Shia LaBeouf mined his own history to write Honey Boy, the story of child star Otis Lort (played by Noah Jupe as a child and Lucas Hedges as an adult) and his ne’er-do-well father, James (played by LaBeouf himself). Given that the broad outline of the movie hews so closely to LeBeouf’s biography—onetime adorable moppet from a kids’ show ages into a hotshot actor with demons aplenty—it’s hard to watch the film without wondering after every scene, “Did that really happen?” Only LaBeouf himself really knows where fact ends and fiction begins in the movie, but here are our most educated guesses about where real life and Honey Boy meet and diverge.
The movie cuts between 1995, when main character Otis is 12 and acting in a sitcom, and 2005, when his career as an up-and-coming leading man in action movies is interrupted by court-ordered rehab. This tweaks the real chronology a bit: Born in 1986, LaBeouf would have only been 9 in 1995. He didn’t get his first roles until the late ’90s, and his big break came in 2000, when Even Stevens debuted on the Disney Channel. The events the movie depicts as taking place in 2005 are drawn from a wider range of years, condensing about a decade of events starting in the late 2000s, when LaBeouf landed the lead role in the Transformers series, and stretching until 2017, when the rehab stint that ultimately inspired Honey Boy took place.
The poster for Honey Boy and an early scene in the movie show a young Otis being hit in the face with a pie, that old standby of comedy gags. Other scenes show Otis in a few different comic kids’-show scenarios: wearing a bathrobe and a wig (with hair rollers) on a living room set, and sitting down for an elaborate dinner with someone playing his father and seemingly his own butler. There is talk of Otis landing a role in a TV movie of the week. All of this jibes with LaBeouf’s early career, during which he most famously starred as the younger brother on Even Stevens. His character got into all kinds of wacky antics and was definitely pied in the face at least once; there’s even an episode where he hires a butler. It’s unclear if there’s a precise junior cross-dressing scene being referenced, but it’s certainly the kind of thing kids’ fare at the time traded in. LaBeouf’s character on the show, Louis, frequently wore Hawaiian shirts, a wardrobe choice also made for Otis in Honey Boy.
When we first see Lucas Hedges on screen, he’s performing a stunt on a movie set, where a faux explosion sends him flying through the air (attached to a rope and harness). Though Optimus Prime is nowhere in sight, this kind of action sequence seems right out of LaBeouf’s real-life Transformers years, when the actor frequently spoke of performing his own stunts, and some scenes from the second film even take place on an airfield. The real-life LaBeouf started earning a reputation for being a bad boy, or at the very least, with his attempts at performance art, an odd duck. Similarly, Hedges’ character is also shown seemingly on a spiral, drinking alone in his trailer and dealing with anger and isolation.
Over the years, LaBeouf has spoken a lot about his chaotic upbringing. Like fictional Otis, LaBeouf was an only child with parents who divorced when he was very young, and during his childhood rise to fame, it was his father who worked as his on-set companion, just as with the child star in Honey Boy. Both his real father, Jeffrey, and the fictionalized father, James, are erratic figures with a history of addiction and crime—the movie shows James attending 12-step meetings, and in real life, LaBeouf has spoken of accompanying his father to those meetings. They really lived in a motel, too.
The part of the movie where James grows marijuana on the side of a highway? LaBeouf told Vanity Fair back in 2007 that his dad did that too. James and Jeffrey are also both Vietnam War vets—James wears a leather jacket that identifies him as such. And both James and LaBeouf’s real-life father, Jeffrey, are also former clowns. Part of James’ act was doing stunts involving chickens, something his real father did too. And the title of the movie, Honey Boy, comes from a real term of endearment LeBeouf’s father used to use for him.
Car Crash and Arrest
The movie shows Lucas Hedges as Otis getting into a serious car crash with his co-star, not unlike the one LaBeouf was in while filming a Transformers sequel in 2008—he was with Isabel Lucas and seriously injured his hand. Even though LaBeouf was deemed not at fault in that crash, he refused a Breathalyzer test and was cited for drunk driving; prosecutors later decided there wasn’t enough evidence to charge.
In the movie, Otis is arrested and shown yelling at the police, which parallels LaBeouf’s 2017 arrest in Georgia (though this was only one of his several brushes with the law over the years). In that incident, LaBeouf became incensed after asking a police officer for a cigarette and was arrested for public drunkenness, disorderly conduct, and obstruction. Footage of the arrest was leaked to TMZ and showed LaBeouf yelling vulgarities at the police, specifically telling an officer he’s going to hell “ ’cause he’s a black man.” In the movie, Otis isn’t shown saying anything racist, but as LaBeouf did in real life, he does demand to know why he’s being arrested and taunts the police about his fame.
Otis lands in rehab after his arrest, much like LeBeouf did after his 2017 arrest. The film depicts Otis dealing with his post-traumatic stress disorder through screaming in the woods, exposure therapy, and writing, and when he reunites with his father, Otis tells him he plans to write a movie about him. LaBeouf really did start writing a movie in rehab to cope with the PTSD he was diagnosed with, and that movie became Honey Boy. When LaBeouf visited his father, who was living in Costa Rica rather than still at the motel like James is in the movie, to tell him about Honey Boy, it was the first time the two spoke in seven years.