CANNES, France – If Shia LaBeouf has his way, this year's Cannes Film Festival is just a beginning.
After previous trips to the festival with blockbusters "Transformers" and "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps," LaBeouf is here with his first film in competition, the Prohibition-era "Lawless," as well as a short he directed, "Howard Cantour.com."
"Smaller hotel room, but a lot more pride," he said in an interview shortly before "Lawless" was to make its premiere Saturday.
In "Lawless," directed by John Hillcoat, LaBeouf stars as the younger, less violent brother of a trio of Appalachia bootlegging brothers (Tom Hardy, Jason Clarke) protecting their backwoods freedom from a savage lawman from Chicago (Guy Pearce).
The film, to be released by the Weinstein Co. this fall, is a clear departure for LaBeouf, whose young career has been more dominated by franchise action films than character-driven genre work like "Lawless."
"I've made a lot of movies about plot and device," says LaBeouf. "Now, I find myself being attracted to — and being allowed to make — more movies about people and characters."
Coming to Cannes for the 25-year-old LaBeouf, whose manner is intense and direct, is also something of a return to the scene of a crime. In 2010, he disparaged two of his own blockbusters — "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" and "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" — a severe break with Hollywood etiquette — particularly when the directors concerned are Steven Spielberg and Michael Bay.
"Cannes is a big part of my learning curve," he says. "I've lost friends. I've experienced extreme heartbreak here."
LaBeouf also drew from his past in Cannes for "Howard Cantour.com," which stars comedian Jim Gaffigan as a film critic. Though LaBeouf has now directed several shorts and music videos, he says he plans to keep making shorts before trying his hand at directing a feature.
"Lawless," adapted by Australian musician Nick Cave from Matt Bondurant's 2008 historical novel, "The Wettest County in the World," was in Hollywood purgatory for two years after losing studio backing, a period through which LaBeouf remained committed to the film.
The attraction, LaBeouf says, was Hillcoat, whose 2005 Australian western "The Proposition" — for which Cave composed the soundtrack — he admires.
"He has sensibilities closer to my sensibilities than my previous commanders," says LaBeouf. "When a man says to you, 'I'm planning to make "Goodfellas" in the woods,' it's really hard to get away from that idea."
Hillcoat praised the more adult performance for LaBeouf.
"He's actually very nuanced and incredibly subtle and very real," says Hillcoat. "There's a real tenderness, as well. For him, it was something that he's been dying to do for some time."
The film drew mixed reviews at Cannes after screening for the media Saturday, but generally positive ones for its performances. The film blog IndieWire wrote that the movie "will silence (LaBeouf's) critics."
The actor is clearly gratified to be bringing "Lawless" to Cannes, an audience that reveres artistic filmmaking: "This is a community that otherwise would hate me," he says.
LaBeouf has said the third "Transformers" film, last year's "Transformers: Dark of the Moon," will be the last for him, regardless of whether more are made. He'll next star in Robert Redford's political drama "The Company You Keep."
Says LaBeouf: "I'm going to be doing things that I like for a while, until the business says 'No, we need you to do this, or you can't work.'"
Contact Jake Coyle at: http://twitter.com/jake_coyle