The gripping epic gangster film "Lawless" is based on the true story of the infamous Bondurant boys in Prohibition-era Franklin County, Virginia. These legendary bootlegging siblings were immortalized by Matt Bondurant’s novel “The Wettest County in the World,” a fictionalized account of his paternal grandfather and his two brothers and their many misadventures of crime and corruption during the 1930’s while they had a flourishing family bootlegging business making moonshine. These American gangster outlaws attempted to obtain the American dream during a time much like today with immense unrest and an economic Great Depression.
“I tried to imagine what my grandfather was like, what he wore, what he ate. I tried to really imagine him as a young man. It was oddly surreal,” Bondurant says of the process writing his novel. Of the novel being adapted for the big screen, “I was pretty happy that the novel to script adaptation was pretty close. Many of the lines of dialogue in the film are straight from the book.” Doing a lot of soul searching at the time, he explains, “While writing the book I was in a desperately hopeful place. I wanted to depict my relatives as good people in an extraordinary time under difficult circumstances. I wanted to depict them as real human beings, good people.”
Having to do a significant amount of research into the history of his family, Bondurant explains that there was very little of the family moonshine business discussed while he was growing up. “These were not stories that we sat around and discussed. There was a real shock when we found the articles about various incidents. My grandfather was very old at the time and moonshine was simply not something that we talked about. I wasn’t handed these stories.”
Returning to Franklin County just two weeks ago for a book signing, Bondurant says that the outcome was positive. “About two hundred people turned out and everyone was very supportive.” In regards to the eventual title change from the novel to the film, he says that he wasn’t at all surprised by it. “The title is great for a book, but it sounds like a porn for a movie,” he says laughing.
Directed by John Hillcoat, with the screenplay and music by Nick Cave, the film’s exemplary ensemble cast includes Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy, Jessica Chastain, Guy Pearce, Gary Oldman, Mia Wasikowska, Jason Clarke and Dane DeHaan.
Excited for his first wide released film, DeHaan tells of getting the role of Cricket Pate, “I was like a kid in a candy store! I’d just moved to L.A. and was off the show “In Treatment” when CAA sent me the script. It was one of the best scripts that I’d ever read and then I found out the amazing cast and from that point on it was a no-brainer for me to do this film.” Explaining that it was vague as to whom his character Cricket was he does know that he existed. “There’s a certain respect that you need to have when portraying a real person.” In regards to doing the research necessary for not only portraying a real person, but also doing a period piece, he adds, “I read the book, researched that time in history and watched several documentaries. I also did a lot of research on Rickets, which my character suffered from, and worked with the wardrobe department to have special shoes made that would force me to walk on the sides of my feet. My feet still hurt today but it was well worth it.”
Cave says that the book by Bondurant was too delicious to turn down. “It had the two most important elements: Dialogue to die for and a wonderful story.” Not interested at first in adapting someone else’s book, he adds, “Matt’s book is just stunning.” What he has over other screenwriters, Cave says, is that he really doesn’t know how to write a script. “I can put all of my ideas in quite naively as an amateur, an outsider. Most professional writers know that this idea or that will probably just end up on the cutting room floor. I don’t have that self-edit in my writing and sometimes that really works to my benefit.”
The Weinstein Company’s "Lawless" opens Wednesday, August 29th. This film is Rated R.