Actors are known for delving so far into a role that they “become” the person they are portraying, but for Shia LaBeouf his acting journey became a spiritual one as he revealed that he converted to Christianity during the making of the film “Padre Pio” where he plays the titular role.
During his research for the role of the late Italian mystic and canonized saint Padre Pio, LaBeouf lived in a Franciscan Capuchin monastery and communed with the friars there in order to fully immerse himself into life in a religious order to further his career rather than for spiritual nourishment. Prior to his taking on the project, LaBeouf was more well-known for his various scandals, including charges of petty theft and battery after he got into a fight with a man and then stole his hat, and a lawsuit where an ex-girlfriend sued him for abuse.
Finding himself at a low point in his life, LaBeouf looked for meaning in various places, and experienced bouts with suicidal ideation. In an interview with Bishop Robert Barron of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries, he spoke of a time where he almost went through with killing himself, but something within him stopped him from doing so:
“I had a gun on the table. I was outta here,” Shia recalled in the nearly 90-minute interview. “I didn’t want to be alive anymore when all this happened. Shame like I had never experienced before — the kind of shame that you forget how to breathe. You don’t know where to go. You can’t go outside and get like, a taco. But I was also in this deep desire to hold on.”
— Eryk Burns (@erykburns) August 25, 2022
He describes how he felt that “God was using my ego to draw me to Him,” and wouldn’t have taken on the project for any reason other than for his career, but soon experienced a gradual pulling away from “wordly desires.” It was only in retrospect that he could see what was really happening, and spoke to others who experienced struggles that were darker, and deeper, than his own. It was then that he learned about sin and forgiveness, and saw that regardless of how low people go, Christ is there to provide hope.
“It was seeing other people who have sinned beyond anything I could ever conceptualize also being found in Christ that made me feel like, ‘Oh, that gives me hope,'” LaBeouf told the bishop. “I started hearing experiences of other depraved people who had found their way in this, and it made me feel like I had permission.”
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The person LeBeouf plays in the Abel Ferrera movie is a fascinating person. Padre Pio was born Francesco Forgione in a small town in southern Italy in 1887 and was later known for not only his profound faith, but for also showing stigmata similar to the crucifixion wounds on the body of Jesus Christ, and these wounds appeared and seemily healed on their own throughout this life. He was beatified thirty years after his death at the age of 81 by Pope John Paul II, and then officially canonized as a Roman Catholic saint in 2002.