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Shia LaBeouf: 'I fell in love with Christ' to portray Padre Pio on screen

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A film making its US debut recounts the life of a beloved 20th-century saint—and the film’s star told OSV News he “fell in love with Christ” to prepare for the part.

Actor Shia LaBeouf portrays Saint Pio of Pietrelcina in the new drama “Padre Pio,” which premiered at last year’s Venice Film Festival and will be released in U.S. theaters June 2.

Directed by Abel Ferrara, the film traces a crucial period in the life of Saint (Padre) Pio, when the 33-year-old Capuchin Franciscan priest – bearing the stigmata, the visible wounds of Christ – begins what would become his lifelong life. Ministry in San Giovanni Rotondo, Italy, just after World War I. (Capuccino himself had served as a private in the Italian Army Medical Corps during the conflict.)

LaBeouf said he was “not even trying to make movies” when Ferrara approached him about the role.

The acclaimed 36-year-old actor — whose Emmy-winning career as a kid on Disney Channel blossomed into big-screen success — described himself as “completely lost” after partying, work struggles and run-ins with his inner demons. Gave” found. Law.

“I was drifting around, living in my truck,” he said. “I wasn’t interested in acting anymore.”

“I was drifting around, living in my truck,” LeBeouf said. “I wasn’t interested in acting anymore.”

As LaBeouf began to confront his personal issues, Ferrara tapped him for “Padre Pio,” a saint for whom the Bronx-born director – known for his gritty cinematic takes on the underworld – Feel yourself “pulled”.

Based in Rome for the past two decades, Ferrara began exploring the life of Padre Pio by first making a documentary, then producing a feature film to portray the “struggle (as) of a saint that we all Facing like. Lots of questions.”

“I wanted to make a film about a man,” Ferrara told OSV News. “I didn’t want to make a film about a saint.”

The project “looked like a neon sign” beckoning to LaBeouf, who said he was “seeking salvation (and) … a relationship with God.”

While researching the film, LaBeouf met Brother Alexander Rodriguez, a Capuchin Franciscan who is assistant business director at the order’s Old Mission Santa Ines in Solvang, California.

Soon LaBeouf was asking about more than one of the troupe’s most beloved Saints.

“The Shia wanted to know about Padre Pio, and then plunged into the faith,” Brother Rodriguez told OSV News. “He joined the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults). The friar and I were helping him with his catechism.”

LaBeouf said “(learning) how to pray the rosary” brought a “concrete relief” that he had previously sought through drugs, alcohol, and a life in the fast lane.

Brother Rodríguez said, drawing on the saint’s writings at the time, the film presents a “very accurate” image of “a very human Padre Pio, one (who) did not become a saint in an easy way”.

When Brother Rodríguez accompanied LaBeouf to Italy for filming, the text continued, with the Capuchins appearing in the film as Padre Pio’s fellow Capuchin and spiritual advisor while providing technical support for the project.

Brother Rodríguez said, drawing on the saint’s writings at the time, the film presents a “very accurate” image of “a very human Padre Pio, one (who) did not become a saint in an easy way”.

The film juxtaposes the saint’s reception of stigmata – and the suffering of its attendant – with Italy’s “two red years” (bienio rosso) of postwar economic and social upheaval, which saw nationwide riots, strikes and peasants’ land grabs. Saw the seizure. San Giovanni Rotondo itself was the scene of a little-known massacre of October 1920 in which 14 peasants were killed by police after socialists attempted to install their mayor.

Faced with evil, LaBeouf states that he now relies on his faith for strength, wisdom and courage, with Padre Pio as a role model.

Ferrara said he sees the tragedy – which he called “the first battle of World War II” – as a window into the reality of evil and human suffering, “to the position of Padre Pio’s compassion and sacrifice beyond trivial politics”. Saw in

Brother Rodríguez said that the stigmata of Padre Pio, which over the years attracted thousands of pilgrims to San Giovanni Rotondo, was given “as a ministry to the suffering” in such troubled times – which continues to this day, said Ferrara, who recently returned from Ukraine, where more than 88,000 Russian war crimes have been documented since the start of the Russian Federation’s full-scale invasion in February 2022.

“The fighting never stops,” Ferrara said, “what’s happening in Ukraine (and) what happened in World War I (both) shows that there is evil, that it exists.”

LaBeouf said, “I have Polaroid pictures of the evil in my life,” stressing that evil is usually characterized by “selfishness, self-centeredness … dishonesty (and) a complete lack of empathy for others”. manifests in worldly forms.

Faced with evil, LaBeouf states that he now relies on his faith for strength, wisdom and courage, with Padre Pio as a role model.

He suffered in patience, silence and solitude. He didn’t complain about it,” LaBeouf said. “The deeper I got into Pio, the more I realized what the right way to suffer was. His life was instructive.