'Bonnie And Clyde' On The Run Again

9:05 PM, Dec 5, 2013   |    comments
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Bill Keveney, USA TODAY

Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were fated to a short time together as notorious, Depression-era bank robbers, but their partnership gave them a permanent place in history.

"I think Clyde would have been a criminal and been caught and gotten the electric chair without Bonnie, but you would have never heard of him. They were famous because of each other," says Emile Hirsch (Into the Wild), who plays Barrow in Bonnie & Clyde, a two-night, four-hour miniseries that gets an unusual three-network platform (Lifetime, History, A&E, Sunday and Monday, 9 p.m. ET/PT).

The relationship between the twentysomething Texans, who died in a hail of police bullets in 1934, was atypical, he says. "They were obsessed with each other. They took pictures and robbed places together and kidnapped people together. They would do things you'd never expect couples to do."

The real-life Bonnie and Clyde, who were featured in a 1967 film starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, mixed crime and sex appeal to become an early celebrity couple, partly due to fame-seeking Bonnie (played here by Holliday Grainger, The Borgias), a waitress who wrote poetry and dreamed of Hollywood fame.

"It's that need to be recognized, the need to feel special. That's the most special you can feel, when the whole world is revering you and you get that fame," Grainger says. "They were aiming for the glamour."

The project carries an impressive pedigree, with Bruce Beresford (Driving Miss Daisy) directing and Oscar winners Holly Hunter and William Hurt playing, respectively, Bonnie's mother, Emma, and Frank Hamer, the retired Texas Ranger who comes back to hunt down the couple. Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, who produced Thursday's live NBC telecast of The Sound of Music and a contemporary version of Steel Magnolias for Lifetime, are executive producers.

Beresford initially didn't want to take on the project - comparisons are inevitable to the "wonderful" earlier film - but he found the new script provided a different, more historically accurate take on an intriguing relationship and one of those truth-is-stranger-than-fiction stories.

"It was fascinating that at that time two people could crash around four or five states in the South, doing robbery after robbery and evading police, partly because the police couldn't cross state lines," he says. "They were never particularly efficient robbers, which also struck me as quite funny and I was hoping some of that humor came across in the film, among all the killings."

To prepare, Hirsch read Jeff Guinn's book, Go Down Together: The True, Untold Story of Bonnie and Clyde, and saw a darkness in Clyde brought on by abusive treatment during an early stint in prison, which is depicted in the miniseries.

He deliberately avoided viewing the Beatty-Dunaway version until after shooting finished. (Coincidentally, Hirsch ran into Beatty at a party after he first read the script. "He was supportive and told me he thought I would make a good Clyde.")

When Hirsch watched the earlier film, "I realized that Beatty and I had made completely different characters. It's a great performance, but he plays Clyde smiley, jokey, almost like a doofus at times. Very happy-go-lucky," Hirsch says. "I think the Clyde that I saw ... had a storm raging inside of him that never really let up. I really factored in the prison rape and beatings. He's not going to be a guy who's just going to be all smiles after that. This is a serious guy who wants some serious revenge."

The miniseries format allows time for more detail than a movie would have, Grainger says.

"I feel like there are lots of little aspects to the characters, not just the passion between Bonnie and Clyde, but then the ups and downs of their relationship and then the little snippets of their lives on the run, the dirtiness of campsites, the griminess as well as the glamour," she says.

Lifetime,the channel for women that developed the project, saw the miniseries as a good fit, considering the love story and Bonnie's vital role "pushing them to bigger robberies and more outrageous risks," says general manager Rob Sharenow. "Bonnie created the legend of Bonnie and Clyde."

But Sharenow says it's equally apt for A&E and male-skewing History. "It's one of the few stories that has so many touch points. It's not just a history subject. It's not just a love story. It's not just a great adventure film. It's not just action."

They are names most people know, even if they're not familiar with the full story or the earlier movie. Says Sharenow: "Their legend is something that has resonated through popular culture in a way very few stories have."

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