Q&A: Shia LaBeouf on his next big acting challenge: Playing John McEnroe

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Shia LaBeouf and American Honey Cast Start a Dance Party in Cannes

Before hitchhiking across the States as part of his #TakeMeAnywhere project, Shia LaBeouf was in Cannes to present Andrea Arnold's "American Honey" and spoke to Variety about his next challenging role as American tennis superstar and provocateur John McEnroe in "Borg vs. McEnroe," to be directed by popular Danish helmer Janus Metz Pederson ("Armadillo," "True Detective").

Due to start shooting in August, the movie — penned by Ronnie Sandahl — centers on the relationship between McEnroe and Swedish tennis icon Bjorn Borg (played by up-and-comer Sverrir Gudnason) and chronicles the epic Wimbledon final they played against each other in 1980.

LaBeouf, who has been prepping for the role for two months, will star opposite Gudnason ("Monica Z") and Stellan Skarsgård, his co-star in Lars von Trier's "Nymphomaniac." Tre Vanner and SF Studios are producing the project, while Svensk handles international sales.

See photos of Shia LaBeouf through the years:

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Shia LaBeouf through the years
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Q&A: Shia LaBeouf on his next big acting challenge: Playing John McEnroe
HOLLYWOOD, CA - APRIL 11: Actor Shia LaBeouf attends the premiere of 'Holes' on April 11, 2003 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Getty Images)
Shia LaBeouf during New York Premiere of Disney's 'The Cheetah Girls' at La Guardia High School in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Theo Wargo/WireImage)
Shia LaBeouf and Ben Affleck during World Premiere Of 'The Battle Of Shaker Heights' - Arrivals at Universal Citywalk Theatres in Universal City, California, United States. (Photo by Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic)
Shia LaBeouf during Teen Vogue Celebrates Its First Annual Young Hollywood Issue at Private Residence in Beverly Hills, California, United States. (Photo by Chris Polk/FilmMagic)
THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO -- Episode 3007 -- Pictured: (l-r) Actor Shia Labeouf during an interview with host Jay Leno on September 23, 2005 -- (Photo by: Paul Drinkwater/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
Shia LaBeouf (Photo by Jeff Vespa/WireImage)
Shia LaBeouf during 13th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards - Arrivals at Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California, United States. (Photo by Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic)
LAS VEGAS - MARCH 14: Actor Shia LaBeouf autographs for fans at the Paris Las Vegas during 2007 ShoWest, the official convention of the National Association of Theatre owners, March 14, 2007 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ryan Miller/Getty Images)
Shia LaBeouf during 'Disturbia' Press Conference with Shia LaBeouf at Four Seasons in Beverly Hills, California, United States. (Photo by Vera Anderson/WireImage)
Shia Labeouf and Kelly Slater during 'Surf's Up' Los Angeles Premiere - Red Carpet at Mann Village Theater in Westwood, California, United States. (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc for Variety Magazine)
NEW YORK CITY - OCTOBER 08: (L-R) Shia Labeouf and Michael Douglas sighting at Wall Street on October 8, 2009 in New York City. (Photo by Christopher Peterson/BuzzFoto/FilmMagic)
TODAY -- Pictured: (l-r) Ann Curry and Shia Labeouf appear on NBC News' 'Today' show (Photo by Peter Kramer/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO -- Episode 4303 -- Pictured: Actor Shia LaBeouf during an interview on August 21, 2012 -- (Photo by: Paul Drinkwater/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
MOSCOW, RUSSIA - JUNE 23: Actor Shia LaBeouf arrives at the premiere of the 'Transformers: Dark of the Moon' during the 33d Moscow International Film Festival at Pushkinskiy Theatre on June 23, 2011 in Moscow, Russia. (Photo by Kristina Nikishina/Epsilon/Getty Images)
SHANGHAI, CHINA - JULY 14: (CHINA OUT) Actor Shia LaBeouf attends 'Transformers: Dark of the Moon' press conference at Waldorf Astoria Shanghai on July 14, 2011 in Shanghai, China. (Photo by ChinaFotoPress/Getty Images)
US actor Shia LaBeouf stands on the red carpet prior the screening of 'The company you keep' during the 69th Venice Film Festival on September 6, 2012 at Venice Lido. 'The company you keep' is presented out of competition. AFP PHOTO / TIZIANA FABI (Photo credit should read TIZIANA FABI/AFP/GettyImages)
PARK CITY, UT - JANUARY 22: Actor Shia LaBeouf poses for a portrait during the 2013 Sundance Film Festival at the Getty Images Portrait Studio at Village at the Lift on January 22, 2013 in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images)
Actor Shia LaBeouf poses for photographers during the photocall of "Fury", in Paris, Saturday, Oct. 18, 2014. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 02: Shia LaBeouf is seen on March 02, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Bauer-Griffin/GC Images)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 16: Executive producer Shia LaBeouf attends the world premiere of 'LoveTrue' during the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival at SVA Theatre 2 on April 16, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Taylor Hill/FilmMagic)
VENICE, ITALY - SEPTEMBER 06: Shia LaBeouf attends a premiere for 'Man Down' during the 72nd Venice Film Festival at on September 6, 2015 in Venice, Italy. (Photo by Venturelli/WireImage)
TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 15: Actors Shia LaBeouf (L) and Kate Mara take photos with fans at the 'Man Down' premiere during the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival at Roy Thomson Hall on September 15, 2015 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by George Pimentel/WireImage)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 21: Actor Shia LaBeouf attends the Film Independent Live Read of 'Dr. Strangelove' with guest director Mark Romanek at the Bing Theatre at LACMA on January 21, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Amanda Edwards/WireImage)
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How did this project fall on your lap? You had passed on another film about John McEnroe.

I received the script and read it when I came home – loved it. Chased it. It was a different script that I passed on. It was another movie called "Superbrat" about John McEnroe, and it was satirical, like a cartoon character like Happy Gilmore. And you know, I read it, it wasn't very good and I initially thought it was the same project. But then I saw his name [Janus Metz Pederson] and I thought, "No, that doesn't make any f—ing sense." And I was a fan of his film. When we did "Fury," we all just obsessed on his movie "Armadillo." We sat in a room and watched his movie over and over again – steal a bunch of s— from his film. So we were obsessed, I found out who was doing it, what was going on and I chased him. That's how we wind up here.

So it's a darker take on John McEnroe?

No, not darker. Truthful, tangible, anchored, human.

The script is already written?

The script is brilliant. We are all here because of that. I cried the first time I read it. It's not based on a book or a biography. It's based on hard work.

So you're working with Scandinavian directors now [after Lars von Trier with "Nymphomaniac" and Fredrik Bond with "Charlie Countryman"]?

Yes, they make better movies. Scandinavian filmmaking is different. It's a different pace, a different relationship to the crew — the bonds are different.

See photos of John McEnroe through the years:

16 PHOTOS
John McEnroe
See Gallery
Q&A: Shia LaBeouf on his next big acting challenge: Playing John McEnroe
1982: John McEnroe of the USA appeals the umpires decision during Wimbedon in London, England. \ Mandatory Credit: Allsport UK /Allsport
John McEnros receives trophy. Photo by Harry Hamburg/NY Daily News via Getty Images)
WIMBLEDON, UNITED KINGDOM - JULY: John McEnroe serving to Bjorn Borg in the men's final in 1981. (Photo by John P Kelly/Getty Images)
Jul 1981: John McEnroe of the USA returns a shot during his match against Bjorn Borg in the finals of the 1981 Lawn Tennis Championships at the All-England Club in Wimbledon, England. McEnroe won the match 4-6, 7-6, 7-6, 6-4. Mandatory Credit: Tony Duff
PHILADELPHIA - JANUARY 23: John McEnroe returns against Ivan Lendl during the Volvo Masters Series on January 23, 1984 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY: John McEnroe rests in between sets during the 1983 tennis season in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images)
LAKE TAHOE - JULY 25: Tennis star John McEnroe plays an exhibition match for Cerebral Palsy Research at the Mita Sports Festival on July 25, 1986 in Lake Tahoe, Nevada. (Photo by Donaldson Collection/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
John McEnroe and Tatum O'Neal (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
Wimbledon, London June 16th 1990. John McEnroe vs Derek Rostango - Rostango wins 3-0 (Photo by Tom Wargacki/WireImage)
THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO -- Episode 1807 -- Pictured: (l-r) Tennis player John McEnroe during an interview with host Jay Leno on April 3, 2000 -- (Photo by: Photographer/Network/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
2/8/00 New York, NY. John McEnroe with his wife, Patty Smyth and kids at the premiere screening of 'Just For The Time Being.' Photo by Robin Platzer/Twin Images/Online USA, Inc.
LONDON - DECEMBER 1: John McEnroe of USA in action against Mikael Pernfors of Sweden during the Masters Tennis tournament at the Royal Albert Hall on December 1, 2005 in London, England. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 5: John McEnroe arrives for the movie premiere of Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus at Chelsea West Theater November 05, 2006 in New York City. (Photo by Scott Wintrow/Getty Images)
CARSON, CA - AUGUST 06: John McEnroe congratulates Jim Courier in an exhibition match during the East West Bank Classic at the Home Depot Center on Aug 6, 2007 in Carson, California. Courier beat McEnroe in three sets. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 24: John McEnroe attends Nike's 'NYC Street Tennis' event on August 24, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by D Dipasupil/FilmMagic)
NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 29: Tennis legend John McEnroe throws the ceremonial first pitch of a game between the New York Mets and the Boston Red Sox at Citi Field on August 29, 2015 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
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Do you feel that you get more interesting roles in Scandinavian movies than in the U.S., for example?

Yes, by far. They make movies about people in Europe. In America, they make fewer films about people, more about plot. Those aren't interesting to me.

Have you met John McEnroe during the rehearsal?

I haven't met him yet, but I'm eager to meet him before we shoot. I got nothing but love and respect for him.

What's your take when you're trying to play a real character – do you try to imitate or make it your own?

Yes, you look for parallels in your life, and I'm lucky because there is a lot here.

What do you have in common?

Everything in common. Passionate. Perfectionist. Narcissistic. I'm a bit of a caricature also.

Will this film be bigger in scale than "American Honey," for instance?

I think so, yes. This is epic. It's f—ing epic. This is the biggest movie I've been in lately.


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