While many still know Nick Cave best for his work as a musician in groups like The Birthday Party, and especially for albums such as Let Love In and Tender Prey that he produced along with his band The Bad Seeds, Cave has become increasingly more visible in the world of cinema ever since he first started collaborating with filmmaker John Hillcoat on the helmer’s 1988 feature “Ghosts…of the Civil Undead.” That pairing has proved to be a lucrative one, as Cave went on to write the grisly Australian Neo-Western “The Proposition” for Hillcoat to direct, which has allowed him to continue various music and film endeavors that have included scoring films like “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,” Hillcoat’s own “The Road,” and even the upcoming Guillermo Del Toro-produced (and now co-directed) adaptation of “Pinocchio.” Surprisingly enough, Cave was even once enlisted to rewrite a script for the big budget comic book adaptation of “The Crow,” with Bradley Cooper in the lead and “28 Weeks Later” helmer Juan Carlos Fresnadillo behind the camera (although that iteration has since fallen apart). He’s come a long way from his days of simply rocking out with The Birthday Party, and he’s produced consistently great work ever since.
Now all attention seems to be turned on his next writing gig, having adapted Matt Bondurant’s book “The Wettest County In The World” into the highly-anticipated new film from frequent collaborator Hillcoat, entitled “Lawless.” As it debuts at Cannes this week (you can read our review here), Cave has been doing the press rounds for the film that follows the tale of a bootlegging band of brothers in Depression-era Virginia who experience an unpleasant run-in with the law, and the film is picking up strong notices all around. Drawn from excerpts at both the film’s press conference and a one-on-one interview with Cave and Hillcoat, we’ve compiled the best tidbits that Cave has had to say about working on what is shaping up to be one of the more memorable films of 2012. “Lawless,” which boasts the impressive ensemble cast of Tom Hardy, Shia Labeouf, Jessica Chastain, Mia Wasikowska, Guy Pearce, Dane DeHann, and Jason Clarke, hits theaters stateside on August 29, 2012 through The Weinstein Company.
1. Cave claims that Matt Bondurant’s novel, which chronicles the events that transpired with his grandfather and fellow Bondurant family, made for a bountiful source from which to adapt, from the dialect right down to the time specificities.
While he didn’t work directly with Bondurant –and answered a question as to whether he felt any sense of added responsibility in portraying the Bondurant family by simply stating “No”—Cave did have nothing but praise for Bondurant’s work, saying “He wrote an incredible book, the script was absolutely a dream to write because it was all there, all the dialogue and everything like that.” Cave added in regards to adaptation, “It was child’s play to write it because of that.” As for what drew him to the story of the Bondurant family, Cave later added, “I love the classical love stories that were involved in the story, and the excessive violence -- those two things coming together is just what titillates me.” Cave put it a little simpler stating it was “just sentimentality, and brute violence” that brought him to the Bondurant family.
2. Though even with a novel rich in the story’s subject matter to work from, Cave claims he’s trying to make his scripts leaner than when he first started screenwriting.
For the initial draft of “The Proposition,” Cave claims “it was incredibly detailed and florid linguistically, so now I understand how scripts work and the purpose of a script, and the information that a script needs to work, whereas there are some people -- for example Benoît [Delhomme], the cinematographer, loves the detail of the scripts-- a lot of people find too much detail to be the kind of characters that they don’t want to be.” With a cast including the likes of talented actors such as Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, and Guy Pearce – talent who can lend their own sensibilities to a role—Cave seems to understand that, “a lot of people come to our scripts with a less is more approach so that they can inhabit something and bring something of their own. So, I think that in the end ‘Lawless’ was pretty lean and the actors themselves brought a lot to those characters.”
3. Cave says the colorful villain played by Guy Pearce was a collaborative effort on both of their parts and Hillcoat.
With an oddball haircut and shaved eyebrows, Guy Pearce has quite the off-putting look about him in his role as Special Agent Charlie Rakes. A look that’s both sinister and memorable, Cave claims, “I would pretty much say that the character of Guy was a collaboration. Basically, I'd written the script, we sent it to Guy because we love Guy and we wanted him to be in the film, and we wanted him to play the bad guy. Guy said ‘Look, I'd love to be in your film, but if we're going to do it, let's work on something where my part's a bit more memorable.’’ Spurring the forces of collaboration, Cave goes on to say, “so we wrote that together. I said ‘What if he says this? What if he says that?’ and eventually Guy sent this photograph of himself with his hair and eyebrows shaved off and said ‘How about I look like this,’ and it was a collaborative thing, a rare thing." Hillcoat went on to add that actors like Pearce are an impressive breed, stating that, “the great thing about, well all actors are different in terms of their process but many do go from the outside in for finding their character, and often the hair is a huge part.” Cave went on to joking add, “That's all they care about. What hairstyle am I going to have?,” with the bald Hillcoat adding “I don't have that problem.”
4. Cave believes that Shia Labeouf’s character of Jack and Guy Pearce’s Rakes are the vital assets of the story, saying their parts are integral to the structure of the story. (Caves does delve into spoilers here)
In terms of Labeouf’s character, Cave believes, “the thing is, obviously through the film Shia's trying to be his brothers. Everyone knows that Shia, including himself and his brothers, doesn't have the mettle that his brothers had. And you know what I really like about this is? On the one hand, it's a traditional story of a boy being man enough to pull the trigger at the end of the film.” The character of Rakes is seemingly there to help guide Shia’s character through the film, as Cave claims “we built a character that everyone in the audience wants to die in Rakes. But there's a beautiful ambivalent moment at the end of the film where [Shia] shoots Rakes, and then you see that long shot of his face and there’s an expression on his face that Shia brought to this particular character of huge ambivalence about the act that he hasn't actually become a greater person by doing that, but is seen as being something reductive in the act of shooting Rakes.” According to Cave, who seems to have nothing but high praises for Labeouf, he was really “bowled over by a lot of Shia's performance through this film, and how kind of subtle and deep his understanding of the character in the script actually was.”
5. Nick Cave is dying to write a score to a film that’s not a period piece and he may kill his friend John Hillcoat if he doesn’t let him do it for his next film.
With the working relationship of Cave and Hillcoat continuing to be a fruitful one, Cave is hoping to be a part of “Triple Nine,” which was previously announced with Shia Labeouf attached and Cave likely to score the film that follows a couple of crooked Los Angeles cops who choose to shoot one of their own to prevent a heist from being foiled. Cave states that “I'm hoping that we're going to do the music for ‘Triple Nine.’ I haven't been asked yet,” to which Hillcoat replied “of course,” in a reassuring manner. Cave continued on saying “to do an L.A. cop thriller, the music to that, we've been dying to do something that isn't fucking period, so if we can actually do some contemporary story.” Cave seemed to be in a jovial mood about that matter, exclaiming, “I don't mean that, I'm joking about that, but to do a contemporary movie and some modern music --if you give that fucking job to someone else that's it, you'll never get another fucking script from me.”
- Elements of this piece from an interview by Simon Abrams