The brothers crim

Black market … Jack (Shia LeBeouf) courts Bertha (Mia Wasikowska) in <i>Lawless</i>.
Black market … Jack (Shia LeBeouf) courts Bertha (Mia Wasikowska) in Lawless.

The star of Lawless, Shia LaBeouf, has plenty of experience with lawlessness - and not just on screen, as his arrests for trespassing and drunk driving attest.

''Sure, I've broken the law,'' he says unapologetically. ''My family wasn't really a show-biz family; they were more of a criminal enterprise.''

The 26-year-old actor is referring to the much-documented environment in which he grew up, with a drug-dealing father in a bad neighbourhood in Los Angeles.

''My father worked as a clown, but it was a front for selling drugs,'' LaBeouf says. ''He grew weed on the sides of the 405 freeway and let the government water his plants for him, getting out of his Corvette in a bright orange construction worker vest to look like he was cleaning the freeway, when he was loading up his bags of weed. So that was the lifestyle we lived off until I got my first job in Hollywood.''

Lawless is based on the 2008 Matt Bondurant historical novel The Wettest Country in the World, in which the author offers a fictional account of the exploits of his paternal grandfather, Jack (LaBeouf), and grand-uncles, Forrest (Tom Hardy) and Howard (Jason Clarke), as they run a flourishing bootleg business in Virginia in the 1930s.

Although the film has a distinctive western gangster flavour, it was made by a slew of Aussies - directed by John (The Proposition) Hillcoat, with the screenplay and music written by Nick Cave and a cast including Guy Pearce, Mia Wasikowska and Jason Clarke.

But it was LaBeouf who helped secure financing as the first actor to commit, and it was also his idea to send the script to Hardy. ''I was approached by John Hillcoat towards the end of the Transformers shoot and he said, 'Do you want to be in 'Goodfellas in the Woods?' That was a huge sentence and I was passionate about the idea from that point on,'' says LaBeouf, sporting long, messy hair, a beard and moustache in preparation for his upcoming Lars von Trier movie Nymphomaniac.

LaBeouf bonded with his screen brothers, Hardy and Clarke, ''by playing UFC fighting video games and socialising in the gym''.

Hardy says he also developed an unusual bond with his movie nemesis, Pearce. ''Guy and I just chilled,'' Hardy says.

''We would sit in the make-up trailer and talk shit,'' Pearce adds with a grin. ''We were playing these two angry characters and in between takes, we were sitting there playing Angry Birds. I think the funny thing is, particularly when you work on something that has some violence in it, you actually find a lighter, more humorous way of connecting with each other as a counter.''

LaBeouf started acting as a child and says he got into it for one reason. ''I come from poverty so the initial reason I got into acting was sort of a hustle,'' he says. ''I wanted some money and I had the foresight at 10 to realise by 20 I would be paying for things myself.''

Signed by an agent at 12, he appeared in TV shows The X-Files, Freaks and Geeks and the series Even Stevens before making the theatrical jump to the 2003 Disney adaptation of the young-adult book Holes.

His big break was the 2007 blockbuster Transformers, which led to two sequels, and he received another career boost when Steven Spielberg cast him as the son of Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) in that long-awaited sequel, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

The actor never stops working and his upcoming releases include the Robert Redford thriller The Company You Keep, the indie thriller The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman and his own short film, Howard Cantour, which he directed.

''I'm addicted to being on set and addicted to call sheets,'' he confesses. ''Coming out of Transformers, I decided I only wanted to work on things that terrified me and that's what I've been doing with films like Lawless, because I like the challenge.''


GENRE Crime drama.

CRITICAL BUZZ A modest $US25 million box-office take, but rave reviews.

STARS Shia LaBeouf, Guy Pearce, Tom Hardy.

DIRECTOR John Hillcoat.


RELEASE October 11.

This story The brothers crim first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.