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Transformers' Shia LaBeouf

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At 21, Shia LaBeouf may be the biggest movie star whose name leaves you tongue-tied. For the record: It’s SHY-a La-BUFF—and he’s currently at your multiplex, starring as a plucky surfing penguin in the animated movie Surf’s Up and saving the world from nasty robots in Transformers. Not bad for a self-described child of hippie parents who took up acting to earn some cash. Next the Emmy winner for Disney Channel’s Even Stevens takes a plum (and top secret) role in the new Indiana Jones film. What’s it like to catapult onto the A-list? PEOPLE’s Katherine Nichols found out.

So what was your best stunt in Transformers?

We were on top of [L.A.’s] Orpheum Theatre about 50 stories up, and [director] Michael Bay decided it would be a good idea to hang me off the side by my toes. One wire was the only thing keeping me from falling. There’s all these people looking who don’t know we’re filming, and they’re yelling, “Don’t jump!”

In Surf’s Up, the penguin version of you gets to hang 10. But you’ve been asked to stop surfing in real life for insurance reasons. Anything else you can’t do?

I used to dirt bike a lot. I can’t do that anymore. Can’t eat a whole lot of chocolate anymore.

That’s no fun. Why not?

Can’t be in Indiana Jones and be a fatso!

Guess so. How do you like working with Jones director Steven Spielberg?

He makes me nervous. We talk about boxing, just to level the playing field. There’s not much else we can meet on an equal level about.

You were accepted to Yale last fall. Think you’ll ever enroll?

I’d love to go to school and have a normal life. But I don’t see any professor at Yale being able to teach me more than Steven Spielberg.

Okay, what’s the most amusing mispronunciation of your name you’ve ever heard?

I just got back from France and they called me SHEE-ITE LA BEEF!