Here's How Closely 'Honey Boy' Is Based on Shia LaBeouf's Troubling Childhood

Gina Vaynshteyn - Author

Nov. 6 2019, Updated 11:30 p.m. ET

Honey Boy Scene

Honey Boy, a film that Shia LaBeouf wrote while in rehab, is about a child star growing up with an erratic father as his career coach. The critically-acclaimed film is mesmerizing — painful to watch, yet deeply empathetic. If you know anything about Shia LaBeouf, then you probably know the actor jumpstarted his career as Louis Stevens in Disney Channel's Even Stevens. As a way to grapple with his PTSD and childhood trauma, he wrote a semi-autobiographical film in which he plays his dad.

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What's the plot of Honey Boy?

Honey Boy, directed by Alma Har’el, follows Otis Lort (a young version played by Noah Jupe and an older version played by Lucas Hedges), a child actor who lives with his father, James, in a hotel room. James is Otis's biggest cheerleader, but he's also abusive toward him. Otis grows up to be a successful actor who goes through a downward spiral similar to Shia's. Otis becomes self-destructive, chugging copious amounts of alcohol and getting thrown in the backseat of cop cars.

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Otis goes to rehab for his actions, and it's there that he comes to terms with his turbulent childhood. Part of the film is set in 2005 (this follows 22-year-old Otis), and the other part is set in 1995 (which follows 12-year-old Otis). In the 1995 timeline, we learn that Otis employs James to be his chaperone, and this creates a complex dynamic between father and son. At times, James seems like a good dad — he's supportive and loving. Other times, he's cruel and resorts to tearing Otis apart. 

shia noah
Source: Getty Images
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Is it completely based on Shia LaBeouf's real life?

In 2017, Shia was fined $1,000, sentenced to a year of probation, and was required to check into rehab for public intoxication and yelling super vile things at a police officer. In rehab, he essentially wrote the script for Honey Boy, but it was originally a therapeutic assignment. Shia was diagnosed with PTSD, and as a way to work through his troubling past, he wrote about his relationship with his father, Jeffrey. 

louis stevens
Source: Disney Channel/YouTube

Shia as Louis Stevens

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Shia did, in fact, live with his father in a seedy hotel. Jeffrey was a Vietnam war vet and former rodeo clown who was paid to watch over Shia and take him to and from set. In between, Shia would accompany his dad to AA. “I was going to the Alano Club with my dad. That was my daycare center. Then I’d go to work. That was my whole life," Shia told Esquire in 2018. When asked about his dad, Shia said, "A lot of my shit has to do with my relationship with my dad. That dude is my gasoline.”

In fact, Shia only became an actor to make money for his family. He and his parents grew up poor in Echo Park; his mom and dad sold hot dogs and snow cones, and all three of them would dress in costumes to attract customers. One day, when Shia was in Malibu with his father, he met another boy dressed in really nice clothing. Shia asked how he got the money to dress like that, and the boy told him he was an actor. And that settled it — Shia decided that he, too, wanted to become an actor.

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noah jupe
Source: Amazon Studios/YouTube

So he looked up talent agents in the yellow pages on his own and pretended to be his own manager. While one agent didn't buy it, she thought it was hilarious and decided to work with Shia. He quickly started getting small parts and then eventually, the lead role in Even Stevens.

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Shia LaBeouf shared that he "vilified" his father on a "grand scale" in 'Honey Boy.'

While sitting down with Jon Bernthal for the Real Ones podcast in August of 2022, Shia explained the aspects of the 2019 film that were exaggerated or strictly false. LaBeouf shared, "I wrote this narrative, which was just f***ing nonsense. My dad was so loving to me my whole life. Fractured, sure. Crooked, sure. Wonky, for sure. But never was not loving, never was not there."

Shia explained that he "wronged" his father with Honey Boy and the press tours he did leading up to the film's release. While the Transformers star may not have had the perfect father, he said "My dad never hit me, never. He spanked me once, one time. And the story that gets painted in Honey Boy is, this dude is abusing his kid all the time." Shia noted that he "turned the knob" up on the abuse to position himself as a "fractured child you could root for."

Despite the previously-unknown inaccuracies in the storytelling, the film resonated with many viewers. Shia was honored with Breakthrough Screenwriter award at the Hollywood Film Awards. During his acceptance speech, he thanked the cop who he berated while getting arrested in 2017. "I want to thank the police officer who arrested me in Georgia for changing my life," Shia said.

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shia award
Source: Getty Images

Honey Boy is available for streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

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