Mia Wasikowska and Dane DeHaan joined a stellar cast for John Hillcoat’s Prohibition gangster epic Lawless.
As Shia LaBeouf, their co-star in Lawless, says, “these guys are just great. They are the future.”
Both Wasikowska and DeHaan return the compliment and clearly enjoyed being part of a powerful ensemble cast that included LaBeouf, Guy Pearce, Tom Hardy, Jessica Chastain, Gary Oldman and Jason Clarke.
“They are big personalities but they are hard working as well and they put a lot into their work and they care a lot about the work,” says Ms Wasikowska. “They all have that in common. I really loved being part of this cast and it felt special.
“I did a lot of scenes with Shia and I think he is fantastic in the movie and he’s smart, trying different things and he really wants to do great work and I think he will. And he’s very professional – he is always first on set and always on time working really hard.”
DeHaan agrees and says that LaBeouf helped set the tone for the shoot. “Shia really runs a set. And you can learn from Shia because he is so used to playing that leading man role. He comes prepared and he’s ready to go, he’s cheering everybody on – the grips, the DP, the cast, everybody. He wants everybody to get involved and be part of the team and make the movie work.”
Lawless is written by Nick Cave, who also penned two of John Hillcoat’s previous features, including The Proposition. Lawless is based on a book, The Wettest County in the World, by Matt Bondurant, which tells of the extraordinary exploits of his grandfather, Jack, and his two great uncles.
The Bondurant Boys were outlaws who ran a restaurant and garage in Franklin County, Virginia – dubbed the Wettest County in the World because of the amount of illegal booze produced there during the Prohibition era – which was a front for their moonshine operation.
Tom Hardy plays the quiet, brooding Forrest who leads the clan and Jason Clarke is Howard, his second in command. Both men are capable of brutal violence when they need to protect their business and Forrest has earned a reputation as a formidable foe that, locals believe, is invincible.
LaBeouf plays the youngest Bondurant, the ambitious, business savvy Jack, who is kept away from the violence but desperately wants to earn the respect of his older siblings and believes that their operation can expand and make them all very rich. DeHaan is Cricket Pate, a sweet natured cousin of the Bondurants, who helps run the illegal stills.
“You know, that was one of the challenges, one of the burdens that was on my shoulders to play this nice guy in a gangster movie,” says the actor. “Because he is a sweet guy and when you really start to look at him and look at the things at he does and why he does them, they are all with really good intentions and that was very clear in the script so that made it easier. And the Nick Cave script was just great.
“The brothers existed. I think the book is a slightly fictionalised form of the truth and I think the movie is even more fictionalised. They were real people and they really did have those stills and they really did peddle tons of moonshine but you know, the movie is also about legend – it’s about the legend of the Bondurants and this is what the legend has become, which is not necessarily the absolute truth.
“Cricket is in the book, he was a real guy. I think we took him down in age for this if I recall correctly and his story doesn’t follow exactly what it was in the book but as far as I understand he was real and he existed.”
As Jack becomes more involved in the family business he woos a beautiful local girl, Bertha, played by Ms Wasikowska. “I didn’t know much about the Prohibition era to be honest,” she says. “But by doing this film I obviously became very aware of it.
“And I feel like the core themes of that time are always recycled and are seen in different ways throughout history and even the present day. So in that way it’s very relevant.”
The character of Bertha – a girl growing up in a deeply religious family who is attracted to Jack, a young man from the wrong side of the tracks – appealed to Ms Wasikowska because she’s quietly rebelling against the life mapped out for her.
“I always find myself drawn to characters that feel a little bit at odds with the time they live in,” she says. “Particularly female characters that are fighting society or the time period they live in, that’s always interesting to me.”
The Bondurants business – illegal booze – is threatened by the arrival of a corrupt Chicago based special deputy Charley Rakes (Guy Pearce) who wants a cut of their profits. But the Bondurants refuse to back down and a brutal war breaks out.
Both young actors were thrilled at the prospect of working with Hillcoat and his creative partner, rock star and writer Nick Cave.
“Nick was never on set when I was there,” says DeHaan. “But we had two weeks of rehearsal with him when we got to go through the script with his guidance and he was really wonderful to work with – really intelligent, really particular and he’s a really important writer. Those two weeks were invaluable because of the pace we had to work at when we were filming.
“We made a bunch of changes. I think it was more about Nick listening to our opinions. I don’t remember honestly, what the script was before those two weeks and what it was after. But there were significant changes that we made – it was more about Nick listening to us and then transferring that on to the page.”
Ms Wasikowska, like Cave and Hillcoat, is an Australian. “I was very aware of Nick in Australia and so it was very exciting that he was an integral part of this film,” she says. “He was on set a little but while I was there I didn’t see him. I actually first met him on Skype and then later we met in person.”
Filming Lawless on location in Virginia, the cast and crew were acutely aware of the myths and legend surrounding the Bondurant brothers and their exploits.
“I think the family still lives where Jack and Forrest lived and they still make moonshine,” says Ms Wasikowska. “I think they are quite proud of their history.”
DeHaan adds: “There’s definitely a great pride in the people who make moonshine and also a great secrecy. It’s still very much something that you don’t talk about. But for the people who make it it’s still very much a part of their culture, who they are, and they do take great pride in what they do.”
Moonshine is still produced in the area and – purely in the interests of research – DeHaan decided to sample some.
“There are different flavours. You can get like a blackberry or a peach moonshine and that will taste a little better but if it’s straight moonshine that pretty much tastes like rubbing alcohol.
“But they flavour it with fruit and that’s a little better. So yeah, I sampled some – I was just doing my research,” he laughs. “It’s very strong and you don’t need much of it.”
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LAWLESS IS RELEASED IN THE UK AND IRELAND ON 7 SEPTEMBER