In theaters on June 2, Padre Pio, which is rated R, isn't a family film -- but it was a life-changing spiritual experience for its lead actor.
UPDATE 6/2/2023: The film is also available (for a fee) June 2 on the following digital platforms: Amazon (Prime Video), AppleTV, VUDU, Google Play, YouTube, Microsoft Movies & TV, Sony PSN, Redbox Digital, Row8, Kaleidescape
What Is Padre Pio About?
Set in the immediate aftermath of World War I, the film is a biopic of sorts of Italian Capucin Franciscan priest Saint Pio of Pietrelcina, starring American actor Shia LaBeouf in the title role.
Co-written and directed by American Abel Ferrara, the film balances Pio's spiritual struggles during a period in his 20s, with a violent confrontation between socialists and fascists in the nearby town, with farmworkers caught in the middle.
The R rating comes for Brief Nudity|Some Violence|Language. As the rating notes, there are violent confrontations and flashes of nudity (including a woman who appears to Pio in a vision).
How Shia LaBeouf Became Headline News (in a Good Way)
The film premiered in Sept. 2022 at the Venice International Film Festival. Shortly before that, in August, headlines emerged that LaBeouf -- who comes from a mixed Jewish-Christian background -- was converting to Catholicism.
In preparation for the role, LaBeouf spent intensive time with Capucin Franciscans in California, leading to a deep religious experience.
In late August 2022, he did a remarkable video conversation with Bishop Robert Barron, in which the actor described his spiritual transformation.
Talking to LaBeouf, Ferrara and a Friar
With the film finally coming to U.S. theaters, LaBeouf, Ferrara and Franciscan friar Brother Alex Rodriguez, OFM Cap. (one of LaBeouf's spiritual mentors, who also worked on the film) have been giving interviews.
Here's the full video of my chat with them, with select quotes from LaBeouf below.
LaBeouf on whether he thought he'd become as big a story as the film itself:
No, I wasn't thinking about outcomes. I was grateful to be working with a guy like Abel.
I had fallen in love with Brother Alex, he became my roll-dog. I was falling into the Church, fell in love with Christ, learned how to pray, was finding big relief in the Rosary, had built a real strong connection with the members of the church that I was attending in San Lorenzo [California].
Had found spiritual guidance in Father James and Father Bobby, was knee-deep in RCIA, which I'm still in for the next seven months till I get confirmed.
Had reached out and had made contact with Bishop Barron. I had built a group of people around me that were holding me up.
So for a flawed man like me to fall all the way in love with Christ, it's almost a statistic, I almost have become what I always railed against. It's almost cheesy how real it's become for me.
And if I wasn't me, and I was on the outside looking in, of course he had to come to Jesus, of course. I get the rolling of the eyes from the non-believers or the atheistics. I understand because I was that.
But it's what happened, and to deny it is not real. I mean, this saved my life, this isn't just a film for me, this was an opportunity to fall in and have an all access pass to Franciscanism, and Catholicism, and the Gospel, and the Church, and Christ in a way that I've never known it was available.
On what LaBeouf would say to non-believers about what Catholicism has given him, and what it took for him to finally surrender to faith:
(BTW, the "call sheet" LaBeouf mentions is literally a piece of paper that tells people on a TV or film production who is working that day, and when and where they need to report.)
I mean, I understand the ambivalence with it all, and that's because they've experienced mediocre pain.
When you experience full-blown supernatural pain, you really only have two choices. One choice is to off yourself, the other choice is to seek help.
And what I found in Catholicism, as a person who loves a call sheet, who loves order ... I would never get arrested when I was filming, I would never destroy my life when I was filming because I had a call sheet, I had order, I had direction, and I enjoyed my freedom inside of that context.
And so what Catholicism has given me, is, it's given me order in order to enjoy my freedom, because what I had previous was just wandering through the desert.
And to be honest with you, authoritarianism is preferable to just wandering around in the desert, even though you have ultimate freedom.
And so I think a lot of the nons that exist just haven't experienced the amount of pain that opens you up to being able to receive faith. Kant says a very powerful quote, he said, "I had to give up on knowledge in order to receive faith."
And the only way that you give up on knowledge is when all your plans have failed.
And so a lot of people still got a plan, they still got a couple of plans, even though they're in pain, and that's because their pain is mediocre.
And I don't say this in a negative way or with any malice, I wish people profound pain, the kind of pain that allows you to open up to Christ and the love of this religion.
LaBeouf also said that, unsurprisingly, Padre Pio would be his confirmation saint, and that he hoped Bishop Barron would confirm him.
Image: Screenshot of the ‘Padre Pio’ trailer; credit: Gravitas Ventures
Kate O’Hare, a longtime entertainment journalist, is Social Media Content Manager at Family Theater Productions.