Shia LaBeouf brings ‘Borg/McEnroe’ to the Toronto International Film Festival

The 42nd Toronto International Film Festival opens Thursday with a look back at the storied rivalry between tennis stars John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg. “He is a busy guy”.

Shia LaBeouf (John McEnroe), and always-terrific Stellan Skarsgaard (as Borg’s longtime tennis coach). How else did LaBeouf manage to prove his undying admiration?

LaBeouf, who has accumulated his own history in the past decade of run-ins with the police and behaving badly or bizarrely in public, described playing McEnroe as “cathartic”.

While Danish director Janus Metz Pedersen freely admits that he used fictional moments to tell “a deeper truth”, LaBeouf claims historical accuracy, thanks to Ronnie Sandahl’s screenplay.

“He was a young man”.

It is absolutely disposable enthralment though, very much like a typical sporting occasion, one where you’re very much gripped at the time, but can easily move away from your memory once it has all played out, and while a reply of the actual match on an online streaming service of your choice may have been as much fun, there’s still a lot to get from this experience. “He was just trying to win”.

“I learned it more like a dance to a metronome”, said LaBeouf.

“I want people to leave thinking “I didn’t know about that”. It was something different”. The 31-year-old actor features in drama “Borg/McEnroe” with Sverrir Gudnason as Swedish tennis icon Bjorn Borg, which explores the rivalry between the two tennis legends in the ’70s and ’80s.

In delving into his subject’s life, LaBeouf studied McEnroe’s upbringing in Queens, New York, in a “very loud household”. When he entered, it was a baseline game. “Borg brought touch and feel that wasn’t in the game”.

As for McEnroe’s antics, “It wasn’t just screaming rage. In that way he’s an artist”.

He agreed at the conference that one parallel between him and the tennis star is that people tend to ask him questions about his behaviour rather than his trade. It turns out that people who devote their lives to sports tend to be more competitive than the average person.

“I think he’s hyperaware of legacy”, said LaBeouf. He’s recorded the audio book. His wife is on the audiobook. He’s sort of the bad Santa of tennis. “He’s a very lovable guy”.

“That got a bit of press, but it’s nothing on the scale of Borg/McEnroe, so this is the first real big thing that I’ve done. Nothing but respect and love for him”, he added.

“I don’t think he was as into art as he was into money”, said LaBeouf.

“Jeff Koons, he was into the capital part”. He famously turned down Basquiat paintings until they started making money. Borg has a reputation for being borderline robotic, a slave to routine and form who never shows his emotions while McEnroe, prone to tantrums on the court, finds himself cast as the villain in their showdown. “It is like athletics, ordinary men with extraordinary determination putting themselves out there”.

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