LOS ANGELES – Shia LaBeouf plays a gangster in the forthcoming “Lawless,” and he says the way he prepped for his character scared his co-star to such an extent, she tried to extricate herself from the project.
The famously intense actor tells FOX411's Pop Tarts column that when his on-screen love interest Mia Wasikowska stepped on set midway through filming, his aggressive method acting and drinking prompted the Australian beauty to make calls to her attorney in an effort to get out of the role.
“I had been thinking about Mia for months, before I ever was to meet her. For months. For me, I was so eager to meet her and anticipated meeting her so greatly that I scared her because I was just so eager,” he added. “Mia is very soft, and I think both of us were playing up the sides of us that worked with the character. So as I was playing up my alpha male, she was playing up her naïveté and softness.”
In the end Wasikowska stayed put on the film centered on three bootlegging brothers -- played by LaBeouf, Tom Hardy and Jason Clarke -- chasing the American dream in Prohibition-era Virginia. LaBeouf said the movie's combination of classic gangster and Western films is what sold him.
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“I was always raised on cowboy films, and then when I could start making choices about the movies I wanted to watch I found myself wanting to watch gangster films which were slightly more sophisticated than the baseline stuff that was in westerns,” LaBeouf continued. “And I hadn't really seen an amalgamation of the two; there was no real middle ground. When I sat down with (director) John Hillcoat and he said ‘good fellas in the woods’ I was addicted, and I chased that idea until I showed up on set.”
LaBeouf also said he's enamored by the western/gangster combo for one reason.
“Crime is sexy,” he said. “Bonnie and Clyde is sexy, Robin Hood is sexy, Billy the Kid is sexy. These are sexy people; they believed what they believed in to such a degree they were willing to fight for it. That kind of passion and drive is sexy. You are talking about a time, especially here in ‘Lawless,’ where you are in the middle of a big criminal gold rush. There is a lot of money to make in this, but these people were part of this before it was even crime, which makes them even sexier because it makes them honorable. It started off as family; they fought for family, which was a really sexy thing in the same way that watching ‘Braveheart’ is sexy.”
(Hear that, Mel Gibson?)
The 26-year-old star also had to bulk up for the gun-wielding role – gaining 40 pounds in what he described as the “classic” way, which entailed consuming “eggs, chicken and/or protein shakes every couple of hours.”
It turns out he could have used that extra bulk in his youth, during which he told us he was beaten into a pulp.
“I came from a neighborhood where if you were not going to fight, then you were made to fight. You were presented with a fight. I grew up in an all-Mexican neighborhood in Echo Park,” he said. “There was only one other white kid, so they pinned me against him, like ‘whitey fight,’ and I lost. His name was Chucky. He beat me up so bad that we actually moved neighborhoods and moved to Tujunga after that. Moved schools and everything.”
Wonder what Chucky is it up to these days?
“Lawless” opens in theaters August 29
Hollie McKay has been a FoxNews.com staff reporter since 2007. She has reported extensively from the Middle East on the rise and fall of terrorist groups such as ISIS in Iraq. Follow her on twitter at @holliesmckay