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This summer, Shia LaBeouf is poised to become a household name. The actor is starring in Michael Bay's Transformers movie, which brings the Hasbro toys to life with cutting-edge CG technology. He's also the voice of Cody Maverick in the latest CG penguin movie, Surf's Up. Following in the footsteps of March of the Penguins and Happy Feet, this very different take on animated penguins (they compete in the Penguin's World Surfing Championship) is sure to ride some summer box office records.
LaBeouf, who's been playing games since the days of Sega Genesis, grew up in the local arcade. He said he didn't have the money to buy lots of game cartridges when he was a kid, so he'd hang out at the arcade and play Tekken, Mortal Kombat and Killer Instinct.
"Arcades used to be little Mom and Pop shops where'd you have the Wednesday game-a-thon and everybody would come through," said LaBeouf. "We'd have like 700 people in my arcade. It felt different. Now you go to arcades it's a bunch of 9 year-olds. My arcade was packed with the whole high school and college kids.
After he turned 13, LaBeouf was able to start buying more games and new consoles. He actually used his gaming skills on the PlayStation Madden to make money, which, in turn, he'd use to buy more games.
"When I started getting into sports video games, then it started turning into big money tournaments," said LaBeouf. "I've won a $6,000 Madden tournament and that type of stuff. And then it starts getting ridiculous, when the tournament isn't even about fun any more. It's just about making your cash back."
LaBeouf said back in the day, $6,000 was enough to last him a whole year. When he wasn't betting with cash, he and his friends would game for Pogs, which were very popular back then. He won a lot of Pogs playing Killer Instinct.
"I'm a sick gamer," said LaBeouf. "I don't think I've ever been beat at any game I've ever played. I probably have, but I can't remember the last time I was beat."
The secret to LaBeouf's Madden success was the New York Giants.
"You couldn't stop Tiki Barber in any Madden game," said LaBeouf. "He was a monster. And then with Jeremy Shockey you could do these little post routes and little dump-offs and you always could do play action because they'd think you were going to run with Tiki. That would leave Shockey open all the time. And even if he's covered by like three guys, he's still going to catch it. In every game that I've ever seen Madden-wise, he always has like a 99 hands rating ... so he's always going to catch the ball. You don't even necessarily pass to him to get the yardage. You can pass to him to divert them from getting to Tiki. It's just Tiki and Shockey all day long."
Being a gamer, LaBeouf jumped at the opportunity to star in his first video game when Activision showed up on set for The Transformers. He was able to log some quality time with the game, to boot.
"It's what you want in a Transformer game," said LaBeouf. "You want complete destruction and chaos everywhere. You can blow everything and everyone. It's just chaos. But the cool part of this is that you can choose what to do. It's an open world game so you can blow anything up. There are no restrictions on what can explode. You can choose to be either an Autobot or a Decepticon. Based on your choice, it's a personality play. If you're going to be an Autobot, you probably can't blow up the ice cream shop."
LaBeouf still gets a kick out of playing the game as himself, but it still takes some getting used to.
"To see yourself as a character in a game is, for me at least, weird," said LaBeouf. "It's far different then watching yourself on screen in a cartoon or movie. That's different. That's almost normal. When you see yourself in a game, that's like the equivalent of a rock band first hearing themselves on the radio. As a gamer, to be in the game with all of the Activision cats, it's the first time I didn't feel like a nerd. I felt like a rock star. It was awesome."
Like many kids, LaBeouf grew up with Transformers toys and the animated TV series. There are high expectations from these fans for this movie, but LaBeouf, who was a huge fan of the franchise, said it will live up to the hype.
"The movie's insane, dude," said LaBeouf. "It's just nuts. I can't put it into words. I don't know how to explain it other then it's the sickest action movie ever made."
"Games have gotten to the point where sometimes they're bigger then the film," said LaBeouf. "When you start looking at the generational situation when you have a bunch of 20 year olds and 30 year olds starring in films like Spider-Man and Pirates of the Caribbean and they're fans of the games, it's a pretty simple equation."
LaBeouf has spent a lot of time playing the Guitar Hero games and he cited the impact of games on not only Hollywood films, but also on the music industry.
"You look at bands like Wolfmother and their whole following is basically built on Guitar Hero, which is weird to say," said LaBeouf. "But any time you find somebody who plays Guitar Hero, you've heard that song 50 to 60 times before you even heard it played on the radio. There are people playing Guitar Hero like a crack head for 50 hours and then you hear it on the radio and you're like, 'I know that band, I know it from this game.'"
LaBeouf has his gaming systems set up in his house, which he said is too small for arcade machines like the ones he grew up on. So instead, he has next gen consoles like Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. He also has a Wii, but he's not a fan of Nintendo's new console.
"I can't get into the Wii, it's ridiculous," said LaBeouf. "It doesn't feel right to me. I was able to play Wii over at Activision before it even came out and it was cool, then. But then when I got it at home, it was like it's something for five-year olds. I haven't played any advanced games on it, but the controls aren't fully functioning. It seems like it works sometimes and doesn't other times. If that's the whole appeal of the game and the graphics haven't changed, then I'm not a buyer."
Next summer, LaBeouf will star opposite Harrison Ford in the fourth Indiana Jones movie, so his star is certainly rising fast.