Lawless – adapted from author Matt Bondurant’s fictionalized account of his family, The Wettest County in the World – tells the story of the infamous Bondurant Brothers, three bootlegging siblings in Prohibition-era Virginia. Forrest (Tom Hardy), Howard (Jason Clarke) and Jack (Shia LaBeouf) are entrepreneurs with a thriving local moonshine business, until corrupt and lethal Special Deputy Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce) shows up from Chicago to take a piece of what the brothers have built, threatening everything that they represent. Directed by John Hillcoat and written by Nick Cave, the film also stars Gary Oldman, Jessica Chastain, Mia Wasikowska and Dane DeHaan.
At the film’s press day, co-stars Shia LaBeouf and Dane DeHaan (who plays Jack’s loyal friend, Cricket) talked about bringing these characters from another era to life, establishing a rapport with each other to build their on screen friendship, the parallels between the Prohibition era and the drug problem today, their favorite memories on the film, getting to sample moonshine, and what they each look for in acting roles. LaBeouf also talked about his sensibilities, as an actor, and the greater appreciation he has for directing, now that he’s delved into directing a bit and gotten to experiment with some shorts. Check out what they had to say after the jump.
Question: Did you both read the book, The Wettest County in the World, once you were cast in this film?
SHIA LaBEOUF: I read the book before I got the script, and I know [Dane] read it after he got the script.
How pleased are you with the film adaptation of the book?
LaBEOUF: I love it! The things that it does vary from are minuscule and they’re age related. It had to do with casting. It had nothing to do with the depths, the meanings and the feelings that are in that book. I think all the feelings translated.
Shia, what did you tap into to bring Jack to life?
LaBEOUF: Well, a lot of it was on the page. It was an incredible book, translated into an incredible script by Nick [Cave], and we were surrounded by incredible actors. So, it was hard to drop the ball, if you followed the guidelines. If you did the work and showed up, it was really hard to fail here, I think.
Did you talk to author Matt Bondurant, at all?
LaBEOUF: I talked to Matt briefly, and then realized, very quickly into the conversation, there was no value at all, in talking to Matt, for me. My prep had to do with (director) John [Hillcoat] and (screenwriter) Nick [Cave]. However, Jason [Clarke] found a lot of value in it, and went and saw the family. He found a lot of reward in it. For me, I thought it would hinder me from feeling truly free, and I didn’t want to do an impersonation.
Is it helpful when you know that it’s been inspired by true events?
LaBEOUF: A million percent. The big thing for actors is the level of commitment. So, if you know something’s already happened, there’s not a whole lot of whys and hows that go down. You just innately commit ‘cause it happened. It does help with commitment.
DANE DeHAAN: And it is a true story, but it’s also a true story about a legend.
How did the two of you establish a rapport, so that your great on screen friendship and bond would come across?
DeHAAN: That was one of the first things that we really tackled. Shia and I took a road trip from Los Angeles to Georgia, that was just me and him in a car for three days, getting to know each other and becoming friends. It was really important that we established that relationship, in our real lives, so it could come across on screen. It was a big priority.
LaBEOUF: Because we were also kind of the rookies showing up into an all-star team, I think it gave us strength. There was always a guy to look at, if ever you felt, “Oh, man, I don’t know. This seems insurmountable.” I could always look over at Dane and feel like, “No, you’ve got it.” He was a teammate, and we needed to have that. Even though it’s about a family, the family has teams.
Do you see any parallels between the Prohibition era and the drug problem today?
LaBEOUF: You’re in the middle of a marijuana prohibition and a meth prohibition. The war on drugs is failing miserably, and funding a huge war in Mexico. It’s the same thing we did with Al Capone. All the alcohol bought him guns, and now we’re buying guys for the cartels.
Shia, what are your thoughts on the age limit for alcohol consumption, and do you remember the very first time you tried alcohol?
LaBEOUF: I think it’s strange that you have the wherewithal to give your body to the army, but you don’t have the wherewithal to have a sip of alcohol. That’s kind of strange. In other countries, it’s not that way. They basically say, “If you’re old enough to decide what to do with your life, in terms of living or dying for a cause, then you could probably discern whether or not you should be able to have alcohol.” I think that’s silly, in our country, but it’s built off of old theology and Christianity that America is still labored with. But, my first drink came from my father. I think I was 14, sitting with him and watching Westerns. I said, “Dad, what’s that?,” and he said, “Try it!”
Your character goes out and buys a new suit with his first big payday, and then he buys himself a brand new car. What did you buy with your first big payday, and what did you buy for your first car?
LaBEOUF: My mom had a rape van with no windows for a long, long, long time. The first little bit of money I got, I got her a car with windows, which was nice. My first car, I got it in an auction at my temple. It was an ‘86 Volvo that I got for 500 bucks, and then would up throwing $10,000 into the stereo system and put TVs in the foot rests. It was the most ridiculous Volvo you’d ever seen, but I had never had money before and I was out of my mind. But then, you quickly realize that there’s not a whole lot of fulfillment on the other side of that. At the time, it was a souped-up space Volvo, and a replacement for the rape van. That’s what I called it.
Dane, was there something that you keyed into, to understand a person from another era, like this?
DeHAAN: I think that the clue to who anybody is lies in the things they do. When I’m given a script, the first thing I do is write down everything the character does in the script. Does he pick up a cup of coffee? Does he do this? Does he do that? All right, he soups up cars. Cool. He lives in the garage. Who is this person? The time period can inform who you are, but ultimately, who you are, as an individual, is not the time period you’re in. It’s what you do, as a person.
How much did the location you were shooting in, help inform your characters and your performances?
LaBEOUF: You’re still driving on the same trade routes. Also, the isolation did a lot for us. Being isolated made it a camp atmosphere where you’re only social is your brothers or your best friend or the girl that you’re in love with. It makes it so that there’s not a lot of conjuring. It just is what it is. You just live and breathe in it, and as long as you can stay truthful and committed to it, you really can’t fail. When you’re surrounded by this kind of group, it informs the performance more than you even understand.
Shia, everyone else in the movie wears an Indiana Jones type of hat except for you. Was that on purpose?
LaBEOUF: No. I didn’t show up for Indiana Jones with any less commitment. I loved that project, when I was there, as well. For me, it’s always the first and last time, every time I’m on set. I didn’t commit less to Indiana Jones, or less to Transformers. It’s just different sensibilities. If you asked an 18-year-old what they want to do with their life, and the options are Transformers or Lars von Trier, he’s probably shipping out for Transformers. If you ask a 26-year-old what he wants to do, Transformers or Lars von Trier, he’d probably pick Lars von Trier. So, my sensibilities are changing as I change.
Where do you keep the hat that Harrison Ford gave you?
LaBEOUF: In my library.
Gary Oldman has said that he came into this shoot at the end and that everyone else was already pretty exhausted. How tiring was this entire process for you?
DeHAAN: When [Gary] Oldman showed up on set, Shia and I were both just in awe. Shia worked a lot more days on this movie than I did. Did it kick his ass? Yeah. Did he work really hard? Yeah. But, when Gary Oldman showed up, were we bright-eyed babies? Absolutely!
LaBEOUF: I remember when Gary Oldman was working. We’re fans. It’s fucking Gary Oldman! We tripped out on it. At the end of the day, we’re still film fans and that doesn’t go away, or it shouldn’t. It never should. I still am in a fantasy world when I get there.
Do you each have a favorite memory from working on this film?
LaBEOUF: That Gary Oldman thing in the truck was big, for me.
DeHAAN: When Oldman was on set, it was cool. I don’t know. The toughest it ever got, for Shia and I on set, was in the scene when the car runs out of gas. We really struggled to make that scene come to life. In the end, a scene that was just going to be on dollies and scripted, we came off script and went handheld, and it really became successful because of that. Although going through it wasn’t the most pleasant thing, looking back on it is. You can struggle and struggle and struggle with something, and then you see the result and you’re really satisfied with it. In the end, those become the best memories, even if they’re the hardest times on set.
Were you able to really find out what moonshine would have tasted like, back then?
DeHAAN: Yeah. We were making it in a place where they still made it, in the backwoods. A lot of people think that moonshine was only illegal because it was Prohibition, but moonshine is still illegal today. It’s still made in the backwoods, it’s still untaxed liquor, and it’s still a very secretive thing. We were able to meet some of the people that made it, and that was really crazy. They were such characters that, if our characters were accurate to what they were like in real life, you’d think we were being over-the-top.
Did you get to sample the product?
DeHAAN: Yeah, absolutely! They have started to commercialize it, but the real stuff is still untaxed and made in the backwoods, in a homemade still. But, they have started to commercialize it and I’m sure they make it in factories, but that’s not the real deal.
LaBEOUF: Yeah, they do the same thing with absinthe. The absinthe you’re drinking now isn’t the absinthe that Edgar Allen Poe was drinking, and it’s the same with moonshine.
Shia, you’ve been in this business for awhile, and you’ve grown up doing a very diverse and eclectic range of material. What do you look for now, in a role?
LaBEOUF: If I feel fear right away, that’s a pretty good indicator that I’m shipping out immediately. If I’m scared, I’m leaving, usually. The director has a lot to do with it, and the script, of course. But for me, if it scares me and I can’t stop thinking about it, and I don’t know if I really can do it, I’m going.
Dane, at this early stage in your career, what are you looking for?
DeHAAN: I think it’s the same thing [as Shia]. If I look at it and I say, “Wow, this is amazing and I’m not sure if I could ever do this,” those are the things I want to try to do. I don’t do this because it’s easy. I do this because it’s hard. When anything is easy, it becomes very monotonous for me. But, if I can find something that is really going to take all of my body and all of my mind to really even come close to pulling off, that sounds like fun.
What was the fear factor with this?
LaBEOUF: For me, it was the amount that was going to be lumped on my shoulders. I’ve carried movies before, but had really, really good co-stars, in terms of things to look at and divert your attention. Here, I knew there was no escaping any of that. The introspection was there for a reason, and you would be going through it that way, with a fucking microscope on top of you. Before I really had a full flushed out conversation with Hillcoat, I think I was nervous about my skill set and where I’d be able to go. For me, Hillcoat was the most nurturing, empathetic, emotional, sensitive man I had ever met, at the helm, and he allowed me to open up ‘cause I felt safe with him.
Is it important to you to do smaller independent films versus the big franchise films?
LaBEOUF: It would be straight bullshit if I said to you, “The money isn’t nice.” But, I never got into it for the money, or signed on to any project for money, ever. Money has never been important to me. I come from garbage. I’m a sewer rat who made it here. I have no interest in money and never have. Money comes with something like Transformers, but if they would have said, “You’ve gotta do this, but you’ve gotta do it for free,” I’d be there. Transformers, for me, was a big deal, in my life, aside from the money and all that. For me, Michael Bay, when I was 18, was a big deal. So, I don’t take any of it back. There is no grand strategy. My sensibilities push me in a certain direction. Other actors have different sensibilities. That’s all. I think it really is that simple. There’s no grand strategy. There are so many variables that I have no control over. I sign on to movies I want to watch, as a fan.
Dane, when did you start to get into acting, professionally?
DeHAAN: Well, when I was 18, I was in acting school. I was in acting school until I was 22. I went to acting school for five years, and that’s how I always wanted to start. I grew up in community theater, and doing school plays. I just always liked acting. I didn’t think I would really ever achieve any sort of greatness or any sort of high level of it, so I just wanted to learn how to do it. So, from 18 to 22, I was studying it.
Is getting in front of an audience still an important part of it, for you?
DeHAAN: It is hard to commit to a play, but for me, it’s not about getting up in front of an audience. To me, a play is much more of a meditation. I know I’m going there and I’m doing the same thing, every single day. That’s always going to be there. That’s very regular. You’re always saying the same words and you’re always living the same life, and it’s about keeping that life alive. On a film set, it’s a whole new monster. You’re doing different things, every second and every minute. It’s about preparing for that moment, on that day. You do that scene, and then you’ll never do it again. I grew up doing theater because that’s what’s available to kids who want to act in America. You can’t say, “I want to be an actor,” and then someone says, “Okay, you should do the community movie.” But, it’s always just been about acting. Acting is what I love. It’s not one thing or another.
Shia, now that you’ve gotten to delve into directing a bit and experiment with some shorts, is the goal to do a full-length feature? Have you thought about that?
LaBEOUF: Yeah, I’ve thought about it, but it’s not a commitment I’m ready to take now. There’s a lot I’d like to do on this side, until they stop allowing me to do this. I’m really not going to seriously think about it until this is taken from me, I think.
Did it give you more of an appreciation?
LaBEOUF: There is that. It’s like a painter who makes his own canvas. There’s a different appreciation for the canvas once you’ve built it.
When you work with somebody like Robert Redford, who has had success as both an actor and a director, do you look at that and have a certain admiration?
LaBEOUF: Yeah, there’s an admiration, for sure. For me, personally, I don’t see the attribute of wearing both hats, at the same time. I see more of an obstacle. That’s just from what I’ve seen, though. It’s a lot to think about. They’re heavy jobs.