Uncovering the Past with Nick Cave: Art World Gets a History Lesson

Star Power, 2014. Photo by James Prinz PhotographyCourtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York © Nick Cave

Jack Shanmain Gallery has mounted a compelling two-part exhibition of new sculptural work by the Chicago-based artist Nick Cave. “Made for Whites by Whites” arrives at the gallery’s 20th Street location in Chelsea as the protests in Ferguson, Missouri over the police killing of the unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown wind down after jolting the nation for weeks. Nick Cave’s sculptures parse the pervasive denigration of African-Americans through mass-manufactured racist collectibles and decorative memorabilia, laying bare the role of visual media in the violent history of oppression. 

“Made for Whites by Whites” is a troubling catalog of sorts. It’s an important artistic record that preserves the everyday objects that tend to be forgotten or willfully overlooked. As Henry Louis Gates Jr. explains in the accompanying exhibition periodical “White Paper,” these objects served insidious ends. “The explanation comes in three words: justifying Jim Crow,” he writes. 

Cave says the series began to take shape after a disconcerting flea market encounter. “It all started when I found a container at a flea market shaped like the head of a black person. The description read ‘SPITTON.’ I was shocked. This led me to begin collecting extreme category of black inflammatory objects,” he says. 

When you enter the show you encounter a number of antique objects cradled in black wooden boxes and arranged on the floor. One imagines this may have been the way Cave came across the inflammatory container, scouring a jumble of otherwise unassuming relics.  Perhaps the most striking piece, “Sacrifice” shows black cast hands protruding from the gallery wall holding a hand-carved wooden minstrel head attached to a post, an object that was battered by use in carnival games from the 1930s or 1940s. 

It can be difficult to confront the past, but Cave wants to empower viewers rather than paralyze them by shock. “Right Right” is comprised of a badminton set with a gilded metal net. Letters hang from the net’s chains and form a quote by Martin Luther King, Jr. that reads, “The time is always right to do what is right.” With the net drooping on the floor, the words are difficult to make out. Yet, the badminton set in its disused state seems to posit some social obligation to engage, no matter how seemingly frivolous the act may be. 

At the gallery’s 24th Street location, Cave places ceramic dogs on throne-like perches for “Rescue.” The dogs sit comfortably on antique furniture below nests crisscrossed with ceramic birds and flowers hanging from beaded strings. En masse the dogs look like regal purveyors of the messy mounds of neglected treasures. The incorporation of the dog sculptures in “Rescue” helps Cave elaborate on the problem of forgetting, particularly as it pertains to the past injustice. 

Nick Cave  “Made for Whites by Whites” and “Rescue” remain on view through October 11, 2014 at Jack Shainman Gallery. 

cave2Shine, 2014
Photo by James Prinz Photography, Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York © Nick Cave

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Sculpture, 2013
Photo by James Prinz Photography, Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York © Nick Cave

Go Dark with Pop. 1280’s First Single Off ‘Imps of Perversion’ ‘Lights Out’

Last winter, I become obsessed with the horrifically pleasureful sounds of Brooklyn foursome Pop. 1280. The only proper way I like to describe them is to say that they sound like your fantasy imaginary opening act for Nick Cave a la Wings of Desire. Their debut album The Horror conjured up dark and rough images of late 1980s Berlin basement nightclubs and trance-inducing songs that vacillate between making you want to lower your head and drag feet angerly across a dance floor to those that make you want to thrash in a crowd and possibly break a limb. Needless to say, they’re great.

And now, they’ve debuted the first single "Lights Out" off their upcoming album Imps of Perversion. Bizarrely delicious and painfully sinister, their new song feels like a welcome follow up to their haunting world that feesl like faded flickering neon lights reflecting down a long darkened alley after a gruesome fight—if you will. Enjoy below.

This Week’s L.A. Happenings: Circa, Unlimited Wine, Nick Cave

WEDNESDAY: Circa Opens In Manhattan Beach
Expect trips to Manhattan Beach now on the regular. An all-star team is behind a new restaurant project opening Wednesday: Circa. Michael Zislis (The Strand) has Octavio Becerra (Palate Food & Wine) in the kitchen, Josh Goldman (ink.) curating the wine list and Julian Cox (Playa, Riviera, Sotto, Bestia) crafting cocktails behind the bar. You likely don’t visit Manhattan Beach as much as you should and Circa is just two blocks from the shore, so make that two birds, one stone thing happen. Expect small plates of global flavors, casual, vintage-industrial design and perhaps a cigarette break to watch the sunset.

Circa (903 Manhattan Ave., Manhattan beach) opens and is now accepting reservations. For more information on the restaurant, check out the listing at BlackBook Guides.

THURSDAY: Unlimited Wine at Mondrian
Tonight kicks off the inaugural, bi-weekly “Uncorked” wine tasting in Asia de Cuba at the Mondrian. It’s a happy hour with an outdoor pool. Seriously… why the hell not?  A nice selection of wines (unlimited pouring FYI) and bites at sunset are a crowd pleaser.

“Uncorked” is happening every second Thursday (starting 2/21) from 6pm to 9pm at Asia de Cuba at the Mondrian (8440 Sunset Blvd., W. Hollywood). For more information on the restaurant, visit the listing at BlackBook Guides.

THURSDAY:  Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
If you haven’t listened to the new album we recently streamed, you need to understand who we’re dealing with here. Nick Cave is a singer, novelist, actor, screenwriter, film composer, and all-around legend. We think he’ll be the next Pope. For now, see him live at The Fonda Theatre and scratch it off your bucket list.

Listen to Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ new album here. To learn more about The Fonda Theatre (6126 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood ), visit the listing at BlackBook Guides.

Find out first about the latest openings and events in NYC by signing up for BlackBook Happenings, the email brought right to your inbox every Monday. And download the BlackBook City Guides app for iPhone and Android.

Listen to the New Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds Album Streaming in Full

So by now, you’ve gotten to see the evocative Gaspar Noe and John Hillcoat-directed music videos for Nick Cave & The Bad Seed’s upcoming album, Push the Sky Away. And although PTSA, their fifteenth record together, doesn’t officially drop for another week (via the band’s own label), you can now officially listen to it now, streaming in its entirely via the Guardian

Recorded in France, the album is rife with somber and beautiful meandering tones—as to be expected. Cave himself said that, "If I were to use that threadbare metaphor of albums being like children, then Push The Sky Away is the ghost-baby in the incubator," he says. Take a listen HERE and see for yourself.

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Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds Debut Video for ‘Jubilee Street’

With the release of Push the Sky on the horizon, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds have already graced us with one mysterious and shadowy video—the Gaspar Noe-directed "We No Who U R" earlier in the month. But today, they’ve released the video for their slow-churned and sordid "Jubilee Street." Helmed by Cave’s buddy and collaborator John Hillcoat, the video stars English actor Ray Winstone as a man who frequents seedy back alleys and bedrooms, lies at women’s feet, looks distressed, and gets a boob in the mouth. Hillcoat lights the video with neon colors to illustrate the late night world, as Cave moves with his signature mix of smoothness and gloom through the streets. When I spoke to Hillcoat back in August, he told me his friendship with Cave is, "an Australian connection. I’ve known him since I was a teenager and I did his music stuff and he worked on my film stuff…I love music and I’ve been involved in music my whole career and Nick loves movies. He watches more movies than me and I listen to more music than him. So it’s a weird connection there, we love collaborating and we’re always planning and working on the next thing."

Check out the video—which is probably not suited for most work environments but who cares, right?—below.

BlackBook Tracks #29: Sucks to be Anyone in Music Who’s Not Justin Timberlake or Destiny’s Child

I know you’ve probably been in a Justin Timberlake and Destiny’s Child K-hole for the past day, but if you feel like crawling out, here are some other songs for you to listen to.

We Were Evergreen – “Leeway”

There are plenty of things that can go wrong in life, but We Were Evergreen get twee-pop right. Alongside launching a Kickstarter for their debut album, the London-via-Paris trio has released charming new single “Leeway.”

Drop The Lime – “No Sleep For The Wicked”

The retro/electro wizard’s new video boasts more zombie cheerleaders than an episode of Misfits. His penchant for horror and killer beats serves as a reminder that there are all kinds of things that go bump in the night.

Anna Calvi – “The Devil”

If that last track wasn’t evil enough, remember that Anna Calvi must have made a deal with “the Devil” to become such a skilled guitarist.

Housse de Racket – “Aquarium”

Clocking in at close to seven minutes, Housse de Racket’s latest single is a slow burner that’s worth every second. Those who have seen the Parisian electro-rock duo live know this as the striking closer to their show.

Sharon Van Etten – “People Ain’t No Good”

I’m jealous of people in Australia, because it’s summer there. Also, Brooklyn singer-songwriter Sharon Van Etten is on a sojourn down under, where she made a stop at Triple J radio to cover future tourmate Nick Cave.

Caitlin Rose – “I Was Cruel”

Singer-songwriter Caitlin Rose tells a familiar story of love gone sour on this cut from her forthcoming album The Stand-In. Her voice manages to be both vulnerable and matter-of-fact, and there’s the hint of steel guitar that you might expect from a Nashville artist.

Palma Violets – “Step Up For The Cool Cats”

London rockers Palma Violets are on track to be 2013’s It Brits, and this 60s-inflected track hints at what’s to come when they release their debut album in February.

Gold Fields – “Dark Again” (Diamond Rings remix)

Australian up-and-comers Gold Fields are plenty charismatic on their own, but Diamond Rings punches up the original to make it a little more dancefloor-friendly.

Carly Rae Jepsen – “Call Me Maybe” (Dan Deacon remix)

By “remix,” I mean that this is the a capella version layered 147 times. It’s strangely compelling, hearing “Hey, I just met you” repeated ad infinitum.

Nick Cave: Still Lawless After All These Years

It’s hard to know where to begin with Nick Cave. His music inspires a sort of devotion among fans that few other artists enjoy, a hard-earned loyalty that’s seen him from post-punk provocateur to balladeer, novelist and screenplay writer. This Bad Seed’s latest project is the script for Lawless, which he adapted from Matt Bondurant’s novel, The Wettest County in the World. Directed by longtime friend and collaborator John Hillcoat, Lawless is a strangely beautiful tale of three bootlegging brothers in Franklin County, Virginia. Cave and longtime collaborator Warren Ellis did the soundtrack, as well, under the name The Bootleggers; it’s a magnificent, eccentric collection of Lawless-era takes on songs like "White Light/White Heat" by the Velvet Underground and a must for Cave fans.

Tom Hardy stars as Forrest Bondurant, a reticent man who favors cardigans and extreme violence when necessary. He’s a myth, a man who allegedly can’t be killed, and yet a mother hen of sorts to his two screw-up brothers, Jack (Shia LaBeouf) and Howard (Jason Clarke). The Bondurants’ livelihood is threatened by a new lawman from Chicago, Charlie Rakes, who is played by a nearly unrecognizable Guy Pearce. Sporting slicked-back black hair, a shaved part, and no eyebrows, Pearce is menacing, sadistic, and unforgettable. Rounding out the cast is Jessica Chastain as a former showgirl named Maggie who’s looking for a quiet new life in Franklin County, and Mia Wasikowska as a religious young maiden who seems open to a more worldly life in the arms of Jack.

Although it’s tempting to think of Cave as a myth on par with Forrest Bondurant, he’s human and equally at the mercy of the vicissitudes of technology. The soft-spoken Australian was fighting the good fight against his dying cell phone when he called from Los Angeles to discuss his acting swansong, lyrical violence, and the slog of interviews.

I’m really interested in how Lawless seems to fit right into the world of your songs and even your novel And the Ass Saw the Angel. Was that part of the attraction to adapting the novel, or was that even conscious?
I didn’t look at it in that way. I’m happy to write about anything for screenwriting as long as it serves the director’s vision effectively and that I can write about it. We were just given this book by a couple of producers who thought that John Hillcoat and I could do a good job on it based on The Proposition, the movie we’d done before that. I guess it’s no accident that we were chosen to do it; these producers were quite savvy sort of people, but for me, it wasn’t that I felt that it kind of fitted into something that I was about, it was more that… the beautiful lyricism of the book, the beauty of the writing, the absolutely exquisite dialogue that was in the book, and the great bits of brute violence that were in there as well just made the whole thing irresistible.

Have you ever though about returning to acting, since you met John on the set of Ghosts… of the Civil Dead?
No. [Laughs] No, you’ve got to know your limitations, and acting is always unbelievably painful. I do play a dead gangster in Lawless, and I saw that as my final curtain call for acting. Three bullet holes in the face.

How much time did you spend on set? Did you have a lot of ongoing input?
I spent two days on set when I did that particular scene. The rest of the time I spent ten days working with the actors in Georgia where it was shot, going through the script with them, and rehearsing with them, and giving them the opportunity to have some sort of input into the script or discuss the script or change the script or whatever… And then I left to go back to civilization. You know what I mean. The more civilized world of being a rock singer.

I read your interview in The Observer where Tom Hardy said he wanted to play his character like "an old lesbian," and I was wondering if you could elaborate on that.
I can’t, really… He also said he wanted to play the character like the old lady in Tweetie Pie, do you know who I mean? Yeah, that was the other person that he based the character on. And at the time this was kind of a [joke], these kind of comments [laughs] but you know, I think that what he was really saying was that he wanted to play the character like a matriarch, and that he was the mother in this family, and that when Jessica Chastain’s character comes in, she isn’t a love interest so much as a direct threat on his authority as a mother figure, and I think that that’s the way he’s playing that character. He’s just amazing in the film.

My favorite line was when Chastain’s character enters the room to seduce him, and he’s so perplexed, and he says, "What are you doing?" It’s beyond him.
Yeah, well, he’s a virgin. He’s a virgin.

Aw, little Forrest!
[Laughs] He’s spent his time looking after his family and sitting on his nest, and anything like love interests and all that sort of stuff, I don’t think he’s ever, you know, he’s never had an opportunity for. That’s the way we’re looking at it.

The process is so much more—you get hamstrung by the studios or the producers or what have you. What’s the payoff in writing the screenplay when you don’t have as much freedom as you do making an album?It must be very frustrating.
In the writing of something, it’s not like that. When you first write something, it’s actually really kind of enjoyable and playful and really all you’re doing is taking a story, and you’re writing the scenes, and at least, because I’ve only written a couple of screenplays, really, maybe three or four, I’m still kind of naive enough to the process to think that what I’m actually writing is gonna get made.

I think that with Lawless, my eyes were opened up to the way films get made a lot more. It was a Hollywood movie, and it’s different, it’s a different process. But I think what makes it enjoyable for me is a kind of naiveté about the process and that you can write scenes that maybe a more experienced writer would know that these scenes will never get made. That there’s no point even putting pen to paper with these scenes because they’re never gonna get made. I think at least initially when I wrote Lawless, there were a lot of scenes like that, that were so enjoyable writing them. A lot of them, as it turned out, didn’t get made, but a lot of them did, and so it’s both. It’s extremely exciting, but it can be frustrating as well.

But there’s a huge amount of people—it’s amazing anything gets done, honestly. There’s so many people involved in the artistic decision-making of a film, and the sort of trajectory that it takes, it’s amazing that a film ever gets made at all.

I understand Crime and the City Solution is preparing to go on tour and release its first new album in years. What inspires you to revisit a certain band’s sound, like, okay, now I want to do some Bad Seeds. Now I’m feeling a little Grinderman. Now I wanna go do something with The Flaming Lips. How does that work?
They’re all different. The Flaming Lips… It was very much about the kind of irrepressible personality of Wayne Coyne. He’s, how shall I say this, he’s a very difficult person to say no to. That turned out real good, but you know, all of these other things—screenplays, novels, and all that sort of stuff—I see as just keeping the songwriting process going.

What I want to be able to do in life is just to write songs, but I know, more than anything, that if I don’t do other things, I’m not going to be able to continue to do that because you just run out of ideas. If you just made one record after another after another, it’s impossible to do. It’s impossible to keep up any quality. And I was kind of seeing that fifteen years ago or something. I understood the trajectory of the band and where it was going in some kind of way, and it was starting to decline. It was in decline, I think, and so I started doing other things just to kind of revitalize that process, and it seemed to work really well.

If I do a script, like something like Lawless, by the time I’m finished with that, I’m running screaming to get out of Hollywood and the film world and get into something more sane, like making a record. It just keeps that process alive.

How do you feel about the kind of promotion you have to do for a movie insofar as going to different festivals and talking to interviewers? Is it exhausting in a way that promoting an album or going on tour isn’t?
Promoting an album, doing interviews, and going on tour are two very different things. With all respect, doing an interview is something where you’re sitting there and selling a product. It’s always that way, and there’s a certain amount of that that I guess needs to be done, really. Going on tour is something that is an extraordinary thing to do. I love going on tour and playing concerts and watching the songs come alive in a live way.

There are actually occasions when you do an interview that makes you think about things and makes you reassess things or gives you ideas and so forth, or makes you even understand what you’re doing in a clearer kind of way, and they can be really good as well, actually. But in general, the interview thing is a bit of a slog. [Laughs] Not this one, of course. Not this one.

[Laughs] That’s very kind of you. What makes an interview not a slog? Seriously, I am always looking to learn.
Really, it’s being able to kind of honest in an interview. You know, that’s the thing about filmmaking in particular, is that no one can really be honest about a film… because so many people are involved, and the kind of destinies of so many people are involved in the outcome of the film that everyone’s just gonna kind of, you know, toe the line. If you know what I mean.

Creativity really ebbs and flows, and it seems like you’re producing work at an incredibly alarming rate. What do you do for your downtime?
I’m trying to work on that, to be honest. That’s my next project, is downtime, because it’s not something that really comes naturally to me, and it becomes worrying on some level how much work I’m doing. Not that I’m exhausted by it, because I find work energizing, but just that there needs to be downtime. There needs to be time when you don’t know what you’re doing… If you don’t have downtime, then you don’t have the epiphanies, either. You need the downtime for the epiphanies to [appear]. I think to work more on downtime. Maybe you’ve got some ideas.

John Hillcoat Travels Back to the ‘Lawless’ Franklin County, Virginia

“For me, cinema in the late ‘60s and ‘70s—that was the renaissance of film,” says acclaimed director John Hillcoat, whose newest film, Lawless, harkens back to dusty outlaw tales of Bonnie and Clyde while taking the the conventional gangster genre and burying it deep in the backwoods. Based on the novel The Wettest County in the World by Matt Bonderant, the film was written and scored by Hillcoat’s longtime collaborator and friend, Nick Cave, bringing together not only their shared passion for American folklore but their unique brand of storytelling.

The film tells the story of three bootlegging brothers: Jack, Forrest, and Howard (Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy, and Jason Clarke, respectively) in Depression-era Franklin County, Virginia, during the prohibition. After FBI Special Agent Charlie Rakes (played by Guy Pearce) is sent into town to bring hell into their lives, the film follows down the beloved Hillcoat trajectory of a violent, male-driven tale of people living in extreme worlds with extreme consequences. It’s through the characters of Maggie and Bertha (played by Jessica Chastain and Mia Wasikowska) and their strong female presence, however, that we’re presented with a real-life tale that’s more about battling for survival and protection than just machismo. We caught up with Hillcoat to chat about going back in time to find the story, the complexities of alpha male characters, and being on the fringe of American cinema.

How did you come across the novel? Were you looking for something like this?
I was looking for a gangster film. I love being transported into other worlds and extreme worlds. When I say extreme worlds, I mean where the stakes are high therefore there’s real conflict. And being transported into other worlds has always been something that I’ve loved about cinema since I was a kid. There’s something to me about the Great American films; the gangster films and the westerns were certainly two very distinct worlds you get caught up in, and I’d been looking for a gangster film but, to be honest, it was very hard to find a new take on that genre, especially in the wake after Goodfellas. It’s kind of hard, where do go from there? So I went back in time. What I found interesting [in Lawless] was that it was the people in the backwoods, and that story, I don’t think, has ever been told. I guess it’s also where the western ends and the gangster film begins, and the western outlaws in the backwoods now are introduced to guns and modern technology. It was quite an upheaval.

What attracts you to these sort of extreme worlds and moral situations?
It just always interested me because I think it just reveals a lot about ourselves. It’s in extreme situations that we see the best and the worst of ourselves. I’m always intrigued by what really lurks under.

There are a lot of gangster films that come out but don’t have a strong staying power like Goodfellas because they lack the character and heart, but these characters were so developed—they all had their own strong backstories and you could empathize with them. Is that something you grasped from the novel?
Matt Bondurant, who wrote the novel, he was at his father’s place, and he saw hanging on the wall, a pair of brass knuckles and he said, “What the hell are those?” His father said, “Oh, that was your great Uncle Forrest.” So it was actually that moment that he went right into the whole research of that world, discovering his family history. Also just as a writer, his ear for dialogue; I love the way he talked about Maggie and Forrest and that they’re both damaged people that find each other and it’s a very unusual but moving kind of love story and they hide it from everyone. Forrest can’t describe his emotions, so it’s this secret awkward love affair. And then the sweetness and innocence of the first love of Jack and Bertha. Because no matter how extreme a world, I’m more interested in trying to find the humanity than just making the two-dimensional. That’s sometimes a challenge when you’re dealing with such familiar genres. Although, that being said, these gangsters and westerns are still filled with flawed characters with moral dilemmas.

You don’t necessarily like the characters all of the time, but you still want it to work out for them because you’ve set up that humility in all of them.
Exactly. And their own tragic flaws are always compelling, I think. In this case, what also was very attractive—that Nick Cave who adapted it, and I both loved was that traditionally, the genre with gangsters—you’re used to seeing them punished for their sins and so they’re all taken out in a blaze of glory. But in this case, I don’t want to give away too much, but there was a real transformation and to really engage in everyday life. We thought that was actually a refreshing thing to see. And the one guy who was always a misfit in life and kind of the most haunted finally finds peace and you think he’ll always survive. So, for us, in the true story, there were a lot of rich ingredients and it’s still tapped into archetypes of that world that I’ve always been fascinated in. Floyd Banner is just that colorful kind of gangster, the gangster for all of us, someone we’re all scared of and thrilled by, so he was a really interesting character as well and I really tried to get that irony of the way Jack was like all of us.

You’re attracted to these male-driven, violent stories. They’re not violent for the sake of it, but just because they are it’s necessary for their survival. Is that something that you’re cognizant of when developing an idea?
Actually, what I thought was so great about what Tom  brought to Forrest was actually quite a vulnerable, feminine side.

He was like the mother of the family.
And when he lashes out he is absolutely terrifying and probably all the more for it. But because of the contradictions and complexities, I am fascinated by the sort of flip side to those archetypes and also the vulnerabilities. To me, it’s always more interesting to see, a sort of powerful alpha male vulnerable than just pure alpha male. Having said that, and this what I love about the Maggie and Bertha, I do love a little respite in there. It’s hard to find, often in most of these stories, to find strong female characters and so I’m always actively seeking that. And in actual fact, I’m actually specifically looking for female-driven leading characters. I love these kind of genres and these generic, almost like ancient kind of dilemmas and conflicts. Often the written scripts for leading female characters tend to be not in these kind of robust genres and I would love to find that, I’m always looking for that material. I’m saying, I would like a classic genre film in extreme situations but the character is a woman. That’s hard to find.

It was refreshing to see these women that were really strong and could hold their own against these men. Even Bertha, even though she’s so innocent, but she had a strength.
I’m glad you noticed! And Maggie is actually stronger than all those brothers, even Forrest.

I love that she had to be the one to do something first because he’s so strong but was completely incapable of expressing himself.
Yes and she had to bare this terrible truth and hide and then eventually reveals that she had to take care of him. Then she had to bare the real truth that he couldn’t deal with. She had to battle it and that makes her all the more stronger that she can handle it whereas she knew he couldn’t.

How did you go about casting?
First came Shia; he was always involved from the get go. In all his films, he was always strong in them and compelling and there was something about him. And he was itching to get his teeth into real characters and he had qualities that Jack had. The film had come through various incarnations because initially when we were trying to make it, it was a studio film and then the global economy shook everything up and all the studios went into a spiral and decided they couldn’t make these sort of films anymore. So we went back and reconstructed it. Shia independently had contacted Tom because he loved his performance in Bronson. I actually had been aware of Tom independently and met Tom after he had just done Inception and knew he was someone I wanted to find something to do and this was perfect material. And Jessica, I met her actually before Tom. I was looking for a strong, intelligent woman who was charismatic and also had real gravitas and depth to her and real emotion. So then when I met her it was a combination of things I had heard from other filmmakers that I trust and then meeting her and then seeing a couple scenes from the film. Mia I met before she did Alice and she, at that stage, had only done a couple of smaller films and again, she had this wonderful quality and just struck me as having a great face for it. When you look at different periods and different times, there are certain faces that look suitable for those times and also for that kind of closed religious communities so something about her look. The Mennonites, a lot of them came from an eastern European background so there was several qualities and also a real sweetness and edging with her. She was so young and clearly so talented and also a completely different energy to Jessica.

It was a perfect pairing between Jessica and Tom and then Shia and Mia. They all had such great chemistry.
And that something I’m always looking for, especially with an ensemble, that kind of different energies and contrasts.

You have an ongoing relationship and collaboration with Nick Cave as a writer and composer. Can you tell me about that? He always does such fascinating work.
We have an Australian connection. I’ve known him since I was a teenager and I did his music stuff and he worked on my film stuff. There’s something about him… I love music and I’ve been involved in music my whole career and Nick loves movies. He watches more movies than me and I listen to more music than him. So it’s a weird connection there, we love collaborating and we’re always planning and working on the next thing.

So do you work together as he’s writing it, do you sort of build it together?
There’s a period where I’m more just a bouncing board for stuff he writes and I talk about ideas that I’ll have that he’ll play with, so it’s very much an organic back-and-forth. And to have him write at the very beginning and then end the whole thing with the music gives it a really added cohesion that I don’t think I would get otherwise.

Because he knows what the tone is supposed to be because he set it.
Exactly. And actually, there’s something very musical in the rhythms of films and the way people speak and the whole tone of things, so I’m very lucky.

This is sort of a very rural American Dream type of film. As someone not from here, do you have your own very predisposed image of what you image this time to be like and American history?
Well, I actually grew up in America as a young kid and I grew up in Canada from when I was 4 years old to 17 and I’ve travelled a lot through the country but I definitely have an outsiders perspective. It’s strange, it’s an outsiders perspective and in that sense, that sometimes can be a big advantage.

Did you have any sort of cinematic touchstones that you looked back on when making the film for inspiration? Gangster movies or westerns?
Oh, yeah. The big one for me, particularly, was White Heat with Jimmy Cagney, which has a kind of restless energy and flamboyance, that was something in that period I talked a lot to Guy Pierce about when he played Rakes. And, of course, Bonnie and Clyde. The films of the ’70s—they’ve always been a profound influence on my work and an inspiration. But there’s old black-and-white films, the classic gangsters as well. And the original Scarface

Guy Pearce on What Makes a Bad Man Seem Bad

Lawless, the new film written by Nick Cave and directed by John Hillcoat, is about a band of bootlegging brothers in Franklin County, Virginia. Shia LaBeouf is the baby-faced one, Tom Hardy is the strong, silent one, and Jason Clarke is the drunk one. Guy Pearce plays FBI Special Agent Charlie Rakes, flown in from Chicago to hound the Bondurant boys into submission. Rakes, who combines punctiliousness with perversity, is part fop, part snob, and part fascist. He dispenses beatings with maligned glee and, in one throwaway shot that speaks volumes, dyes his hair as a naked woman sits dejectedly on a sheet of newspaper spread across his bed. The long arm of the law has never been so gnarly. He speaks with a bizarre cadence and wears a mondo hair style. We spoke to Pearce about both.

Charlie Rakes is a character who is caught up in his own view of the world in the weirdest kind of way. He is incredibly egotistical and narcissistic. He’s from Chicago and, when he arrives in Franklin County, is totally disgusted by the filthy living standards of the people in the backwoods. He has this disdain for them that I wanted to communicate.

Working on an accent is an interesting thing. I worked with Tim Monnick, who works with DeNiro and Blanchett. He’s a delightful guy and much more than a dialect teacher. He’s a real historian as well, and supplied me with recordings of people from that era. We call him the Voice Whisperer. We’d work on a dialect and he’d say, “No, that’s not quite it since that ‘R’ sound didn’t come in until the Irish influence in the 1940s.” He’s also very good at dissecting class. We ended up coming up with this particular Chicago accent of somebody who probably came more from the wrong side of the tracks than he would want to admit who constructs a mythology of where he came from. It’s just a really strange shape and melody—and intonation.

As far as the hair goes, it’s weird and we all talked about it being weird. We had seen reference images of men who have their hair slicked and parted down the middle. That was common at the time, but we wanted Rakes’ style to represent his extreme vanity, so we shaved the part and the eyebrows. I wanted him to be as foreign to the people of Virginia as they were to him. To have a complete alien come in and tell them their world is wrong is essentially what the movie is about, so we made Rakes as weird, vicious, and really disgusting as we could. It was a real pleasure.