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Interview: Matt Bondurant of “Lawless”

posted by Nell Minow

The Wettest County in the World is writer Matt Bondurant’s book about his grandfather and great uncles, who sold illegal moonshine during Prohibition.  The Bondurant brothers were legends in their own era, reported to be un-killable.  Bondurant spoke to a small group of critics about adapting his family’s story for the new film, “Lawless,” starring Tom Hardy, Shia LeBoeuf  and Mia Wasikowska(as Bondurant’s grandparents), and Jessica Chastain.

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“There’s not much of a story-telling culture in my father’s side of the family,” he told us.  “A lot of these things were not talked about ever.  We didn’t know that my grandfather and his brother had been shot on that bridge in 1930 until my father uncovered a newspaper article.”  He went to his father and asked about it, “and my grandfather just lifted up his shirt and showed him where the bullet hole was.”  He said he did not know whether it was because their activity was illegal or they didn’t want to air dirty laundry.  “So many people were complicit in their community that I don’t think that was it.  I think it was just their tendency of not saying much to begin with.  There’s a kind of conservative rural attitude of things you talk about and things you don’t.  What I ascribe it to is back in the day it could get you into a lot of trouble.  You just don’t talk about moonshine.”  He said he got his interest in stories and story-telling from his mother, an avid reader.

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“There definitely wasn’t anything glamorous about it.  About 20 years ago we started to uncover articles talking about them as the Bondurant brothers like this notorious gang, this scary group of guys, and then it gets a little exotic and romantic, the shoot-out, and stuff like that.  But I had no notion of that until I was nearly 20 years old.  I think I did hear the story about Forrest getting his throat cut from ear to ear.”  His father became interested in the family history “and we both started discovering the history at about the same time.  If there’s a researcher I owe the greatest debt to, it’s my dad.”  His understanding of his family deepened and widened as he learned about them.  “It’s amazing to uncover all this stuff.”

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He spoke of the “pervasive silence” that still exists in his grandfather’s community.  “I grew up near Washington D.C. and when I would go there I was always an outsider and had to struggle to understand” the Franklin County relatives.  This movie is, in part, the result of that wish to know more about his taciturn family, who seemed so different when he knew them from the newspaper stories about the bootlegger days.

 

 

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