Shia LaBeouf on saints and suffering

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The ‘Padre Pio’ actor reveals to Aleteia how his own life experiences, and those of certain saints, helped in his incredible conversion. Who would he choose for a Confirmation saint?

This week sees the release of the much-awaited film Padre Pio, directed and written by Abel Ferrara and starring Shia LaBeouf. The R-rated movie offers us a glimpse into the life of the much-loved saint during his early 20s, when he was experiencing suffering and confusion, but above all, passion for Christ.

In a movie that sees the lead character suffer so much, LaBeouf is able to give an extremely convincing portrayal of the tormented monk, which sometimes makes for some uncomfortable viewing.

The actor spoke to Aleteia about his role in the film, and shared how his personal experiences, his faith, and Padre Pio himself allowed him to take on such a role at a tumultuous time in his own life. And the 36-year-old also revealed how he’s taken great comfort from certain saints who also suffered greatly in their lives.

You’ve been very open about your past and the suffering you’ve experienced. Padre Pio believed that we should embrace suffering and get up on the cross with Christ to deepen our own spirituality. Do you think to find true happiness you have go through suffering yourself?

Shia LaBeouf: Yeah, Paul says in Romans 12:3, in order to find yourself nearer to God you have to lose yourself; losing yourself is quite a painful process.

Through the film itself you can see Padre Pio is suffering so much. As a performer did you draw on your own experiences, or was it more Padre Pio talking through you?

Shia LaBeouf: It got messy in the middle somewhere. I showed up in great suffering. I was in suffering when the call came so this movie wasn’t a movie for me, it was a way to get out of this pain cave that I was in, and the first smiles and the first love I had really felt on the way out was with the brothers … it was over cheeseburgers, watching Notre Dame games with a bunch of monks.

This was the first bit of humanity and first joy I’d experienced coming out of where I was coming from. And then to ship out to Italy with all the pressure of the film and then find another kind of brotherhood with Abel, who’s in the same spiritual program I’m in aside from Catholicism, and have our team there on that front as well. Yeah personal — you’d draw from personal experiences, there’d be times where I would ask Abel to prompt me with certain things.

When you work with a director they kind of got to learn how the plane flies — this button does this … You’ve got to give them the manual to your spirit, and so I had spent a lot of time with Abel running through the manual to me, and the things that would move me. He was very good at allowing me space and when I wasn’t on the beam, or when I was a little bit off, or if he felt I was being a bit actorly, he would press this button or pull that lever and it would send me in another direction.

And you’d be in the middle of exploring your own personal whatever, then you would look up and you’d see the same ceiling Pio was looking at when he said Mass, and you’d be lying on his bed and you’d feel the grain of the wood … there wasn’t a lot of conjuring from that perspective, we were there. … Drawing on the reality of who this person was, drawing on the reality of the miracles he presented and then drawing on your own personhood through the lens of Pio’s intercession in your life is really where the performance came from.

I was very keenly aware that he was fully involved the whole time.

I believe you’re going be confirmed in the faith in seven months. In England when we get confirmed we take on a patron saint and take on their name. Would you take Padre Pio?

Shia LaBeouf: Pio for sure, but there’s also St. Thérèse de Lisieux — [she] is also very, very attractive for a person in my situation, just the solitude and the quiet. What’s attractive about these people to me is the patience in which they suffer, the silence in which they suffer. Because we all suffer — and then some louder than others — and there’s something about Lisieux’s suffering, you know; Pio was a bit more of a neon sufferer just because of the fact he had the stigmata, but when you read Lisieux’s writings, she’s also very attractive. But my patron saint would definitely be Pio.

Well you could take two!

Shia LaBeouf: Well there are so many. When you hear about Brother Solanus Casey at the door, you know, serving people food. Solanus Casey is another one who is very important to me, who was with me on the way in. He showed great humility and great strength. These are people on the front lines of battle; this is boots on the ground spirituality.

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