harrison had pretty strange relationships with their fathers. … The business is how Stephen and his father reconnected, too."
When asked if he's nervous about how well the film will do, he said with an earnest smile that all that counts for him is winning over Stephen, George and Harrison. The response reflects just how grounded this talented young actor is, and just how focused he is on avoiding the common pitfalls of Hollywood celebrities his age.
Career On The Rise
At age 21, LaBeouf has already graced the cover of Vanity Fair, hosted "Saturday Night Live," won a Daytime Emmy and is up for a "Best Kiss" MTV Movie Award for his recent performance in "Disturbia."
As a young kid, LaBeouf said he grew up on a diet of "spaghetti Westerns, Ninja Turtles and John Wayne." He described his experience on "Even Stevens" as "the perfect place for me." He joked about not aging at Disney and said he loved getting to goof around on the set and poked fun at his own schooling, which consisted of tutors drilling him because if he didn't pass, "the tutor would be fired."
After three years on "Even Stevens," LaBeouf set his sights on bigger targets: films. In 2003 he was featured in HBO's "Project Greenlight" as Kelly Ernswiler, making the film "The Battle of Shaker Heights." He said he went after the "loud-mouthed, foul-mouthed creation of Kelly strategically to get [him] out of the Disney Channel."
Since then, LaBeouf has starred in many major films and television shows, including "Tru Confessions," "I, Robot" and "Holes."
"I didn't know anything about the craft [of acting] until I met Jon Voight … making 'Holes' with him. ... He broke it down for me. ... It's the biggest gift I've ever been given," he said.
He met Spielberg while working on "Disturbia" and since then the two have become close friends. Spielberg went on to cast him in "Transformers" and then chose him again for the fourth "Indiana Jones."
LaBeouf remembers getting a call from Stephen's assistant to come in on a Thursday "because Stephen doesn't do phone calls.
"I'm thinking I've done something wrong and I'm going to try and salvage my career from the shambles I've made it. ... It felt like going to the principal's office."
"I started smiling, grinning, sweating ... and then he said 'Indiana Jones' and I just went blank. ... I lost my mind," LaBeouf recalled with glee about the moment Spielberg asked him to be in the film.
'Kingdom of the Crystal Skull'
"Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" is the fourth adventure in the "Indiana Jones" franchise. It comes 19 years after the last Indy installment and reunited the film's creators, Lucas and Spielberg, along with its lead actors, Ford and Karen Allen, as love interest Marion Ravenwood.
LaBoeuf spent 4½ months preparing for the film, during which time he carried a switch-blade knife with him everywhere to get the hang of it. He also had to learn how to ride a motorcycle, use a whip, do extensive movie homework assigned by Spielberg, and gain about 20 pounds.
He recalled meeting Ford for the first time on the set as they were about to start shooting a motorcycle chase scene. "He came out of a helicopter he had flown in to the base where we were training. He flew it alone. ...This is Harrison showing up for work," LaBoeuf said, still in awe. "He gets out, walks around, reaches into the cockpit, pulls out his whip and gives us a Harrison Ford wave. ... He walks over, puts his hand on my shoulder and says, 'Are you ready to do this kid?'"
On that first day, as they got on the motorcycle together and started riding at 60 mph for a scene in which two trucks converge and they barely slip away, LaBeouf remembered worrying that Ford's high standards could do him in: "If he messes this up, we can always replace him."
Having apparently now won Ford over, as the cast chummily toured the Cannes Film Festival last week, LaBoeuf still looks in disbelief at his childhood. "He's John Wayne to me. ... He's the last cowboy."
Perhaps that is why movie-making can still feel like "it's all a game" for this hardworking, focused actor. Nonetheless, the Indy stint seems to have left him with a taste for risk and adventure.
He says he's simply looking forward to intimidating roles.
"That's the fun of it," he said. "If you're not nervous, there's no reason to do it."