Matt Bondurant joins us on this week’s episode as we compare what really happened with the movie Lawless. Matt’s grandfather, Jack, and two granduncles that were the inspiration for his book that the movie is based on, The Wettest County in the World.
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Dan LeFebvre: [00:03:53] This week, I’m super excited to be joined by Matt Bondurant. Matt is the author of The Wettest County in the World. The book that was adapted into the movie lawless and tells the story of his grandfather Jack Bondurant, as well as his two grand uncles. Forrest and Howard. Thanks so much for your time, Matt.
Matt Bondurant: [00:04:09] Sure, no problem. Glad to be here.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:04:11] Now before we start a chat about Lawless, I actually want to ask you about your last name cause I might’ve already mispronounced it. I know in the movie they actually pronounce it a few different ways.
Matt Bondurant: [00:04:25] You say Bonder-aunt . Yeah. But, but a lot of people in Franklin County, say Bonder-ant they sort of, they kind of allied the last con little quicker. Bonderant and so it’s a little confusing because my, my father left Franklin County, as, when he joined the Navy. And so they’re kind of a Northern Virginia.
The Northern pronunciation is Bonderant but. Down in Franklin County, they say bond, rent, and then the movie, of course, they had, you know, you have a bunch of English and Australian people trying to say that. So that’s what happens.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:04:56] So in a way, they’re kind of, some of them are correct and some of them are not.
Matt Bondurant: [00:05:00] Yeah, yeah, yeah. Nice.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:05:02] All right. So with that clarified, I want to talk about the title of the book, because in the beginning, Shiela buff who plays Jack, your grandfather, has a voiceover that mentions Franklin County is known as the wettest County in the world, which is also the title of your book. So was that something that was actually that Franklin County was actually known for back then, or was that something that filmmakers were kind of working into?
Add in the title of your book?
Matt Bondurant: [00:05:27] No w that that was, that was a name, or a title that was given to the County. The first known reference that I could find to, it was from the writer Sherwood Anderson, who plays a pretty big role in the book. he’s not in the movie at all, but in the book, he’s a pretty big role in it.
And he wrote an article for a magazine and when he was sort of investigating the great moonshine conspiracy, a Franklin County moonshot conspiracy of 1930. Five which, and he wrote, you know, in the sentence, he says, you know, where they’re producing more alcohol and they play cells. The wettest County in the world is friendly and Virginia.
And then that kind of, that, that stuck. And, it’s been known friendly, has been known as the, the wettest County in America for, for a long time, you know, And, it, it’s, it’s a kind of a dubious distinction I guess, but it’s, it’s, it’s something that pretty well known in that part of the, especially that part of the state.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:06:22] Interesting. So the movie actually takes place in 1931 that, correct. I mean, that’s all the text on screen that mentioned that. Is that basically the kind of the right timeframe for the events? Or is the, I know a lot of times in movies the timeframe they change that.
Matt Bondurant: [00:06:38] Or was that pretty accurate?
Yeah, it’s slightly, it’s slightly adjusted. for example, the, the incidents at Maggie Creek bridge where my grandfather and his brothers, get shot. You know that, which is the climax of the film. That was December of 1930. But it’s right around there and you know, in, in, in, in, within the book too. you know, because it’s a, it’s a fictionalization of the true story.
I, I, I, compressed some events, you know, a little bit and, adjusted some things, trying to kind of, put the narrative together in a kind of a more seamless fashion. But, but it’s basically very close. Yeah. The thing I’ll say from the onset is there’s a lot of the incidents, except for things like the shooting, because that was something that was reported obviously in court transcripts and in the newspaper.
everything else, you know, relatively unrecorded, you know, hard to find in terms of specific dates or times and things like that. So there was, Which is great for me as a novelist. There’s a lot of flexibility, you know, so I can work it in. But, no, I think that the film does a pretty good job. So the book, the book actually takes place over a number of years.
it goes all the way to 1935 and, it even has some big shots. Well, in the very beginning of the movie there, when the young boys, it’s like 1917. That in the hog pen, you know, that’s, that starts off like the book does. So it’s like the young, the brothers are young and then it leaps forward to when they’re older.
and the book does that mostly. there’s a few other moments that are kind of skipped. But, but yeah, you know, basically the timing time period is, is, is right there.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:08:12] But I liked that you mentioned that a lot of it was undocumented, cause that kind of leads right into my next question. Was it about the characters?
And I know there’s a lot of characters that we know are real. like your, your ancestors as well as, like Floyd banner and they mentioned Al Capone. But then you have some kind of secondary characters, like, I know that the guy that Jack or even cricket, you know that Jack and cricket take the moonshine to gummy Walsh.
She’s kind of an associated, flowed banner. Couldn’t find anything about that. Doesn’t necessarily mean that he doesn’t exist. I just couldn’t find any in the research I was doing kind of before this. But what do you think about the characters where there are a lot of them that were. Made up for the movie or were there some of them that they were actual, we just didn’t know about that you’d uncovered in your research?
Matt Bondurant: [00:08:56] Well, people like gummy walls, for example, he’s, he is a kind of a, a, a made up or a, a composite character maybe. And, and, and that, that’s, that’s a guy, that’s a character that I created. To kind of give somebody to work with Jack and things like that. And the cricket, the cricket pate is, is again also a kind of a composite.
There was a, there was a guy named cricket back then, and he was very handy with machines. I don’t know what his last name was, and his, his relationship with the bottle rots in general is. Kind of an unruly unknown. It’s not really sure how, if, you know, him and Jack were best buddies or anything like that, that that’s, that’s something, again, I, I sort of added in, the, the Jessica chesty and character, for example, that that is it, that is a, a character that, Maggie’s a real person, you know, ended up.
With my granduncle forest. They work together for years and actually secretly married at some point. And, so she’s a real person. And as you mentioned, like the Floyd banner who, is, is based, he’s based on a, on a, another, sort of more local. kingpin, let’s say moonshine kingpin that operated in West Virginia and Virginia, with, with the last name of Floyd, the last name.
so what the movie guys did is they kind of adjusted those slightly. They also, they, they made Floyd banner like more clearly, like from Chicago, you know, this kind of city thing. and the same goes for Charlie Ray. It’s probably the biggest transformation. That the movie made from my book. and because in the book, I tried to stay as close to the real person, Charlie rakes as we know him.
And Charlotte rakes was a Franklin County local. I mean, he, he was, he was sheriff, but he was, he was known. They all knew each other, these guys, which is one of the reasons why I made it really curious for me because the historical record is clear that, you know, in December, 1930 in that bridge, Charlie rakes really wanted to kill all those brothers.
And, we’re not really, you know, when he said some things. Some which, which are recorded in court transcripts, which are in the book, and it ends in the film.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:11:06] when it wasn’t like he was from Chicago and didn’t know them before he, he knew them. It sounds like almost all of their life if he was local.
Matt Bondurant: [00:11:14] Yeah. Yeah. I mean, we don’t know the extent of it, but it’s most likely they have known each other because they’re both from this relatively small area. And, and I know, But like, he, he like threatened ’em and, you know, he’s, he had lines, like, I thought you bought her as her hard-boiled son of a bitches, like that’s in the court transcripts.
And then that, you know, they put that into the, the film. And I, and I, early on in the discussions with John Hillcoat, Nick cave, they clearly wanted to, the director of screenwriter that they wanted to kind of accentuate the, You know, the conflict between, Charlie rakes and the brothers and by making him an outsider kind of a city person and that kind of thing just kind of exacerbates, makes the, just makes the distinction between them and he’s more a much more clear villain.
Cause the, the real trolley rakes is not a real clear villain. And it’s really, you know, unusual. And I devote, you know, a fair amount of time to him. in the book, trying to kind of come to an understanding, a possible understanding, a plausible understanding of why he might, you know, come to develop this great animosity to a degree that he wanted to basically shoot them all down, you know, in almost basically in cold blood.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:12:30] Wow. So what about the other characters as far as their personality. Do you think the movie did a pretty good job of kind of portraying the personalities of, well, not only the brothers, but also it sounds like they made some changes with Charlie, but the other characters as well. Yeah.
Matt Bondurant: [00:12:47] but they, they, they stuck pretty close to the book other than other than Charlie rakes.
They stuck pretty close to the book. And, the thing about the thing about the book, the. For example, that the personality, somebody like Howard, the brother Howard is, there, you know, he has some surviving relatives. but to do nobody that could tell us what Howard was like in 1930. You know, and I’m saying that’s, it goes for all the brothers.
And so it was difficult to kind of formulate, you know, I had to go off of. Some things that I knew about them that they had done. And, a lot of the character formation was done from these court transcripts where, you know, I heard, you get to hear forest, for example, say various things. You know, he says to one of the Sheriff’s deputies in court transcripts, he says, we know somebody’s going to die unless you let us cross this bridge.
Stuff like that, to these kinds of threats, you know. so that, so what I did is I took something like that, plus the fact that he. Was shot and survived to just throw cuts, survived. You get a load of lumber, dropped it on, and he survived all these things. And and also because he was clearly the leader of the group, I took like those elements and created a personality from that.
You know what I mean? and the same goes with Howard, you know, in a, you know, Howard Howard for example, one of the sort of great telling details in the court transcripts that I found about Howard was that we know, he showed up at that. Shooting, late, and they said he was apparently drunk, you know, so here we have the older brother, you know, the oldest brother of the family and this pivotal moment, he shows up late and D’s drunk, you know, so, so he’s the guy that’s drunk and shows a plate, you know, and that develops his character to some degree.
And, and Jack, you know, Jack was a little different cause jacket was my grandfather and I knew him. but I didn’t know him as an 18 year old boy. So I kind of had to go off of what I could know, took my dad and everything like that. And, so it’s a tricky thing. And, and I think that the, the, the film adaptation for the most part was, was, you know, stuck to, my interpretations or character sort of creations, Maggie, for example, to own basically a total mystery.
No real record of her at all. And, so I, you know, I was, I was sort of free to, we know that she moved into that store with them and, and was working at the store with them for a long time. parents, she was kind of quiet or something like that, but there’s really so little to go off of that. so, Yeah. In the book, one of the things I did in the book, which didn’t make it into the film, was that the sh the author Sherbert Anderson, his final novel, he wrote this button, the other novel called kit Brandon. And it’s based on this, semi famous female moonshiner at the time that was running around.
And, and so he created this kind of image of her and, you know, she liked cars and she liked nice clothes, you know, and, Anyway. the idea of being, because I know that that this is, this is where it gets slightly postmodern maybe, but I know that Anderson, when he was investigating the bond Ron’s and the great moonshine conspiracy, 1935 w right after that, he writes this Kip brand and novel that can’t brand and novel was clearly inspired by many.
There’s incidents in that novel that are kind of like the boners. So my thing was like, what if. The skip Brandon character was modeled in part after this character might Maggie. So I kind of took a fictional person, you know, and brought it backwards into this. So the idea being that these are the kinds of games I like to play.
They entertain me pretty much, nobody else. But that if you, if you had red kid Brandon, for example, or if you knew anything about Sherwood Anderson, and then you read this novel. You would, what I’ve done is provided like a backstory for is not, you know, that kind of thing. And so that, that kind of helped, create her, because, you know, there’s, none of these guys had letters.
There was no diaries. There’s no, I’ve very little to go on. It was like a court transcripts and a couple of newspaper clippings. And then, you know, whatever, old timers that are still around like my father. But of course, you know, when he was born, 1932 so. You know, nobody, So, so, you know, there wasn’t much to go on.
Very little to go on.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:17:08] Was there anything to go on then, kind of as how the tensions increased between the law and the brothers? Was that something that was in the court transcripts or was that something too that you were kind of going off of what you did have to, in order to create the story.
Matt Bondurant: [00:17:23] Yeah, th th there was a little bit of both.
There was some developing tensions between the bond round family that did the court transcripts make it clear that it was basically centered around these notions of granny fees or bribes that were paid and people were paying bribes and the bond runs were not, and that was a, that was a thorn in the side of the local law enforcement.
And it has a lot to do with. The Commonwealth attorney, a man named Lee, that they changed his name because the Lee family. In Virginia, they changed the name of the film, cause Lee family, Virginia’s a very old, sort of powerful family and they, they actually threatened legal action. so, but everybody knew, that, that Lee camos attorney Lee was human.
No, he, he, he was, the trial in 35 was, they were prosecuting him. and that’s one of the great ironies for, for racketeering and all this stuff. You know, that he had set up this big scheme. And a lot of the irony is a lot of these bootleggers and moonshiners like Mike. Grandfather and his brothers were testifying against him.
of course, because, you know, he was, who was, he got off and, you know, he was acquitted, but everybody knew that he was the, you know, that he was throwing mastermind of this racketeering scheme or basically, you know, basically he, there was all this moonshine being made and the County and all over the place.
And. The cops knew about it. And I would like to represent in the early parts of the film where they’re delivering to the police and the police. So you know when that comes from, a variety of, of, of known things going on at the time. Franklin County, some historical record. Also, my own father remembers being a young boy and driving with his father and they would make deliveries like a, like a milk truck.
They, he would run a jar up and put it on the doorstep. I mean, it was, it was in the open and whatever, and everybody was doing fine. Everybody’s making a little money. and so Lee comes in quarterly. Commonwealth attorneys quarterly comes in basically and says, you know, sees an opportunity. He says, you know, Oh, you’re gonna pay 20 bucks for every load or whatever.
and we’re going to Institute this countywide and get everybody on the same system and what I’m going to, you know? Yeah. So it’s a classic kind of racketeering scheme. And, the bond, Ross didn’t want to go along with it. And there’s examples in the court transcripts of other. Other players, other people, other guys, who had, you know, interactions, altercations, who were sort of forced into it.
the, by the or that they’re there, there’s threats being, they’re threatening to bond rots and a couple of different occasions, things like that. and then it seems to culminate in this shooting now. So, so for example, there are scenes like the, the main scene where Charlie rake shows up at the, at the store the first time, and him and him and us to have this sort of stare down and that kind of, that, that’s a, that’s a wholly fabricated scene, that I’m trying to kind of convey what was probably a, you know, a longer.
I’m more subtle set of circumstances that that led to them. I’m at odds with each other. But it was, it was certainly clear that historical record that, that, that the bond rents didn’t want to pay or refuse to, and they felt they were kind of above this. You know, they, they, they didn’t, you know, they didn’t want to be controlled in this way.
And, and that December, 1930, basically everybody else was. Playing along except them. And that’s when they decided that they had to be, you know, put down. And, you know, one of the things I suggested, you know, the trailer rigs, one of the things that irritates him is that the bond Ron’s have this kind of reputation, which is clear in the court court transcripts, that people were afraid of him.
That helped, again, help me create the characters. But people were clearly afraid of the Barnards, especially Forrest. And so I, you know, got me thinking, well, you know, you’re Sheriff’s deputy, you’re supposed to be the big man around the County and you’re the law here. And you’ve got this group of guys that feel they’re above the law and every talking about how they, you know, they’re so tough, they can’t be a forest, can’t be killed on that starts to work on you a little bit and you get a little pissed off about that.
And then, for example, there’s a book, there’s a scene where. At a saw mill, because the Bonners did run a saw mill too, is, where, Charlie rakes shows up there, and basically gets kind of humiliated, you know, by forest. And that sort of helped build that tension. And I think, you know, maybe that’s one of the reasons why too, they switched it to the guy Pierce, sort of Chicago character.
Cause they needed to get to that quicker. They couldn’t have these little like incidents they needed to bring a guy in who was immediately at odds with forest. You know. So
Dan LeFebvre: [00:21:48] Maggie was also apparently from Chicago in the movie
Matt Bondurant: [00:21:51] as well as Charlie rigs.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:21:52] And, They, they kind of mentioned this almost connection between Franklin and Chicago, which it seems kind of odd to me that it’s like an 800 and some miles away.
Was that completely fabricator? It sounds like a lot of it was really just
Matt Bondurant: [00:22:05] more local. Yeah. It, yeah. Maggie was local. Yeah. In Franklin County it was majority local there. The connection is, I think the connection is like Hillcoat in particular was fascinated with, There are classic ideas about the prohibition period and you know, Capone and, and run running in the, and that sort of angle of illegal spirits and stuff.
And then there’s this Appalachian style. And, And so he wanted to contrast those two sort of, you know, cause because everybody’s familiar with the Capone, Chicago prohibition, gangsters and all that. And I think what he was, the thought was cool was that, Oh, we have this Alap Appalachian style gangsters and one of the two Mets, you know, like what would be the clash between them?
But, but, but it is true though, that, that the, the amount of liquor that was being produced to Franklin County and some other areas of Appalachia. You know, was being transported to major cities. It was going to the city. So these guys would have, you know, bootleggers in particular transport people would have interactions with, the city folk.
And, and, and there are numerous, stories, anecdotes, and things that I’ve read and, and, and various accounts of, you know, guys in long coats, city people clearly showing up with a fleet of cars, you know, in Franklin County and, you know, mysteriously driving out in the middle of night, you know, so, I mean, they’re obviously coming in and picking up liquor so that there was dealings certainly between them.
And I think that’s one of the things that I explored in the book, you know, and it’s, it’s somewhat in the movie that. What it went. You know, prohibition caused this to cause the, the making of moonshine really to go from a, a much more local tradition based activity. You know, I’m into a moneymaking machine.
You know, it’s kind of like. It, you know, you could equate it to some contemporary, you know, drug, enterprises, you know, or something like that. Like the creation of methamphetamine or something, I don’t know, whatever. And then like, explodes and becomes really popular. It’s cheap, easy to make. So it was like that kind of thing.
And so that, that was an interesting transformation too for me too, because I was trying to figure out why would the vulner be so like what was there? And then, you know, it’s because they had this long tradition of doing it this way and nobody messed with them. And that’s the way they liked it. And you know, and so this outside influence was very, you know, bothersome and all that.
And, and I think the movie in particular really wanted to play up on that because I’d always, that always plays well dramatically. The outsider coming in trying to. Change the ways of the, of the regular folks kind of stuff, you know? So,
Dan LeFebvre: [00:24:44] yeah, definitely. And I think that scene where the two guys from Chicago, you know, the kind of the outsiders coming in and the scene with, with forest, where they cut his throat, that was just, I mean, that was wow.
And then it just kind of escalates from there. You know, you have tar and feathering and, and eventually killing, you know, a cricket and. Was that kind of back and forth? Was that something that actually happened? I mean, maybe not from outside characters, but even with Charlie being local?
Matt Bondurant: [00:25:13] Yeah.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:25:14] Or was that kind of played out for the film?
Matt Bondurant: [00:25:16] Those events, occurred. but they, they’re either, either we don’t really know who did it or it’s, it’s most likely it was between factions, competing factions. Syndicates, maybe, you know, like, so there’d be a sort of a Franklin County syndicate, and then there’d be something in Floyd. Kitten.
Neighboring counties would have their syndicates and then even West Virginia. And so sometimes people would try to kind of come in and muscle each other out. But, by 1930, the, the Sheriff’s department under the direction of Carter Lee is starting to kind of muscle people and, and push people around.
Now the, there’s a few notable examples. For example, in the 1935, like when before quarterly went to trial, Charlie rakes. Died a very suspiciously right before the trial, along with, a couple other guys that, this guy, Henry Abshire, who’s kind of in the book, and he’s kind of a quarterly, is he’s kind of a Charlie Rex is a partner that they cut him out entirely, but he was, transporting a prisoner in the middle of the night and he got shot to death and like a hail of bullets, like 20 bullets, you know, killed him and the prisoner use transporting ’em.
Like, literally days before the trial. And these are the guys that would have testified against the damning testimony against Carter. So the point is, is that quarterly was clearly willing to use, you know, for success of forest to get these things done. So we have some evidence of, of, of, of him doing that, but we also have a little bit of evidence and pushing people around.
And then we also have the warring factions. like for example, for us getting us through a coat. We don’t, nobody knows who did that. There was not a, there was not enough. There was nobody was arrested for it. and the, the, the conjecture was back then and remains that it was a, like a right, either a rival gang, you know, like a group of guys that were like, ah, we want to take over this business or that they had come to, you know, effectively Rob.
The place, you know, come in and steal his booze and his money cause they knew that that would, this restaurant is waystation. and they do that in the, in the, in the movie, they show him kind of hiding his money in the walls, lock apartment. You know, he’s kind of very careful because, that waystation would, you know, when, when the shipments were coming through, he might have, you know, hundreds and hundreds of dollars.
a lot of money for that time. And so people would come. And, then there’s also some conjecture that he, he, that he got his throat cut just in an altercation. You know, he’s just of there, they got a fight, but it wasn’t in the parking lot. It’s a couple of guys. and then there’s the whole, you know, walking to the, hospital bit.
Which is, what they say in the newspaper, you know, that’s what he said he did. That’s what he, that’s all they know. He showed up at the hospital, well, how’d you get here? I walked, you know, and it was like 10 miles, you know, it was crazy. Distance doesn’t really make sense to me. that helped obviously develop the kind of legend and, but one of the things that I wanted to do, which is the movie that’s in the book, and it’s also in the movie, was.
You know, I, I’m, I’m, I’m, I’m a, a realist in , you know, the, the idea of him walk, you know, walking, holding her neck together whenever we’re losing that much blood for 10 miles in the snow, just not real plausible. So something else happened there. And, so I hit upon the idea, you know, what if it was, what if it was Maggie?
You know, what if she saved you, basically saved them, but he didn’t know it. And so he goes on living this, You know, living this persona. and then there’s a pivotal moment where, where, you know, he, she tells him, cause she’s trying to stop him from putting himself in danger again. And again, you know, and I know I, I’m the one that said, do you think you’re indestructable but you’re not?
You know, it was, it was me. And then of course, he’s like, wait, you were there if you were there, those guys were there. What happened to you? You know, that, That is all that, that’s a fabrication of my own, but, but, but what I’m starting to deal with is kind of like the Charlie Riggs thing. I’m trying to present a plausible scenario of how that might’ve happened, you know?
and, and make it as kind of realistic as possible because you know, him just him just walking 10 miles doesn’t really. Make a lot of sense.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:29:12] Yeah, for sure. So you mentioned Charlie rakes, apparently didn’t die in that shootout, but you had mentioned earlier that your grandfather and forest did get shot.
There was that, was that shootout fairly accurately depicted
Matt Bondurant: [00:29:26] in, other than Harley Rick’s shooting another, the shootout was, was, was. Well, certainly one of the scenes that was, let’s say amplified and exaggerated quite a bit. The real shootout, there’s only a couple shots. I mean, basically the real shootout, it was, he shot Jack and then he shot for, you know, enforced rant towards him.
He shot forest and then Howard was standing there and he was going to shoot Howard, but one of his fellow deputies, Henry Abshire, knocked his hand down in the gun. Like discharged into the snow. So he was going to one, two, three, you know, he was killing to kill the three brothers. and that was it. that was, that was all, now the, that, that incident, that incident kind of brought the whole thing tumbling down because there were all these, there were like, State and federal people involved by this point. So when the shooting incident occurred that everybody started paying attention to looking at it and like, wait a minute, why is this guy executing people? And so that brought the whole scheme down. You know what I mean? So, so that, that, that did kind of finish the quarterly and his whole scheme, but no, not like that.
in, the Charlie rakes, Charlie rakes died a couple of years later, right before the testimony, as I was saying, and it was unusual. He, he developed pneumonia and died. And like. A day, you know, just like, like within one day, it was really weird. And so in the book, I, I, I, I sort of suggest that, that, that be Howard and his brothers had something to do with that.
in the book, they, they, they find, Howard finds him and, you know, and cause Howard wants revenge because Howard, you know, showed up late. He watches his two brothers get shot by this man, you know? so he’s angry. So he takes revenge on him. And in the book, I tried to create, again, a plausible scenario in how Howard might’ve done something to him that caused him to get this like drastic Demoni that killed him the next day, whatever.
but you know, but the, but the, but the film, they, you know, you need a bigger unit, bigger shoot out at the end. You need all that stuff. And they, in the, in this time they had a, they had a. Jack, you know, showing up early in all up, you know, upset and ready to kill rakes. You know, he’s mad about the cricket Peyton murderer kind of thing.
So that’s all that, that’s all them at that point. And in the way that, just the hail of bullets, there’s a lot of shooting, you know, it was lots of shooting and there wasn’t, there wasn’t all that shooting. So that, that is like probably the farthest from the historical record, you know, other than like, Charlotte race, not being from Chicago, just the way that whole thing played out that, you know, I mean, forest gets shot like five times, right. So, you know, but you know, that’s, that’s filmmaking. That’s what they did, you know? And I talked to Hillcoat about it. He’s like, you know, we need a bigger, we’ve got to make a bigger thing. And so I understood that. And then,
Dan LeFebvre: [00:32:22] so on the flip side of that, were there any parts that you saw in the movie where they’re like, wow, they really nailed that.
Matt Bondurant: [00:32:27] Did get it, the historical record or, yeah,
Dan LeFebvre: [00:32:31] just as far as the accuracy. Yeah.
Matt Bondurant: [00:32:32] Yeah. I mean, I think they, I think they, I think they did a good job of sort of presenting, the, the in, in the environs of Franklin County and it looked pretty good and all that, that you saw. Bits about how, the great depression was, you know, people were out of work and coming into, you know, come riding the rails coming into town.
they was little clips here and there. That kind of helps suggest that, I thought it was interesting the way they, they, they. They had, they handled the racial disparity of Franklin County, which is unusual because there were black families there, not many farmers. The next door neighbors, of my, my father, my father’s next door neighbors was, it was a black family.
The DeShea ZOS and, and, and, the way that they played cause they’re delivering a liquor to them, which is a scene that I have in the book. Seems, seems to be inappropriate characterization of the kinds of relationship they had. I mean, because my father used to play with those kids and they were friends.
They were quite friendly, however, that, that the, the members that, that family would never like come inside and eat at the dinner table with them. You know what I mean? There was like that kind of, so I thought that was pretty well done. And I think the, the, the way, the, the, the, the way that, the. The odd th the, the automobile, how the automobile was becoming a big deal.
Jack and his fondness for that. Jack’s fondness for, for rich, sort of nice things. That was a motivating factor that I know my, my father told me that, that his father, my grandfather told him once that, you know, during the depression there was like this pair of boots in a, And a window of a store and it costs $2 and it like Ellie could think about as if you just had $2 he would get these boots.
Like there was a big deal to him, you know? And even later on in life, he was a guy that liked nice things. I mean. No, he wasn’t like flashy, you know, and these are nice things. And like an Appalachian way, like a nice, like a nice pair of boots. Yeah. It’s not a, yeah, it’s not a, so there, there were elements like that that I thought they did a really good job with the, the sort of
Filling station store that they put together. There was a big part of the set. I thought that was remarkably, I was able to go on set for that and I was visiting the set and hung around that building for a couple of days with, with my father actually. And that was beautifully done. I mean, the historical detail, that place was really cool.
my dad was amazed. He was. Just wandering around and like the, does this old cars, I mean, the cars were, were amazing. They had, you know, that was really beautifully done. the old ordered, Baptist church, that, that Bertha, you know, Jack’s love interest, which is on the, that’s all true. My grandmother was, raised, a dunker.
They call them, you know, old order Baptist, German Baptist, and, the, the kinds of, You know, I researched about the kinds of, ceremonies they had and then what their service was like, for example, and the singing and the feet washing. You know, that’s all something they did. and, and that’s one of the cool, one of the really cool things early on was, you know, you have this notorious, when I started researching this for a novel, you know, many years ago, it was, you have this, the Bonner brothers, the most sort of notorious group of villains in Franklin County.
And then you have. You know, literally the preacher’s daughter, you know, and, and, and in 1930 they are, they’re dating like that. They get married like the next year. And my father’s born in 32 my father, the oldest child. So I mean, like all of this is happening in the midst of their courtship. And I, and I was like, that’s fascinating to me.
How does that even happen? Like, how do you even get to, you know, get together and get to know each other? And then, it’s, you know, it’s a classic kind of Romeo and Juliet thing and, you know, these families, couldn’t be more different. So then I was, and I liked the way that they worked with the, it kept a lot of, see, you know, and then there’s scenes, they’re scenes in the, there’s several scenes that they played really straight from the book, which I was very happy about. But, But those weren’t necessarily the most historically accurate. For example, like, you know, one of my favorite scenes in the book is when is when Jessica chesty confront him with the idea of, you know, that she drove him to the hospital that night and that, you know, she, and the suggestion is that those guys did something to her and she has that line about, you know, and none of them ever did anything to me.
This is kind of emotional moan like that is, that’s exactly verbatim from the book, which is really a. which is great, you know, I’m glad they did that, and that’s one of my favorite scenes. So, you know, it is a pretty good mix. You know, Hillcoat early on said that they wanted to retain as much historical accuracy as possible.
You know, we’re, we’re going to change some of these things. We’re going to do some of these things in the interest of dramatic tension, but we, you know, and I, and I, and in that way, I think his aims were very similar to mine. To, to keep the, to keep the story true. if not in a historical sense, then I don’t have a plausibility sense that these kinds of things did happen.
At least other people could happen or likely happened. But you know, but you have to imagine scenes, dialogue and solve that stuff. Cause there’s no record of these things. And I think that he’ll go did the same, same kind of thing. and, you know, and in the end, overall, I, I’m, I’m really happy with it.
You know, I mean, even the Charlie rakes sort of transformation to a Chicago gangster. I mean, I, I love what. Do you know what guy Pierce did with it? That’s a crazy character. And guy Pierce is one of my favorite actors and all that. And so, and I’ve, but I understand why they did it. You know, it makes sense because trying to do a more local Charlie rakes, a much more nuanced, slower build, you know, all that stuff.
It’d be hard to do that in a film, you know, in a two hour film. So,
Dan LeFebvre: [00:38:09] yeah, for sure. Now, afterwards, at the kind of, at the end, after the shootout, everybody kind of ends up happy, you know, you had mentioned Bertha. With, with Jack and forest marrying Maggie and Howard gets married. Was that kind of the way things ended?
Was that pretty accurate as well?
Matt Bondurant: [00:38:27] Yeah, yeah. Yeah. That was, I mean, yeah. And one of the, one of the notable things, obviously Jack got married and, my father was born in 32. So you know, when that, there’s that boy that sits on Jack’s lap in the, at, towards the end that’s supposed to be my father, you know, and it’s six kids and.
Howard also had a bunch of kids. Forrest never had any kids, but him and him and Maggie lived together. that’s all true. There’s a couple of things going on in one sense that the, the bond runs after that really never again became anything like they were like the bond rump boys kind of stuff was not.
That being said, my grandfather was arrested for moonshine a couple times after that later. he actually went to jail three different times, for a year each time. The last time my dad was in high school, that was like small, you know, that was much, much more small time. I mean, it was a way to make extra money, but it wasn’t, it wasn’t like, it wasn’t like it was before, but by the time I, my, my dad was in high school or you know, that, that last time, It’s, it’s hard to explain, but even though he was, he was caught and, and served time there, he was still seen as a sort of upstanding member of the community. You know what I mean? Like the, there wasn’t all the violence anymore. People were, people were still making, you know, obviously making and selling some liquor.
And if you got caught. By the revenue service or the local Sheriff’s whatever, and you weren’t able to bribe them off or whatever. that wasn’t looked upon as some kind of terrible crime. You know what I mean? It was so common that there wasn’t, there wasn’t much like a social stigma attached to it. So he was still an upstanding member of the community.
And after that, you know, by the time, say like the, the, the fifties and sixties come around. Bonner, Arthur out of the business, except that maybe very small private things as far as making goes, making liquor. And, and so, you know, it’s that, that it’s, it’s sort of a, it’s a part of our past, but it’s, You know, Howard went on to be a family man and all this kind of stuff. And, Forrest was, you know, forest was still involved. You know, he sold the shop and he still got involved in a few things here and there, but it was never like it was before. Now also . I did. There’s a scene in the book that’s a lot like the scene at the end and one of the th one of the, one of the reasons why I did it that way, I sort of view that scene at the end is kind of a compression of like the next 20 years where they kind of get themselves out of this crime business.
And they’ve certainly become normal people necessarily, you know, all this kind of stuff. They start having kids and you kind of compress it into one day to kind of demonstrate all those things. And part of it also was what was well, and I fully admit, was that. Yeah, this is my own family I’m talking about here.
And my father, you know, I, I didn’t, I didn’t want, I wanted to, I wanted to show that, that the bond runs ultimately became, you know, responsible citizens and not and that didn’t go on. So, I wanted to, I wanted to end the book. and, and I’m glad they did the movie too on that kind of thing. Upbeat, that sort of high note.
it was important for me. It was important for my relatives to see it. You know, my, my uncles and aunts and, my father and, you know, I, I couldn’t end the thing with them still being criminals, you know what I mean? And so that was a kind of a compression of really a. Journey to respectability that took place over a decade or two, you know?
And, and like I said by, by the fifties and sixties, They were all Starman doing normal stuff, you know, it was all that was gone.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:42:03] Was there anything in the book that didn’t make it into the movie? And I was like maybe one of your favorite stories to give people kind of a peek into stuff that’s in the book that if they read the book.
They wouldn’t be able to see in the movie.
Matt Bondurant: [00:42:17] Yeah. Well, the whole, the whole short answer I’m sure were to Anderson storyline. I mean, if, you know, if people are not familiar with Sherman Anderson, I think, I think they’ll enjoy it. And if you, but if you are familiar with, sure. Renee Anderson, I think it’s really kind of special.
It’s one of the things I’m most proud of, the way that I was able to work him into the book. Because when I started researching and I found out the show, Anderson was actually there and roaming around Franklin County. Putting together this article that he did. and then reading kid Brandon, which is clearly based on some parts of it.
Sherwood Anderson is one of my literary heroes. I mean, he’s arguably the most important prose stylist of 20th century American fiction. I mean, he’s the guy that taught Hemingway and Faulkner how to write that they, you know, so, in his book Weinsberg Ohio. Is, you know, has to be considered one of the top 10 most important books in American literature in the 20th and the 20th century.
Certainly, perhaps in all of all time because it created a, a style and a kind of a template or organizational method, all kinds of things that became very distinctly American that you see born out in Hemingway and Faulkner. And then by extension, you know, on people like a Fitzgerald or flare of your counter, et cetera, et cetera.
so vital, vitally important, but also because that book was so large. And then the books proceeding that his career after that slowly sort of kind of diminished. His books became less popular and critically panned. And so his, his is a sort of unique American, tragedy of, rise to fame. And then, sort of slow.
Descent, the knee, and then he, and so by this time in 35. He’s struggling, you know, he’s struggling already. fuck darn Hemingway’s are there. Their stars ascended an ascendant and they both by this point also, they’ve, they basically pushed him aside. You know, they basically kind of like, eh, and, he was his books.
A couple of his books were kind of like more laughed at, Hemingway in the torrents of spring, mocked him openly. You know, he had to get a couple of humiliating S S. The episodes. And so you had this kind of broken down men. And so it’s, it’s, it makes for a great sort of foil to these, these Bonnar brothers and that he’s trying to find out what’s going on.
And he’s having trouble breaking through the kind of a bubble of silence that, that persists in places like Franklin County. And it’s still a very quiet place. And people don’t talk about, but people don’t talk about Ninja. You don’t talk about it. Nobody talks about it. That’s why it was really hard.
There’s no stories or nothing written down. Cause we talked about, And I th I think that whole element adds a really nice layer to the story because it provides you with a hit with a kind of an outsider perspective. You know, somebody that’s from outside the community coming in. And so the observation he makes, I think are really interesting for a reader who’s not familiar with.
You know that area or something like that. And he’s also able to provide a more of a historical perspective. You know, he was a world traveled guy, and so things like the depression and what’s going on. Stock market, for example, things like that, which, you know, barely made much of a ripple in places like Franklin County.
My dad, my dad said they were poor before the depression, the report during the depression, the report after the burning, not much changed. So. that whole, that whole element, which is about a third of the book, you know, I think adds a lot of interesting context. and, and in particular his pursuance of Maggie.
Which is, as I said earlier, is like he was, he was thinking about her as a character to use and as the next novel. So as he’s following Maggie around trying to get, you know, trying to figure out, I’m trying to figure her out. also in the book, you know, there’s a lot more about Howard Howard in the film gets very little time.
Jason Clark is a great actor. I liked, I liked him. I liked, he, he, he’s also the one that he looks very much like a lot of art. He looked like a boner on a lot of ways. I mean, he, he could, yeah. but they didn’t give him a whole lot to work with in the, in the, in the book, Howard has, you know, just about equal treatment as forced in Jack.
And he has a whole backstory. He has a whole story of how he came to be the person that he is. And, and I found that really fascinating. He’s one of . Probably my favorite guy, just because his story is so particularly interesting and tragic to me, and they left, you know, that’s all that’s all out. So I think that that any reader of the book is going to get, a fuller appreciation of, of all the characters.
But in particular, somebody like Howard, I think. and then like we mentioned the Charlie rake stuff, stuff like that. There’s also, Maggie gets more, I mean, you know, Maggie, they, they, they, you know, they rush her, they, she shows up, she’s involved, you know, and then there’s, there’s like. All the stuff happening.
Whereas in the book, it’s a more gradual, even like the kind of a awkward courtship of Maggie and, enforced. Now the, the courtship between Bertha and Jack, they did keep a lot of those seeds. Which is great. I mean, that’s like when, when like the church scene, when she washes his feet and he runs off all drunk, and then they’re the one where the, they drive the car out into the field and he gives that dress and stuff like that.
That’s all in the book. And obviously that’s, that’s the main love interest. So they wanted to keep that in and, and I’m glad they did. But
Dan LeFebvre: [00:47:24] it sounds like there’s a lot in the book that even if you’ve seen the movie, there’s still going to be a lot more. So I guess my final question would be, where can people get the book.
Matt Bondurant: [00:47:33] you can still get it anywhere. It’s, it’s, you know, it’s on Amazon. It’s in most bookstores around the country, certainly available online. It’s, it’s, it’s, it’s managed to continue to, to sell well, over the years. I think it’s, you know, I think obviously the bit that the movie has a lot, had a lot to do with that and the based on a true story aspect.
a lot of people find that it’s a, it’s funny that the sales always really tick up on around father’s day. Like it’s apparently it’s a big, it’s a, it’s a good gift to give to your older dad or something. You know what I mean? Cause like it’s the kind of book that he’ll read and like, cause there’s like, there’s some fighting and shooting and liquor in it, but you know, find by me.
That’s cool. So now it’s what is coming in the world. And then of course, there’s a version called lawless too, which is exact same book. They just had the title, lawless, like, you know, they, they couldn’t do what is County in the world for the film because. the main, it’s, it’s kinda long and awkward. it also sounds like the pornographic version of the right.
I mean, that’s the funny thing is you could have the porno version of the book and do, we don’t have to change the name. It’s the same, but the, the big deal they told me was that the, what is like the idea of wet versus dry counties. Is something that’s not understood internationally. And international market, as you probably know, is a big deal.
You know, they gotta be able to sell this in Europe and so, and like, so wet that, you know, would the people be very confused by this idea of a wettest County? which is something we understand as Americans. So like, they, they, they, they came up with, with, with lawless, they actually borrowed, they actually, if somebody else was going to have a movie called lawless and he gave him the.
The title, I forget. It was as a famous director. It’s in my mind now. anyway, but yeah, so lawless, you know, and they, then they say, well, do you want to do, we’re going to do a copy of the book and we’re going to call it lawless, and is that all right? Okay, sure. I guess, you know, and, so there’s some of those, those, some of those are out there too, but yeah, no, you can get anywhere.
And especially Amazon.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:49:36] Sounds great. I’ll make sure to include links to that in the show notes. Yeah. Thanks so much for your time, Matt.
Matt Bondurant: [00:49:40] Sure. Glad to do it. Thank you.