Alma Har’el talks ‘overwhelming’ response to ‘Honey Boy,’ LaBeouf’s career-best performance

Noah Jupe in Honey Boy (2019)

Alma Har’el recently spoke to FF2 Media over the phone about Honey Boy.

Amazon Studios will release the film for limited theatrical release starting on November 8.

Honey Boy is a very personal and cathartic film for Shia LaBeouf.  What drew you to take on the project?

Alma Har’el: What drew me really is that I think when I got the script from Shia, it was very clear that this is something rare that you never get to read. It was written inside of a rehab mental health facility. He was court-ordered to go there in order to avoid going to prison and while he was there, he was diagnosed with PTSD. Somebody that writes through therapeutic process inside of a rehab facility while being diagnosed with PTSD is definitely, I think, a rare thing. Reading it, I could feel the urgency and I can feel the way this was written and done. It has something in it that I’ve never seen. I’ve never read anything like it. It just drew me in and I felt like I was in that room with him and his father. I’m also a child of an alcoholic myself and struggled with addiction, too, and I think that I very much connected to the themes of the film and the ideas of having being the something that is generational and does get passed down generation and that very much moved me.

Can you talk about collaborating with Shia LaBeouf on the film?

Alma Har’el: Shia was just, from the start, kind of very scared to make this. He didn’t think anybody would want to finance the film. At the time, nobody would talk to him when he was in rehab. It took quite a while to kind of make him believe that it’s even real, but we did get it financed. It was really important to me that he was close with his father and I thought that that would be what would make this break the medium and do something that is not just a biopic or another film.  People that have been watching this has been going through a very deep experience seeing all these layers—what it means to step into this room as your own father and seeing somebody playing who you were as a young boy. It was a very scary project. I think that a lot of people know of Shia’s background and know of things that have happened to him but I don’t know that they know about the context of the abuse that he suffered.

In watching the film at Sundance and then again in October, I felt it was a career-best performance.

Alma Har’el: I couldn’t agree more. I feel like he has been preparing for this his entire life if you may—subconsciously at least. I don’t think there’s anybody he studied more but I also feel what makes this performance so exceptional to me as a director and what I was really trying to get to is that there’s a lot of people that are capable of capturing what’s funny in life and what’s painful in life but to really do them both together while at the same time reflecting on your whole childhood and your childhood trauma is I think something that is ingraining to his performance and part of what makes it so unique.

What did you think of the response to the premiere and follow up screenings at Sundance?

Alma Har’el: The response has been so emotional. It’s been overwhelming to hear the response from people and have them. I think that when we went there, a lot of the focus of people that came to see the film was like—they we’re waiting to see what’s Shia’s story and what happened and to maybe know something they didn’t know while they were being entertained in the theater. But the people that walked in were the most cynical about it—what they really found was a story about a father and son to kind of expect their own heavy issues between them. That’s been, really, I think, the most exciting thing about this film is to see that it can be both personal and kind of meta in many ways. I think that this idea that you can make a film that talks to your audience in a few lines, which at the same time it speaks to the parts of the brain that knows they are watching but the history that comes with it like whatever they have experienced through popular culture, and then the other speaks to them at the same time on a very, very intimate level to their own experiences and to their own memories of their own childhood. I feel like we also, today—as consumers of culture and to live in this world, we’re all kind of living our lives and having really heavy moments and feeling work, families, love, heartbreak, and growing up and getting lost in our phones, there’s something about the intersection of those things that are really interesting to me and somehow this film managed to be a reflection of that.

What was the most challenging part in making the film?

Alma Har’el: I think that there were a few challenging things. Obviously, being responsible and working with somebody that had just gotten out of a mental health facility and just become sober for the first time in many years. That had been extremely challenging and the responsibility to accomplish that and to understand what PTSD is and work with his therapist to understand how would that work in the context of the set.

TORONTO, ONTARIO – SEPTEMBER 10: Alma Har’el attends the “Honey Boy” premiere during the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival at Roy Thomson Hall on September 10, 2019 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Amy Sussman/WireImage,)

The other thing that that was really hard is to edit the film because it was initially written in a linear form. When I got into the edit, I pretty quickly understood that I wanted to actually go back and forth into two timelines. That had been very hard, too.

Working with Lucas Hedges and Noah Jupe was such a challenging thing to bring to life who Otis was.  They have been so brilliant and understanding how to do that, and how to find the right amount in how much to borrow from Shia and how much to bring from themselves.

What do you hope that people take away from watching Honey Boy?

Alma Har’el: I don’t know that I want to tell people what to take away from it. I just hope that they experience it. I really want people to see the film so badly. I just know from watching it at festivals and screenings that it has such a huge effect on them. I just want people to see it.

(C) Danielle Solzman (11/6/19) FF2 Media

Photo credits: Amazon Studios | Amy Sussman

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