NEW YORK – In the history of Hollywood blockbusters, you rarely hear the words "golf (search) match" or "set in 1913."
So Shia LaBeouf (search), who stars in the "The Greatest Game Ever Played (search)," about a famous golf match set in 1913, knew that he and the other actors would have to bring a passion to the film that would draw in the audience.
"We went out every day with the idea that our golf clubs could kill people," says LaBeouf. He trained intensely for six months to portray Francis Ouimet, a 20-year-old amateur who found himself dueling the legendary British golfer Harry Vardon in the final round of the U.S. Open.
The cast worked to replicate the intensity of that fabled match on the film set. Director Bill Paxton presents the golf matches in the film as Western gunfights, even describing the film to LaBeouf as "Tombstone" meets "Star Wars."
"The actors really didn't speak to each other on the set," LaBeouf says. "Off the set was different -- but when we were working, we treated it as life or death."
Paxton didn't have to work hard to interest LaBeouf, 19, in the project, based on a novel and screenplay by "Twin Peaks" co-creator Mark Frost. Oscar-winner Jon Voight, LaBeouf's mentor and "Holes" co-star, gave the young actor a copy of the "Game" script.
"I was just looking for a new project when [Voight] told me he had something for me to read," LaBeouf says. "And I just knew immediately that this was the character I'd been looking for."
Playing Ouimet allowed LaBeouf a chance to display both action-star fervor and playfulness, especially in scenes with Ouimet's 10-year-old caddy Eddie Lowery, played by scene-stealer Josh Flitter.
"He's like little Mickey Rooney," LaBeouf says of Flitter. "The first time I met him he was holding court with people like Michael Eisner -- a crowd of the most powerful people in the business. He just had them eating out of his hand.
"Later on, I asked him, 'How can you do that? You're not even old enough to have hair on your chest.' 'No,' he says, 'but you should see my back.'"
Unlike Flitter, LaBeouf is leaving the role of child actor and he realizes that this film could either break him out or just plain break him. And he isn't the only with a big stake in the picture.
"Bill Paxton is directing a much bigger film than he ever has," LaBeouf says. "I'm in this transition from child actor to adult actor. Steve Dillane [Harry Vardon] is being introduced to America. We didn't just act like the film was about life and death. For some of us, it was."