Actor Shia Labeouf had a lot of preparation to do in order to play Padre Pio in an upcoming film, never playing someone of this nature. In order to prep for the role, Shia visited and lived with a group of friars walking in their shoes and learning the faith. Suffice it to say, his life has never been the same since.
Labeouf revealed in an interview with Word on Fire Catholic Ministries’ Bishop Robert Barron, that he came to faith and put his trust in Christ after his experience living with a monastery of Franciscan Capuchin friars in preparation for his role-playing Saint Padre Pio in an upcoming movie.
The timing couldn’t have been better for LaBeouf who shared with Barron that he was at the lowest place in his life at the time the role opened up. LaBeouf dealt with thoughts of helplessness and even suicide after being charged with misdemeanor battery and petty theft in September 2020. To make matters worse, in December 2020, LaBeouf was sued by his ex-girlfriend Tahliah Debrett Barnett (“FKA Twigs”) for sexual battery, assault, and infliction of emotional distress. The lawsuit detailed allegations that he abused another ex-girlfriend, Karolyn Pho.
LaBeouf, coming to the end of his pride opened up and shared in his response that he had been “abusive” to himself and those around him “for years” and that he was “ashamed” and “sorry to those hurt; though he later denied the allegations. The consequences of this were detrimental to his career. For a time, it seemed like he was blacklisted in the industry, being removed from Netflix awards, and received a Hall of Shame award at the 2020 Alliance of Women Film Journalists EDA Awards.
“I had a gun on the table. I was outta here,” Shia shared with Bishop Barron. “I didn’t want to be alive anymore when all this happened. Shame like I had never experienced before — the kind of shame that you forget how to breathe. You don’t know where to go. You can’t go outside and get like, a taco.”
“But I was also in this deep desire to hold on,” LaBeouf shared.
Seemingly at his lowest, the opportunity opened up LaBeouf to play Padro and to “relaunch” his career, or so he thought. But in order to really play the role, he needed to learn the ways of Padro, the revered saint known for exhibiting stigmata, or the marks of Jesus on his physical body. The Sanctuary of Saint Pio of Pietrelcina is located in San Giovanni Rotondo, Province of Foggia, Italy.
The Transformers star shared that he was “tricked” by God but in a good way.
“And when I got here, a switch happened,” he shared with Barron. “It was like Three-Card Monte. It was like someone tricked me into it, it felt like. Not in a bad way. In a way that I couldn’t see it. I was so close to it that I couldn’t see it. I see it differently now that time has passed.”
LaBeouf shared about the impact that the brothers and sisters at the monastery had on him, and how that led him to better understand the nature of sin and prayer and how if God could forgive him, he could forgive himself.
“Just go into the chapel and just shut up. Sit there and be quiet,” he recalled one of the friars telling him. Not knowing silence or solitude because of pride and his need to be feeding his ego, LaBeouf learned a different way, the way of the cross and the Way of Jesus connecting with God.
Reading through the Gospel of Matthew, he experienced Jesus in a whole new way. LaBeouf explained that he was formerly agnostic, an unbeliever who liked to argue and feel superior to others. Raised Jewish, LaBeouf shared how it never really connected with him. “It felt fake…I had no faith.”
“I’m reading Matthew for the first time, and things start to strike me. Like John the Baptist. The story of John the Baptist being a reformed Hebrewist, being this man who was straggly, who felt like an old western character. He felt like a cowboy. He felt rustic, strong, and masculine. My opinion of Christ at this point was that he was almost like Buddist, very soft, fragile, all loving, all listening, no veracity, no romance. But I hadn’t read the gospel.” LaBeouf didn’t know about the triumphant Christ on a white horse, dipped in blood, with a sword in his hand, he explained.
“If I could wrap it up (reading the gospels) in two words it would be “let go. The gospel gave me this invite to let go.” I kept hearing in many variations, let go. To someone who has been gripping so tight for so long, it just feels like the right move to let go, complete surrender for real. It stops being this prep for a movie.”
“God was using my ego to draw me to him.”