Interviews & Profiles

Borg vs McEnroe’s Shia LaBeouf – can he make a comeback?

James Murphy takes a look at the career of Shia LeBeouf, star of Borg vs McEnroe...

The answer to the headline question? ‘Yes, of course!’ But how? And indeed, why? The how is not an exact science. But comebacks do have precedent templates for Shia LaBeouf, star of this weeks Borg vs McEnroe, to follow.  The why follows suit.

Eddie Murphy had a terrible wilderness period in the early to mid 90s, before The Nutty Professor (remaking the late Jerry Lewis’ signature piece). John Travolta was facing Look Who’s Talking Forever and Grease: The Next Generation, before Pulp Fiction came and saved his talents for bigger and better things.

Robert Downey Jr is perhaps the comeback story for the ages. He was a genius, prodigy actor, whose appearance in the Richard Attenborough biopic Chaplin as the titular star was funnier than the actual Charlie Chaplin, and he missed out an Oscar, narrowly, to Al Pacino for Scent of a Woman, as did Denzel Washington’s Malcolm X.

Downey was blighted by drugs. That cost him Ally McBeal, not to mention years of film roles. But rehabilitation, via a prison spell, enabled a rethink, getting clean once and for all. Watching that first Iron Man is a feel-good experience as much for casting Downey as anything else: a symbol of hope and talent prevailing.

So the ‘how’ of a comeback is very much about luck. Being in the right place at the right time. Play your cards right, as Bruce Forsyth might have said (also RIP, also himself, a comeback king, notably c/o Have I got News For You and then Strictly Come Dancing in his last decade). Shia needs to be in the right place at the right time.

He must therefore somehow be in a sleeper hit that takes off, whilst catching up on his blockbuster cinema franchises and maybe hitching a ride on a romantic drama. Every demographic must be covered, each genre style and yet he must not get caught doing so. ‘Fly casual, but don’t *look* like you’re trying to fly casual’, to paraphrase Han Solo. See: if you try too hard to get a comeback, then the whole enterprise can backfire. That new big break must look somehow fated, entitled, obvious yet surprising. Conversely, it must be plotted by Shia and his agents, within an inch of its life.

And it’s not just about specific film choices. Presentation is key. Shia needs a body transformation story, perhaps bulking up at the Gym a la Chris Pratt? Coincident perhaps with winning a role in a comic book franchise film (there are plenty going around).

Charity is key, too. Good will goes a long way. Shia needs a pet cause: non contentious, humanitarian, a million miles away from the Trump baiting he joined recently. Nothing wrong with opposing Trump, but you blend into the crowd at best, attract derision at worst. Above all? Shia must get clean, forever and own his story / journey in that process. No more drunken / drugged rants or random madness.

That’s the how. As to *why*? Well, he’s talented. Seriously. Even Mr Plinkett noted Shia is a ‘natural actor’. Steven Spielberg took a particular interest in Shia’s progress, effectively mentoring him. From Holes through to Disturbia, the kid was clearly destined for some sort of stardom. He leant charm, warmth and vulnerability to the first Transformers film and tried his best to inject humanity to the sequels in which he appeared.

Granted, he was miscast as the son of Indiana Jones and the pretender to Gordon Gekko. He had too much, too soon and was cast too frequently. Like anything that is overused / saturated, Shia’s star power simply burned out. But the core talent and hard work ethic are very much still there and he is willing to push himself and reinvent in a manner many actors would shun. That is why his latest turn in Borg vs McEnroe is worth a look (Shia plays John McEnroe, appropriately enough!). It’s an example of the actor’s craftsmanship that one could credibly watch excerpts of the film and believe Shia is a top flight Tennis pro as well as specifically McEnroe.

Talent is talent. Complex. Flawed. But, once redeemed? And fused to both strong work ethic and element of pure old fashioned luck? It survives and thrives, afresh. Shia should not be an exception. You disagree? You cannot be serious!

BORG vs MCENROE is in cinemas now.

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