Directed by Israeli filmmaker Alma Har’el and written by Shia LaBeouf, Honey Boy is a semi-autobiographical story of two traumatic time periods in the life of a child actor named Otis Lort (played by Noah Jupe and Lucas Hedges) and his father James (played by LaBeouf himself). His parents had divorced and he was on the road filming a show with his father as his paid companion. James would drive him to and from the set and stay in a hotel with him during his downtime.
The film is based on LaBeouf’s time filming Even Stevens and a decade later in a court-mandated rehab facility. His real-life father, Jeffrey LaBeouf, was a former rodeo clown and Vietnam veteran struggling to remain sober, mirroring his film counterpart. We see Otis deal with emotional and physical abuse at the hands of his troubled father and how it affects his mental state for years to come.
If you’re dying to know the real story like I was, here are five facts about Honey Boy you may not have known. As always spoilers abound for Honey Boy, so head to safety to avoid them.
The script began in court-mandated rehab
In Honey Boy, we see the young man version of Otis in a court-mandated rehab facility where he discovers in therapy that he’s dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from his childhood. Again on Kimmel, LaBeouf said that he wrote the screenplay while in his own court-ordered rehab as a PTSD exercise. Through journaling and letter writing, he turned his pain into the story of Otis and James. He referred to parts of the script as “dark chapters” which is certainly accurate in tone.
LaBeouf lied to his father about the film
To get his real-life father to sign off on the concept of someone playing him in a movie, LaBeouf lied and told him that Mel Gibson would be playing him. His father was apparently not too keen on being played by his son but was a huge Mel Gibson fan. When he appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live, he said, “So I lied to him and told him that Mel Gibson would be playing him. My dad was like ‘Mel Gibson? Alright, okay, alright.’ Had him sign the paperwork. And then I got home and I broke it to him. I sent him pictures. I said ‘Listen, man, it’s not like that.’”
His father was particularly worried about one specific element
The theme of chickens is weirdly prevalent in the plot and imagery of the movie, and with good reason. Jeffrey LaBeouf was known for his rodeo clown routine in which he did tricks with chickens including balancing one on his backside while doing a headstand. He made it clear to his son that if he would be showing any of that in the film, it needed to be authentic.
We do end up seeing that scene played out in the movie (and many other chicken-y scenes, too) and apparently it passed muster.
LaBeouf saw his father’s reaction to the film
LaBeouf said that he was able to see his father’s emotional reactions as he watched Honey Boy via webcam. They had apparently been estranged for over seven years before he approached him about making the film. When it was completed, he sent a streaming file to his father and cried as he witnessed his father watching it. Har’el told Business Insider that she feels it was very hard for him to watch but he was ultimately happy it was made. He was even proud of the rodeo clown scenes.
Great care was taken because of LaBeouf’s mental state
Director Har’el, a longtime friend and collaborator of LaBeouf’s, took a non-traditional approach to many of the scenes. She was sensitive to the personal nature of the themes and how they would impact her lead, so as soon as everything was set up and LaBeouf was ready, cameras rolled immediately, often with no two takes the same. When it came to really painful scenes of recollection, she didn’t want to have LaBeouf waiting around for lighting or other elements of production.
Har’el credits her background in documentaries for allowing so much freedom in the takes and creative editing to make it all work.
Have you seen Honey Boy? What other facts about Honey Boy do we not know about it?