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John Hillcoat Talks Sticking With Shia LaBeouf For 'Lawless,' How Tom Hardy Embraced His Feminine Side & More

The Playlist By Kevin Jagernauth | The Playlist August 28, 2012 at 10:59AM

When the movies and television have portrayed prohibition, it is generally cast through the prism of slick city gangsters, with highly organized operations that rule with brutal efficiency. Should any bumps arise along the way, or cogs in the machine slow down the river of money or booze, lethal and non-refundable means are employed to keep things running as they should. However, in John Hillcoat's "Lawless," the very decision to act violently, to put your life in danger with the possibility that you can end someone else's, is not taken lightly. "It's not the violence that sets men apart, it is the distance he is prepared to go," Forrest Bondurant advises his younger upstart brother Jack.
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Tom Hardy, Lawless
How Tom Hardy embraced his feminine side to portray Forrest Bondurant
While the trailers play up Tom Hardy's Forrest Bondurant as the unshakeable foundation of the trio of brothers (which he is), in the finished film, his character is a lot more nuanced. A man of very few words, Hardy still manages to find a deep well of sensitivity in Forrest that is often surprising, but not moreso than the deadpan humor he unearths in the character as well, leading to the some of the film's most memorable moments. 

"Actually Tom brought a lot to that," Hillcoat praised his star. "He made some audacious choices that really paid off. I mean he's a really bold actor in that sense. He takes serious risks which I greatly admire and we always loved the idea of him exploring other sides. He's not just this hard, haunted character, he becomes both the patriarch and matriarch of the family, because they'd lost their parents. Tom was brilliant the way he kind of embraced the matriarchal kind of more feminine side of the character...we always knew he was an inoculate character who couldn't express himself. That's in the story and a lot of these hard bitten, southern folk are like that. They don't talk about their feelings in the way that modern day New Yorkers might. So there was that quality [and] Tom kind of took those ingredients and really added to them and added extra warmth and humor which we were thrilled about."

Shia LaBeouf Mia Wasikowska Lawless
Shia LaBeouf sought out Tom Hardy for the film
For those who have been closely following the development of "Lawless" -- formerly known under the book's original title -- they'll already know that a couple of years ago, the film has almost made with an entirely different cast. Shia LaBeouf, Ryan Gosling, Scarlett Johansson, Paul Dano and Michael Shannon were lined up to star, but the precarious nature of the economy, combined with a shift of studio thinking away from mid-budgeted films to blockbusters, kiboshed the project. However, one person stuck with the movie until it was mounted again: Shia LaBeouf.

"Shia was at a point in his career where he was very, very anxious and very keen to play a real character that he could sink his teeth in and his kind of enthusiasm for the script and my work and Nick's work and the story was very infectious," Hillcoat told us about the actor's commitment to the movie. "I couldn’t see anyone else as Jack a little bit like I couldn't not see Guy Pearce in 'The Proposition.' He was the very first person and I couldn't change that at any point."

Hillcoat also knew he had a strong actor in LaBeouf, pointing out his work in "The Guide to Recognizing Your Saints" and recognizing "that there was a serious actor there." But LaBeouf's passion also extended to suggesting actors for the movie, including one who would land the lead. "...he independently had just happened to see 'Bronson' and loved Tom Hardy and reached out to him. I just had coincidentally been drawn to Tom's work, it had been drawn to my attention and I met Tom [doing publicity] for 'Inception.' So it was those sort of connections that just kept us all together." 

Jessica Chastain, Lawless
Key choices for the soundtrack and certain shots draw social, political and enivronmental parallels
When we caught up with Hillcoat at Cannes, he revealed that an early draft of the script featured "a montage at the beginning of the film that started with what was happening with the Mexican cartels, then rewound through the ‘80s and the Cubans and cocaine, heroin in New York, then went way back and landed on Prohibition," something that was initially created to draw upon "a lot of parallels to today with the economic crisis, the political crisis, and the war on drugs." But ultimately he decided it was too heavy handed and instead used a more surreptitious method to slip those ideas into the film, including certain shots and the use of the soundtrack, which features covers of The Velvet Underground and Lou Reed.

Nick adapted the book, and we always talk about music weirdly enough at the very beginning script stage and it's partly because of Nick's background and I love music and in a way the project begins and ends with the you know the music is the final kind of, you know sound is the final step, and writing is the first step. So it's a nice cohesion there and really when we started talking about how we would do the music it brought up the whole idea of using contemporary parallels to this. Like Velvet Underground's White Light, White Heat which is about drugs but from a different era, can equally apply to moonshine. So we loved the lyrics of that song and what that meant and to us as the project developed we just were hoping those, also the economic crisis, the kind of corporate city feeling of corruption and greed, and the environmental, dust storms and...we were hoping those things would actually connect to today. You know in other words we were hoping there was enough within the film so I deliberately referenced the dust storms to you know hint at the acceleration of environmental problems and like the economic crisis and all of those sort of things. The battle between the rich and the poor. That type of stuff we were hoping there was enough in there whereas the montage might have just been too heavy handed, it might have been overstating it. I'm hoping people get the connection.
Nick adapted the book, and we always talk about music weirdly enough at the very beginning script stage and it's partly because of Nick's background and I love music and in a way the project begins and ends with the you know the music is the final kind of, you know sound is the final step, and writing is the first step. So it's a nice cohesion there and really when we started talking about how we would do the music it brought up the whole idea of using contemporary parallels to this. Like Velvet Underground's White Light, White Heat which is about drugs but from a different era, can equally apply to moonshine. So we loved the lyrics of that song and what that meant and to us as the project developed we just were hoping those, also the economic crisis, the kind of corporate city feeling of corruption and greed, and the environmental, dust storms and...we were hoping those things would actually connect to today. You know in other words we were hoping there was enough within the film so I deliberately referenced the dust storms to you know hint at the acceleration of environmental problems and like the economic crisis and all of those sort of things. The battle between the rich and the poor. That type of stuff we were hoping there was enough in there whereas the montage might have just been too heavy handed, it might have been overstating it. I'm hoping people get the connection.
"Nick adapted the book, and we always talk about music weirdly enough at the very beginning of the script stage....When we started talking about how we would do the music it brought up the whole idea of using contemporary parallels to this. Like Velvet Underground's 'White Light, White Heat,' which is about drugs but from a different era, can equally apply to moonshine. So we loved the lyrics of that song and what that meant and to us as the project developed we just were hoping those, also the economic crisis, the kind of corporate city feeling of corruption and greed, and the environmental dust storms...we were hoping those things would actually connect to today," Hillcoat explained about this approach, further elaborating on the breathtaking shot viewed in the trailers. "We were hoping there was enough within the film, so I deliberately referenced the dust storms to hint at the acceleration of environmental problems and the economic crisis and all of those sort of things. The battle between the rich and the poor. That type of stuff we were hoping there was enough of in there whereas the montage might have just been too heavy handed, it might have been overstating it. I'm hoping people get the connection."
 
"Lawless" opens on August 29th.

This article is related to: John Hillcoat, Lawless


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