Shia LaBeouf & Bill Paxton
On The Greatest Game Ever PlayedThe Greatest Game Ever Played may be the greatest family sports film ever made. Or is it? Well, according to Presidents Bush Sr. and Clinton, who hand wrote notes to Walt Disney after screening the movie, thanking them for making and releasing such a heartwarming, touching and life affirming movie, a movie that will bring the country together in this, a time of national heartache, what with the war in Iraq and the devastating hurricanes, it seems as it may be. Even Tiger Woods has given his mark of approval.
With all of the dreck in theaters today, it is hard to come up with something above par, yet Walt Disney’s The Greatest Game Ever Played achieves the ultimate accomplishment. It succeeds on many levels: engaging acting, studied direction, eye-popping cinematography and a great story.
On two recent trips to the west coast, a far cry from Brookline, Massachusetts, where "The Greatest Game Ever Played" is set, I had an opportunity to sit with the film’s director, fifty-year old Bill Paxton, who seems to be aging in reverse, and its up-and-coming star, Shia LaBeouf (pronounced LaBuff), separately.
The greatest message everyone involved in the film wants to get out is that "The Greatest Game Ever Played" is not a sports film, and especially not a golf film. "I made this movie as close to a cowboy western as possible. Just without any cowboys or horses or guns," laughs Bill Paxton, who has taken two years off from in front of the camera to work on this, a passion of his, and a movie which he is not only proud of but ecstatic that he was able to be a part of. "There are many classic gunfight scenes in this movie, no? Two guys walking onto the golf course, instead of the street, and a crowd following, surrounding them, to watch, to see what is going to happen. I took a lot from many of the Sergio Leone movies making this movie. And James Cameron and Sam Raimi, too. It’s a hodgepodge. I wanted to make a movie that would pull the audience out, as if they were spectators, rather than pull them in, and make them part of the action."
The film’s nineteen year old star, Shia LaBeouf, who got his start in Hollywood on the Disney Channel’s "Even Stevens," (a show for which he won an acting Emmy), has never carried a movie before instead, playing supporting roles opposite the likes of Keanu Reeves in "Constantine," Jon Voight in "Holes" and Will Smith in "I, Robot."
"Let’s back up a bit," says a serious LaBeouf, someone who is very intent on making a lasting career out of Hollywood. "My start in acting wasn’t on ‘Even Stevens.’ When I was ten, I had some jokes up my sleeve and took them to comedy clubs in Los Angeles. Here I am, a ten year old, telling really dirty jokes to a club full of drunk men. But the reason I did those clubs and why I found an agent in the Yellow Pages so that I could begin acting, was because I needed to take care of my mother. I needed new clothes and shoes for school and my mother and father who didn’t live with us had no money. So if I didn’t do something about it, no one was going to."
LaBeouf, who has been endlessly touring the United States and Canada with Bill Paxton and the film’s writer and producer Mark Frost, couldn’t be happier with his first starring role.
"I have a great mentor," says LaBeouf, proudly. "Jon Voight has taught me a lot. He is definitely a father figure to me and watches out for me. I take all of his advice seriously. He has been very instrumental in the success I have had in movies so far."
LaBeouf, who subscribes to the belief that "The Greatest Game Ever Played" is not really a golf movie, nonetheless had to learn how to swing a golf club – and had fun learning how to, so he says.
"Golfers are like men of integrity. I hung around a few really good golfers while learning how to swing," says LaBeouf, "and they were all very civilized people. The game itself can be very hard on the mind and unlike football, hockey, basketball and even baseball, where you are encouraged to cheat and steal and hit and punch until you get caught, golf is the only gentleman’s game. You are the one responsible for keeping your own score and not cheating. And if you have any integrity you will not cheat and you will play the game as it is intended. That message is conveyed in the movie, too. There is respect even among the men who are facing each other, pitted against each other, down to the last shot, for the trophy."
Check back later this week for in depth interviews with both Bill Paxton and Shia LaBeouf.