Maila Rondero, right, gives Shia LaBeouf of "Even Stevens" a hula lesson.

'Even Stevens' does Hawaii

'The Stevens Get Even,' an
original TV movie, has been
filming at various attractions,
using island girls as extras

By Tim Ryan

OK, let's do the hula like we would at temple."

Shia LaBeouf, the 16-year-old star of the Disney Channel's comedy series "Even Stevens," grabs Maila Rondero of Kalihi by the arm, then swings her around in tight circles, all the while singing "Hava Nagila."

The curly-haired LaBeouf, who portrays Louis Stevens, is wearing baggy tan pants, a yellow T-shirt and skateboard shoes while doing behind-the-scenes filming during a break in the regular filming at Ko Olina of the "The Stevens Get Even" television movie.

"Now it's my turn," says the 4-foot-9 Rondero after a few minutes of the "Hebrew hula." She tells LaBeouf to place his hands on his hips, bend his knees, then shake his okole "like me."

"Oh, uh, OK -- remember, this is a family show," LaBeouf says, giving his partner's hips only a sideways glance. "I sooo don't know what I'm doing!"

Rondero is one of four female extras this day, along with Jennifer Sheridan from the North Shore, Kori Yuh of Kaimuki, and Donna Perry of Kailua (Michael W.'s daughter). They've been hired to fan, with palm fronds, the series' stars -- Donna Pescow and Tom Virtue as the Stevens parents -- during these scenes at Lanikuhonua beach, adjacent to the Ihilani Resort and Spa on the Ko Olina estate. The production began five days of filming last week and finished yesterday. It's the first time an original comedy series on the Disney Channel has inspired an original movie for the channel. The production also filmed at Kualoa Ranch, Waimea Falls Park, the Polynesian Cultural Center and Lanikuhonua.

The story has the vacationing Stevens family turning an exclusive island paradise (not Hawaii) upside down and eventually turning the tables on a reality television series. LaBeouf and Christy Carlson Romano lead the cast in the movie to premiere sometime next year.

LaBeouf, who began doing stand-up comedy in Los Angeles at age 11, has also appeared in "ER," "Touched by an Angel," "Suddenly Susan," "Caroline in the City" and "The X-Files," as well as the film "True Confessions" and the just-completed "Holes" with Jon Voight and Sigourney Weaver. This fall, he'll do the "Charlie's Angels" movie sequel.

Working on the "Even Stevens" series (which is being shelved by Disney, even after two years of top cable ratings), has been a blessing "for a kid actor," LaBeouf says.

"This is the one show you'd pick to work on," he says. "You have kids here to be with you, so you still experience the insanity of childhood. We handle our business, then let loose and have fun."

As LaBeouf tells it, his show business aspirations were his sole idea.

"I wanted to be an actor since forever," he says. "My mom said if I wanted it, I would do it."

LaBeouf used to surf in Malibu, Calif., with a child actor who worked on "Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman."

"I would watch the show because he was the only person I knew on TV," LaBeouf said. "I knew I could kill this kid in acting if I had the chance."

So the then-11-year-old LaBeouf looked up the names of agents in the Yellow Pages, wrote them letters and then arranged meetings. Just like that, he gets sent to a cereal commercial audition, passes it, but doesn't get the job because he doesn't have a work permit.

"Nobody told me about work permits," he said.

In typical Hollywood-ending fashion, LaBeouf obtains the permit and still gets the commercial. Confidence in hand, the boy would trek to L.A. comedy clubs to perform. And being Cajun-Jewish, it allowed him the perfect opportunity to poke fun at himself.

"A Cajun-Jew is probably the weirdest mixture in the world," LaBeouf said. "I would talk about matzo ball gumbo and spicy gefilte fish. Guaranteed laughs."

In those early years, LaBeouf and his mom, with little money, lived in the Echo Park area of Los Angeles, not far from downtown.

"I had to do something to help get us out of there," he said. "My acting was our ticket."

Despite his youth, LaBeouf insists he feels little career pressure. "It's not like I'm going to work at 7-Eleven for 12 hours," he says. "I go to a place where there's free food, friends and lots of fun."

But there are negatives to being noticed.

"Like when ... the guy at the urinal next to you wants to shake your hand; or you take your mom to a movie on Mother's Day and you get bum-rushed by fans; or you go to a concert with friends and you want to sit in the audience to see the show instead of backstage but you can't do it."

LaBeouf says it's "weird how life expands when you have more money."

"I used to have fun throwing balls against a wall or a rock into the water," he said. "Now I spend my money on video games and doing extreme fun things. After skydiving, throwing rocks into ponds isn't fun."

LaBeouf says his close relationship with his parents will prevent him from falling into the same traps that have plagued other child actors.

"Those careers ended poorly because they had no relationship with their family and friends," he said. "If I'm acting badly my parents say 'Shia, you're being an ass!' My dad gets p---ed if I don't hang my wardrobe up."

LaBeouf's trailer dressing room floor has his clothes piled in a corner, nearly covering a well-used and bruised skateboard. He picks it up.

"That goes everywhere with me and in the overhead on a plane," he says. "There's a story behind every nick and crack in the wood, I could tell you. Now those are really private!"

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