The story of Bonnie and Clyde is worth telling again, says Emile Hirsch.
WHEN Emile Hirsch got a call from his manager about an offer for a potential part in a miniseries called Bonnie & Clyde, he immediately jumped at the opportunity.
“As soon as he said, ‘Bonnie and Clyde’, I knew I was going to do it. I just love that time period and the movie side of it. I wanted to explore that era and the gangster mythology that surrounds it,” Hirsch says during a phone interview recently.
Part history and part drama, the four-hour epic retells the tale of lovebirds Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker whose notorious crime spree shocked and captivated the American public in the early 1930s.
Rumoured to have a sixth sense that enabled him to see events before they happened, Barrow was described as a charismatic convicted armed robber who was always able to stay one step ahead of the law. His one blind spot was Parker, a perceptive small-town waitress intent on fame.
Together, both Barrow and Parker went on to commit risky and dangerous crimes that made them a regular fixture on newspaper headlines during the Great Depression.
“There’s a lot of adventure in breaking the rules and I think that’s what makes people continuously fascinated by Bonnie and Clyde and made them a phenomenon,” offers Hirsch, 28.
That phenomenon has even led to the couple’s own legacy in modern popular culture. Hollywood has tackled the story of Bonnie and Clyde several times.
The most popular version would of course be the iconic 1967 film which starred Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway.
However, Hirsch was unperturbed by the fact that he took on a role which the Academy Award-winning Beatty made famous on the big screen.
“I didn’t find it hard to fill those shoes because I didn’t try on those shoes until after I finished filming.
“What I mean by that is I didn’t actually watch Beatty’s version of Bonnie And Clyde until I was done playing Clyde,” he reveals.
“I purposely did that because I know what a good actor Beatty is and I didn’t want to be influenced by him. I wanted my version of Clyde to be mine,” adds the California native.
It’s worth mentioning that Parker and Barrow were among the first celebrity criminals of the modern era.
At the core of it all, the story of Bonnie and Clyde remains one of the most tragic romances in American history. This begs the question – what is it about their tale that still appeals to people even to this day?
“I think there are very opposing forces in their relationship. There’s the love for each other, but at the same time, there’s also hatred for the law, society and rules. These different qualities are very rarely paired up together.
“It’s also surprising to a lot of people that Bonnie herself is willing to be a participant in a lot of the crimes, especially in an era where women are considered very traditional. And it’s a shock that she’s a bit of a gangster herself,” says Hirsch.
The female lead in the new star-studded miniseries is played by Holliday Grainger. Other cast members include veteran actors Holly Hunter and William Hurt.
The fact that Bonnie & Clyde is based on real life events does make one wonder which version of the truth the film adhered to.
“You never know exactly what happened, but I feel like obviously there’s going to be a bit of poetic licence. When you make a movie based on historical facts, you can never include everything. You have to invent certain things and come up with your own interpretation. The essence is still there. Our version is very tragic and very poetic,” offers Hirsch.
He went on to reveal that the miniseries focuses on the early years that Clyde spent in prison before he embarked on a criminal rampage with his romantic interest.
“It was something that the series really explores and you’ll get to see how hard prison was for him, how he was abused and sexually assaulted. It’s awful and kind of a dark subject, so I felt that the series had a lot of courage to explore that,” he says.
After delving into Barrow’s character, Hirsch came to the conclusion that the man was fundamentally a tragic villain.
“It’s tragic because he wanted a way out but the horrors he faced in prison changed him. It sort of created a monster of him. But the real tragedy is that he really was in love with someone and he let that love, in a weird way, ruin his life,” Hirsch says.
All the bleak stuff aside, the actor does think there’s something inherently cool about the flawed outlaw.
“Even though he’s a criminal, he makes his own rules and he’s not afraid of danger. He’s very impulsive and he’s got a beautiful girl. Clyde basically controlled his own destiny,” reasons Hirsch.
When asked if he sees any part of himself in the late convict, Hirsch hesitated for a bit before answering, “Not too much. I don’t think I could take the intensity of the world on your back. Clyde was constantly on the run for his life and getting shot at. That’s not the way I’m wired. That’s not in me.
“But if I were given a chance to pick his brain, I’d probably ask, ‘Are you sure you guys don’t want to turn yourselves in?’ ,” he says with a laugh.
After a long pause, though, Hirsch adds on a more serious note, “I’d probably ask if they would change anything about it if they could do it all over again because ultimately, they were two people in love.”
> Bonnie & Clyde will be aired on Dec 9 and 10 at 9pm on History (Astro Ch 555) and Lifetime (Astro Ch 709).