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Shia LaBeouf Surprises by Channeling Borg, Not McEnroe, at Toronto Press Conference

TIFF 2017: ”Borg/McEnroe“ opens the festival as LaBeouf emerges from radio silence after July arrest

Shia LaBeouf’s first public appearance since his July arrest, and subsequent racist meltdown, played more like a game of leisurely doubles than a pressure-cooker press conference.

But there he was on Thursday, at the kick-off media huddle for the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival where his drama “Borg/McEnroe” serves as the opening gala screening.

Donning what we’ll call a sporty running jacket, LaBeouf appeared alongside his director, Janus Metz, and co-stars Sverrir Gudnason and Stellan Skarsgård to discuss the film, about the legendary 1980s tennis rivalry between brash American John McEnroe and the calm Swede Bjorn Borg.

There were questions as to whether LaBeouf would attend, as he’s been MIA since his arrest for public drunkenness and disorderly conduct in Savannah, Georgia — where he told a police officer that he would go to hell because he was black.

But on Thursday at TIFF’s Bell Lightbox headquarters, LaBeouf was thoughtful and collected when called on, which wasn’t often. Numerous questions about parallels between him and the incendiary McEnroe were redundant, and seems designed to give the actor a platform to discuss lessons he’s learned since his public apology for his latest legal incident.

“It felt cathartic, a lot of the stuff that was in the script,” LaBeouf said without getting specific.

McEnroe has openly battled addiction, just as LaBeouf admitted to in his July apology. Both men are known for a fiery passion when it comes to their individual craft.

One writer from an Italian publication pointed out the meta nature of Shia, a troubled actor hounded about his personal choices, playing an athlete whose troublesome behavior distracts from his performance at work.

“This is another parallel I feel with him,” LaBeouf said of McEnroe.

The writer suggested LaBeouf had stopped giving interviews, to which he said: “I’m right here.”

Skarsgard also came to his co-star’s defense. The question set LaBeouf up for the perfect serve — an actor not backing down from the press in room a jam-packed with reporters, though he ultimately revealed very little.

The film’s North American premiere will be held in Toronto this evening. LaBeouf won this set, but tonight’s reviews will tell if he takes the match.