You probably remember him from “Holes” – that curly-haired underdog who captured everyone’s sympathy when he was wrongly committed to a labor camp and forced to dig five-foot holes.  You might also have seen him in television’s “Even Stevens,” which won him an Emmy.

But in “The Greatest Game Ever Played,” actor Shia LaBeouf’s first lead film role, this spunky kid is all grown up.  At least as much as a 19 year-old can be, anyway.

“Few young actors get to be here,” says LaBeouf, about the film that was recently hailed by both George H. Bush and Bill Clinton as the best one they’d ever seen.  “It’s enjoyable but it’s very scary.”

In “The Greatest Game Ever Played,” LaBeouf portrays Francis Ouimet, 20, an underclass working immigrant who became an overnight hero after taking on Harry Vardon, a U.S. Open winner and six time British Open champion.  The golfers’ legendary showdown was first captured by award-winning television writer-turned-novelist Mark Frost (“Hill Street Blues”) in his book.  Now, courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures and director Bill Paxton (“Apollo 13,” “Twister”) – who just happened to grow up caddying for the legendary Ben Hogan in his hometown of Ft. Worth, Texas – we can watch the drama unfold on the big screen.

LaBeouf, who describes this period in his life as one of great transformation, recently spoke with Crosswalk about his path to success, his motivation and how the film challenged him to become a true gentleman.

Annabelle Robertson:  What drew you to the character of Francis Ouimet?

Shia LaBeouf:
  Francis Ouimet was like the Michael Jordan or LeBron James of his day – he was in every single paper for weeks – but we don’t really know him now.  He was like a Robin Hood character who was idolized because he triumphed in this world that was supposed to be only for the rich.  And he was such a gentleman. That’s what I loved about him when I first read the script, and that’s what I still love about him now. It was fun to go home after a day of playing Francis and think, I did something good today, even though I was just playing the guy who did.”

Annabelle: In what ways do you aspire to be a gentleman in your own life?

  It’s weird because I’m the first suburbanite in my family.  We’re generations and generations of beatniks and hippies – people whose ethics and code of honor is completely separate for that which is accepted in society.  So playing Francis was an eye-opener.  It was like going to etiquette class. 

Annabelle: How do you define that, then?

  To be a true gentleman is more than just staying “please” and “thank you.”  It’s knowing when to talk and when not to.  It’s about staying humble – but for real.  Humility is a mask that people put on out here – it’s fake humble.  People say to actors, ‘You were great in that film’ and they say, ‘Oh, not really, but thanks.’  But that’s not them being humble.  It’s them trying to look like they’re humble.  Also, a lot of people say they’re gentlemen because they open doors for women.  But [being a gentleman] is a whole mind-set.  It’s a way of talking and walking and being – everything that you do.  The film showed me that.