UNIVERSAL CITY, California – To reprise his role as Sam in "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen," Shia LaBeouf played with pain — and paid with flesh.
The gouges on his back, the cuts on his knee and the stitches on his eyelid were all on-set battle wounds, the price of filming the anticipated follow-up to the 2007 summer blockbuster. But it was the broken hand, crushed in an off-set accident during production, that forced the screenwriters to react.
He's willing to reveal a few plot points — including how wrecking his pickup truck last July diverted the "Transformers" story — though he does it as if playing a game of Taboo.
"He hurts his hand in the middle of a human transfer," LaBeouf explains cryptically. "Sorry this is so mysterious. There's just certain words I can't say."
"Revenge of the Fallen" begins with LaBeouf's character, Sam Witwicky, heading off to college to distance himself from his shape-shifting robot friends. Sam's beloved Camaro, which transforms into Bumblebee, sits in the garage "sort of like his (parole officer), his guardian," LaBeouf said during a recent interview.
While at school, Sam starts seeing symbols through "epileptic seizure-type fits of information transfer," LaBeouf said. "He just becomes a factual volcano." The symbols form a map to an energy source the robots need to control sentient beings, LaBeouf said.
The actor becomes visibly excited when talking about "Transformers," his slight frame buzzing in a button-down shirt and skinny black tie. His left hand is wrapped in gauze, with a splint propping up one finger. "It's like 11 days out of surgery," he said, referring to a procedure to remove screws that stabilized his digits after the accident.
LaBeouf was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving after the crash, but prosecutors decided there wasn't enough evidence to charge, and he said all is well now. His hand feels fine, and the splint just provides extra protection his next job — a role in "Money Never Sleeps," Oliver Stone's "Wall Street" sequel — which begins in August.
"It's not broken, but it's newly not-broken," LaBeouf said.
There were also certain things LaBeouf couldn't do during production because of that late-night collision in West Hollywood: In a movie all about robots that disguise themselves as cars, LaBeouf couldn't drive — not legally anyway, since his refusal to submit to a breathalyzer resulted in a temporary license suspension.
"I was in some hot water making this movie," he said. "At 22, you're always in hot water."
But LaBeouf was able to perform many of his own stunts — including "some death-defying (stuff)" — in the effects-heavy flick.
"There's far more stunts this time," he said. "Aside from the fact that I was making the whole movie with a broken hand, my knee has stitches, my eye had stitches, my back was gouged."
During one scene, LaBeouf said he "literally stabbed myself in the eye" and had to be treated at a military hospital. Though credit may be due for toughness, it's LaBeouf's natural warmth that makes him perfect to play Sam, the film's screenwriters say.
"What you see on screen is very much what you get with Shia," said Alex Kurtzman, co-writer of both "Transformers" films. "He's incredibly open."
That openness is key to Sam's ability to connect with alien robots, the writer continues: "He's very unjaded and he has an open heart, and I think that's what (the Autobots) see in the character that allows them to feel they can communicate with him and share their secrets."
"It turns into a plot reason as well," adds co-writer Roberto Orci. "In the first one he's the keeper of the map, and in the second one, he in a way has become the map."
"Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" opens June 24.