Shia LaBeouf has credited actor Zack Gottsagen with re-igniting his love of acting.
The Transformers star, who found fame on the Disney channel as a young teen in the early 2000s, has more recently been in the press for his difficult reputation than the quality of his screen work.
Public drunkenness and poorly-judged performance art had led many to write him off, but he now says his latest film, The Peanut Butter Falcon, has changed all that.
And the 33-year-old says it’s all thanks to the film’s lead star.
LaBeouf told Sky News: “My little kid was dead. I wasn’t in love with this no more when I met him. It’s like going on a roller coaster for the first time, he turned my spark back on.”
He says he “prays” to work with newcomer Gottsagen again but admits he may have his work cut out as the young actor has already been snapped up for several projects following his feature film debut.
A take on the Mark Twain fable, The Peanut Butter Falcon tells the story of down-on-his-luck fisherman Tyler (played by LaBeouf) and runaway youngster Zak (played by Gottsagen) as they travel the American South on a raft.
The unlikely pair are on a mission to make Zak’s dream of becoming a professional wrestler a reality.
The movie’s lead role of Zak was written especially for Gottsagen – who has Down Syndrome – by co-director and co-writer Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz.
Dakota Johnson also stars, playing a care home worker trying to track Zak down, before ultimately joining in with the adventure.
Gottsagen describes Johnson as “a sister”, while LaBeouf sees her as a more of a motherly figure.
LaBeouf explains: “There’s not a huge separation between role and character for any three of us. I am still trying to figure it out, Zack’s the most stable one of the bunch.
“He’s a galvanizer. He’s like the disco ball we all dance around.”
Zack readily agrees, adding “I’m fun, we had a very good time together the three of us”.
LaBeouf has been working in the industry for over 20 years, but he insists it’s 34-year-old Zack who has taught him new skills rather than the other way around.
And with a second film just around the corner it seems like the perfect time for his skillset to be expanding.
Honey Boy, which premiered at Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, has been described as his “passion project” and is receiving positive reviews from critics.
Written by and starring LaBeouf, it depicts his childhood growing up with an abusive alcoholic father.
He plays his own father in the movie and has said writing it felt like a form of therapy.
Some are touting it as a potential best screenplay contender at this year’s Oscars – and he’s not the only one for whom there’s an awards buzz.
Despite being a first-time film star, an Oscar nomination could well be on the cards for Gottsagen.
If he were to be nominated, and then win, he would be only the third disabled actor to be recognised at the Academy Awards 90-year history.
So, do LaBeouf and Gottsagen think this film could help lead the way to better representation for non-able-bodied actors on the screen?
LaBeouf says Gottsagen is “repping for his set”, telling his co-star: “You’re a movie star now, all those people at Camp Zeno (a summer camp for both able and non-able-bodied people) are looking at you, like ‘s***, he did it’.
“People text me, saying if Zack did it, I can do it too”
Describing Gottsagen receiving the Global Down Syndrome Foundation Quincy Jones Exceptional Advocacy Award last year, LaBeouf goes on: “He shows up there and he’s some sort of beacon of hope, in a whole room of people looking up to him.
“He’s a strong man.”
But all this praise hasn’t all gone to the lead-star’s head, with Gottsagen insisting it’s a team effort.
“I just couldn’t do it without Shia and Dakota. They have been pushing for me to be a movie star, I couldn’t do it alone.”
The Peanut Butter Falcon is in cinemas on Friday 18 October
Honey Boy will be in cinemas in early December.