Disclaimer: ChurchPOP is not endorsing the "Padre Pio" film. This article is for informational purposes only.
The "Padre Pio" movie starring actor Shia LaBeouf released in the United States on June 2.
Shia LaBeouf, who portrays Padre Pio, director Abel Ferrara, and Br. Alex Rodriguez, OFM Cap., who plays Padre Pio's friend and confidant, all sat down with ChurchPOP English editor Jacqueline Burkepile for an interview.
The group discusses both the movie's meaning and Shia LaBeouf's spiritual transformation. Br. Alex Rodriguez also explains why the historical events in the movie actually led to Padre Pio receiving the stigmata.
LaBeouf concludes the interview by explaining why suffering is a true gift from Christ we are called to embrace.
Watch the Padre Pio movie interview below:
Here's the text of the interview:
Jacqueline Burkepile: Abel, instead of focusing solely on Padre Pio, why did you tie in political turmoil occurring in Italy?
Abel Ferrara: "You know, the approach is we're making a documentary at this moment in time, in that place. There was the first free election in Italy, which triggered a horrible massacre, which in theory could/was the beginning of World War II. Those thirteen people were the first victims of 100 million who ended up dead.
"Padre Pio came to that town at that moment – the stigmata wasn't exactly in the moment of the massacre, but close enough that it all happened in the same place at the same time. It's not the parallel story – yeah he's a key member of that community, historically speaking."
Br. Alex Rodriguez, OFM Cap.: "Just to give it a brief background of the brothers at the time. The capuchins were more monastic, and in a sense that there were more in the Friary most of the time. I mean, they would go out and do things, but it wasn't the same as it is now.
"Pio, when he went to San Giovanni after being sick for so long...he was in charge of the seraphic college there at the Friary. He was in charge of the high school, basically, kids who were ready to enter the order after they graduated.
"So he didn't have much contact with people. I mean he did, but not in a way that you would see later on in his life. So he's coming into San Giovanni at during World War I, after World War I ends, and then during the social turmoil of San Giovanni Rotondo. So he is connected with it, but not as much as we know about him later on after he received the stigmata.
"The movie is showing historically mostly accurate - like he comes to know these people slowly. Hearing their confessions, the Mass, hearing about the turmoil, etc.
In the middle of all this, the movie also acknowledges that Satan is the one influencing all these problems: World War I, social politics, and problems in San Giovanni.
"So Pio is experiencing that three worlds: the human side of things, the devil, and then God. Historically speaking, even though it's it seems like it's two different stories sometimes, really like it's like an introduction to why he received the stigmata, and then later on his other ministries that he did."
Jacqueline: Shia, everyone knows that you went through spiritual growth – a total transformation. Where were you in your faith when you filmed the movie?
Shia LaBeouf: "At that point of filming I had already been with Alex and the brothers in San Lorenzo for probably four months. Then when we shipped out, we just moved into a Benedictine monastery, so then you're with them every day. It's even more cloistered; it's even more prayerful.
"When you're in that situation when you got an all-access pass to Catholicism, it's very hard not to get wrapped up in the goings-on. I felt an enormous peace. You know, usually, when you film a movie it's completely neurotic. I didn't have that. I really didn't. I didn't have the kind of the same kind of neurosis and fear that pervades my system when I'm filming a movie normally. I felt an enormous peace and an invite to do good work it was always easy. It was unbelievably easy.
"Even the hard stuff just felt easy. It just came so readily. It just was so available. We didn't do many takes, and Abel's the kind of director who lets you float, play jazz, and find it, he lets you fail your way into something special.
"It was one of the greatest working situations I'd ever been in. Even the crazy stuff, even the heavy stuff. And all the pressure just kind of melted away because I would just look over to my shoulder.
"Everybody else in the movie is religious. They are religious. They are in the order. So it's really easy to get lost and wrapped up in the salvific nature of their lifestyles. Every meal was with the religious. We pray before every meal. I was going to sleep next door to Alex. We would talk smack and then giggle a little bit. Pray together and call it a night. Wake up, talk smack, pray together, giggle a little bit, and eat breakfast. We ship off in the same car.
"It wasn't like my off time was filled with crew talk. Like you usually get on a movie where in between takes you're talking to the crew about what are you going to buy your family for Christmas, and did you watch the game last night. It wasn't that. We were almost cloistered on the set. You know, they'd bring us to set, we'd film, and then we'd go away back into the house and get back into the lifestyle--the swing of things in there. Benedictines are even more cloistered than the Franciscans.
"You know we were really protected. It was a brilliant production specifically for that reason. We were in a monastery. We were filming in a monastery, in and around a monastery. When we weren't in the monastery, we were at actual locations where Pio lived and studied and practiced his faith. So it was really easy to get totally lost in the whole thing.
"In so doing, I really found my way."
Jacqueline: "I've noticed that just when you find God, you feel like you know yourself better. Do you feel like that? Do you feel like you know yourself better now?
Shia LaBeouf: "Yeah, I had no idea who I was previously. I mean I was just living for more achievement, more goals, more animal instinct, pleasure-seeking, selfish, self-centered, dishonest, completely inconsiderate of other people. If I was a nice guy, it was for an end. I had no charity in my life. I was a tolerant man. These things aren't Christian. Tolerance is a strictly Jewish thing. Full-blown acceptance is a Christian thing.
"When you really ride with that, life is just--life is a joy. It's a pleasure. Even the tough stuff feels like a gift. It's like a hack. It's like a complete suffering hack. So once you've gotten the hack, once you know how to pray the rosary, and once you feel fully embraced by God, there is no suffering. I mean in the suffering, even the suffering feels like a gift. That's not in a masochistic sense but in a purposeful sense.
"When I say it it felt easy, that's not to say it wasn't without its challenges. This movie was very difficult to film on his face. Never before have I been on a film set where it felt more like there was intrinsic value involved.
"It felt like I wasn't doing it – like I wasn't in control of the instrument. I had a maestro ahead of me in the director's chair. (Well not in the chair I mean he's always right by the camera.)
"But I had a maestro and a friend right there next to the camera. I had my spiritual sponsor essentially in Alex. I had my real sponsor or my actual sponsor from AA right next to us all. It just felt like health. It felt like a healing process more so than a filming process"
Jacqueline: "Where are you at right now in your spiritual journey?"
Shia: "I'm in RCIA. I'm scheduled to be confirmed in seven months and I hope Bishop [Robert] Barron comes down to confirm me. But we'll see. I'm in RCIA right now and once a week I get on the horn with Fr. Bobby and we talk shop."
Jacqueline: "You said in the interview with Bishop Baron that Padre Pio saved your life. Were you talking about the movie or the saint? Or both?"
Shia: Both. I think Pio worked through the movie to get to me. I was an egomaniac-- a complete narcissist living my life for selfish ends. My only goal in life wasn't to have a family. It was to be a great actor, and God used Abel and Pio as an extension to get to me. If Abel would call me at any point in my life with any project, it's incumbent upon you as an actor, who has a certain sensibility and cares about performance – you got to show up, right? It doesn't matter what's on the page. It doesn't matter what kind of adventure he wants to go on. This man has captured some of the greatest performances that have ever been laid down by American actors.
"He used Abel to get to me. He used Abel to seed my narcissism, to seed that selfishness, to seed that very animal instinct that I had to be great to achieve my pride to get me mushy enough-- open enough--to be able to have real conversations with Alex.
"Very early on, somebody gave me a quote I think by Caravaggio, where in order to paint Christ you have to love Christ with all your heart.
"So I figured the only way to play Pio was to completely fall in love with Christ. I had done a very surface-level exploration of Christ when I had done Fury and knew that I had to go further. And so, my prep essentially, my prep was the seduction into enjoying time with Christ, enjoying rosary, finding relief in prayer, and finding a full-blown love affair with my father. I had not had that in my life.
Jacqueline: "What would you want everyone to take from this movie and why should they see it?
Br. Alex: This movie is showing the human side of Padre Pio that most people don't know about, which you find in his personal letters. That in his sufferings, his personal sufferings, including the sufferings of the people of San Giovanni.
"The stigmata happened because of those events. It did not happen just because he was holy."
Shia: "What I would want people to take is the idea that you can hack your suffering--that your suffering is meaningful it's actually a gift. That this kind of pain draws you away from worldly clamors and brings you closer to God.
"And if you can really heed that message, there's an incredible life on the other side full of unbelievable joy and connection and purpose the likes of which I never found in the Hollywood system or in the success, animal-driven, animal-instinct, pleasure-driven life. It's a bit like forgiveness. You don't feel forgiveness and then forgive a person. You forgive a person and feel the forgiveness.
"Suffering is a bit like that. When you're in it, and you have a really micro view of what's going on, there's no way you can enjoy it. But when you zoom out a little bit and recognize that you've been chosen--that you've been picked--that God's basically saying, "Come here. I loved you." Once you can really get down with that idea and fully adapt to it, it really removes suffering, which really, I think, is the point of Christianity.
"The point of Christianity is to be loved and to trust a power greater than you that can handle all of your problems. The message of the movie is that God loves you and he's cheating in your favor."