One of my favorite interviews was a long sit-down with the rapper Cage for a feature in Spin magazine. A Spin feature was a big look for an indy artist and Cage was nervous beforehand. “I was stressed,” he said early on during our chat. “It’s like, ‘What am I supposed to do?’ [My publicist] was like, ‘It’s just a day in your life.’ I go, ‘Well, normally, I wouldn’t have a writer hanging out with me so nix that.’ I even called Shia. He gave me some advice.”
Shia was the actor, occasional freestyle rapper, and possible performance artist Shia LaBeouf.
What did Shia say?
“Just be yourself — kind of. Know what you don’t want out there — kind of. Not really any good advice on how to deal with the situation though.”
At the time in spring 2009 Shia hoped to produce and star in a Cage biopic. It’s not currently listed on Shia’s IMDb page, and, if I’m guessing, I don’t think it’ll ever get made, which is a shame because in an industry filled with fucked-up origin stories, Cage might have the most fucked-up of all origin stories. That one of the hottest young stars in Hollywood was fixated on spending his industry capital on a grim saga about the guy who made “Agent Orange” was just amazing.
Below you’ll find excerpts from my interview with Cage about his friendship/partnership with Shia, followed by the entire transcript of my phone interview with Shia LaBeouf.
TG: How did you guys meet?
Cage: When he got in contact with me, I didn’t know who he was. I read the e-mail and then threw it in the trash. I thought it was another film student. I got e-mails from a lot of NYU kids who were like, ‘I’m doing my thesis on you’ and I had gotten a lot of documentary requests, which I had no interest in doing. Later that night, I was hanging out with a bunch of people and we were talking about film school, editing and how I wished I went to film school. Then I go, I got this email from this kid and I went into my trash. Luckily, I hadn’t deleted my trash and I took it out and as soon as I read it, this girl flips out and talks about Even Steven and so we went on IMDb and I was like, ‘Yeah, Constantine, Holes.’ So we talked and his idea was that he wanted to make a movie about me. OK, whatever. ‘I want to make a documentary about you so I can pitch it.’ And so we talked and then we didn’t meet until San Francisco, which was the first time I ever sold a show out in my life. There was about 600 people there and he started shooting and followed me around a bunch of shows, which is interesting because he will never be able to do that again just walking through the crowd. I don’t know, that dude can sell you a pack of gum and get you excited about a pack of gum. He’s good at selling something and getting you excited. I never met anyone who had that much passion about something. I was just sold on that. I was sold on how amped he was to do it. I just kind of thought that he saw something that I didn’t so it was, ‘OK, cool.’ I remember going to the Guide to Recognizing Your Saints premiere in New York and Sting’s wife was one of the producers. It was my first premiere. Everyone talks, it’s fucking weird. He was there with his mom, his whole team, Team Shia. Sting’s wife gets up and starts talking and goes, ‘Can you believe it’s been five long years and our baby is done?’ Then the realization hit because we were in our first six months. It was like, ‘This is going to take a long fucking time.’ Originally, we had talked about making this cool art indie flick, rated R, this crazy movie. Next thing I know, he’s doing Disturbia and TransFormers. We had a deal on the table for $5 million. That was in the first year and a half, it was like, ‘Holy shit this was real.’ This completely celebratory mindset and we were amped. When he got Transformers, he goes, ‘Trust me, we are going to walk away from this.’ It was really, really hard to imagine it even happening and then you find out you got a deal, and it’s happening, and I’m going to pull away from this because I got big shit to do so just trust me. So I said, ‘OK.’ I trusted you this far along so I put it in his hands. Next thing, I know, he’s huge. Then there was, ‘This shit isn’t happening. It’s over.’ Not to mention, initially I wasn’t supposed to talk about it and he mentioned it in Vanity Fair. Then it was ‘Fuck, why did you say anything?’ Then it became, ‘When is the movie coming out?’ And that is all everyone wants to talk about. It’s like, ‘Look, it’s not happening.’ I got really tired talking about it. After I started working on the record, I tried to push it out of my head even though it’s impossible. We started working and talking about the project more and it wasn’t until Depart From Me that we sat down and started planning how we are going to do this and his involvement in my project how we can kind of create some sort of demand for it or hype for it. When he threw up CC’s on SNL both times and then the friendship developing which was the most unlikely. When I met him, I thought he was some charming 18-year-old kid. It was like, ‘The kid from Even Steven is playing Cage?’ Now, it’s like, I can totally see it.
He gave you the Hollywood sell-job?
I was expecting the whole Hollywood sale. I was expecting this Hollywood douche bag but I met this frighteningly down to Earth dude. I know people with a fraction of his fame that have egos. So that was a big part of it too. Talking and getting the calls at 3 a.m. and giving him carte blanche to ask me anything whenever. He calls at 3 in the morning because its LA and you don’t realize its another time zone in LA and I would get calls at 3 a.m. about really fucked up shit. Tell me about when your father held a shotgun to you when you were a baby. I would get up and leave the room and talk about my past, weird weird weird weird. Then I got to the point where I always had people in my life to talk to, people who could relate or had gone through something similar and could throw me a story that would throw me at ease. If you had an acid trip and had a bad trip and needed someone to talk you through it, who else but someone who has gone through it. Maybe the pain was still the same. This created a new problem for me, which was how do I not feed into this? How do I have this elephant in the room and pretend that it isn’t there? The same time wondering if it’s ever going to happen. I think around the same time I started feeling like it wasn’t happening that is when he stepped up with the whole new game plan. I think putting it out there publicly that we are working together pulls more attention to the story and there is tons of big talent that has expressed interest in being part [of it]. Even in the beginning there were the naysayers as well. People on his side were like, ‘What are you doing?’ When he put the documentary together it was easier because it was like, ‘I’m doing a movie on this guy.’ It’s almost like we’re writing the third act now, which is all strange. It’s really weird man. It’s definitely changed a lot of relationships that I’ve had. There were friendships, acquaintances that start to look at you different. I had girlfriends in the past that when you bring them around someone famous, they get a little star struck and they make you look foolish, like a fucking asshole.
Seeing Shia so juiced up about a project got me excited. It made me feel like there is some life left to live in this business. It also made me think of other things like writing being my first love and music my second love. There are so many different avenues you can go through writing. It made me open my eyes up and made me so much more conscious. I had to keep my side of the street clean because the last thing I wanted was someone on his team saying, ‘This guy is out of control you have to sever ties with this guy.’ What we were laughing about was that I was trying to keep my side of the street clean and this dude was getting arrested every month. Everything was pretty much miniscule except for the car crash. That dude is going through multiple hand surgeries.
Shia LaBeouf Interview
TG: Why are you now taking a more visible role in Cage’s career?
Shia: Chris called me up to ask if there were any cool music video directors to help him out. I didn’t know anybody. I asked my agent but I didn’t hear word back because I guess it wasn’t priority. I said, ‘What if I directed it?’ He was cool with it. It’s Chris’s concept. We just had to pick a good DP and a cool color palette. It was just all Chris. It wasn’t really like I was director-guy. I’m not trying to shit on my efforts but it was all Chris.
What attracted you to his story?
I’m a fan of his music. His pain rings true as opposed to some conjured bullshit. It’s really visceral like listening to a documentary. His stories are fun to listen to. I like that sound. I also like a bunch of other sounds. I feel close to the story because of personal things in my life. I like movies that have similar themes. I just thought that the idea of the underdog cockroach who nobody had any business rooting for winning — that’s the best story ever told. My storylines are not that shitty overcome story but the person who had no business doing it [like] Raging Bull. Raging Bull doesn’t end on a high note. He was a winner for a while, he was champ for a while. That dude has no business being in that position yet you root for him. You have no reason to root for him, he’s a sick dude. You have empathy for him. You understand him. I think that Chris has similar Jake LaMotta themes in my mind. When I think about Chris, I also think about guys like Jake LaMotta. He makes me think about my own shit also. He makes me feel better about myself. It’s like a circus act, you can point at it. With all the teen angst I was going through at the time, that was the music I liked listening to.
Is there a certain Cage song that hits home?
A couple but for different reasons. I like certain verses, not sure about a specific song, it’s like asking ‘What’s your favorite movie?’ I like all of Hell’s Winter. I don’t get tired of them. I love the new album too. He’s really growing as an artist. I also have to say “Agent Orange.” Literally, if I never met the dude, it’s the song I would want to hear at a concert just because there is so much attached to it in my mind, just the whole fucking idea of him [writing] this at Burger King on a fucking napkin. It’s just really colorful for me. I really love that song.
I’m sure people on your team — manager, agent, publicist — are concerned that a Cage biography is not a commercial project.
Sure. That’s why I got no help when I asked for music video directors. They’ll probably read this and be like, ‘Shia, what the hell.’ I get it. Why would you put energy into something you’re not profiting from? I was like, ‘Lets go ask Spike Jonze.’ I had all these crazy ideas.
What was the response when you pitched this movie?
If that was the next thing on my plate, that movie would be in production. It’s not on my plate because we’re still in the midst of writing the script and finding the right people to get involved. There’s no rush on it. There’s no ending yet. It’s strange to be in the midst of the story line. The movie could have no music at all. It would be up until [Cage got involved with] music. The movie could end with him getting a job at Burger King like that’s the most triumphant thing to happen to him thus far. These small little successes. Fuck, it’s hard to walk in and be like, ‘Hey, this is what I want to do.’ At least it hasn’t been done before now. Things changed in my life and things are changing in his life. We are becoming different entities. It’s just different than it was when we first started up. When I first went on tour with him, Transformers hadn’t come out yet. Disturbia hadn’t come out yet. I was a TV actor, some of his friends knew me from Even Steven. We made a 30-minute pitch film, turned it in to Endeavor, they got excited and then nothing happened. There is no money. I’m talking to business people about why my favorite rapper deserves a movie on some kid/fan shit. I got this home video I made. But up until recently, only a couple of people in my immediate friends and family were gung ho about it. Now it’s becoming easier to digest, especially with this video. Before, people would ask me, ‘Can we look this guy up on the internet?’ and the videos I knew on the internet were nothing that would sell them on it. I couldn’t show that to financiers and be like, ‘Do you want to invest in this?’ It’s a long process to make a movie. It’s becoming more commercial. It’s becoming more of a viable concept and idea for people. The longer that I talk about it, the more the audience invests in it the more it becomes an actualized idea.
He seems anxious to get some deal done. Is it tough convincing him that the next offer isn’t actually the best offer?
Here’s the thing: It’s hard to say no to Oliver Stone. It’s hard to say no to Steven Spielberg. Those are geniuses. You can’t even think about it. There’s no question. Are you ridiculous? You’re 22 years old and this legend asks you to come and play ball. Are you fucking crazy? But when it comes to after that, the only project that I am personally invested in, emotionally, is this. It’s the only thing that I’ve ever tried to construct by myself, build piece by piece. To take something that I was passionate about since early childhood and try to make it something that appeals to a mass audience or a audience for a number of reasons. It’s just a passion project. Any actor or director that I ever had any respect for was always passionate about their projects. It’s sort of, I think, a requisite for being an artist. You have to find something. My life has been a crazy whirlwind. I’ve been riding a wave. It’s not like you pick and choose which movie you want to do when dudes like those guys call you. You do not question it because for a person like me who is a fucking rookie and still learning what I’m doing, you have to work with the best people alive. You do the right move at the right time and right now, I’m making a movie with Oliver Stone. I don’t know what I’m doing next. Who knows?