Emile Hirsch Revisits ‘Bonnie & Clyde’s’ Legendary Crime Spree

Holliday Grainger and Emile Hirsch in "Bonnie & Clyde" (Photo: A&E)

History has romanticized crime couple Bonnie Parker (Holliday Grainger) and Clyde Barrow’s (Emile Hirsch) many capers to make them into dashing, Depression-era outlaws. Now, their story is being revisited once again when Lifetime, A&E, and History simulcast the two-night TV event “Bonnie & Clyde,” beginning Sunday, Dec. 8.

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With the longer format, the new “Bonnie & Clyde” tale is able to reveal more of the backstory of the notorious duo, giving some context to what led the gang to begin its non-stop spree of robberies and bank heists, which left many dead, innocent victims in their wake.

“I don’t think that alone, you would have ever heard of either one of them, not in a million years,” Hirsch exclusively tells xfinityTV. “Clyde wasn’t a good enough criminal, like a John Dillinger, to ever make a name as a bank robber. Bonnie probably didn’t have the appeal to become a film star like she wanted, but together they excited the public’s imagination. The sense of danger, and the fight against the man during the Depression, really ignited public imagination and fueled their celebrity.”

“Bonnie & Clyde” also stars Holly Hunter as Bonnie’s mother, William Hurt as Frank Hamer, the Texas Ranger pursuing the Barrow gang, Lane Garrison as Clyde’s brother Buck, and Elizabeth Reaser as P.J. Lane, a writer tracking the gang and adding fuel to the fire of their fame.

In this interview, Hirsch revealed to xfinityTV his belief that Clyde didn’t have second sight, how he would do anything for Bonnie, what he learned about Bonnie & Clyde that surprised him, and more.

What was your knowledge of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow prior to signing on to do the film?

My knowledge was mostly that it was this classic movie that was based on a true story of bank robbers. I’d never actually seen the movie and I was always curious as to what it was like. I had never taken the time to watch the movie, so it was a bit of a chink in my cinema-goer armor, because I pride myself on being a bit of a film buff and that was one I hadn’t seen.

Jay-Z also had made the classic “’03 Bonnie and Clyde” song, which was certainly big in pop culture. It is kind of this iconic name; everyone knows who Bonnie and Clyde were: “Oh, yeah, Bonnie and Clyde, the gangster couple,” even if that’s all that they know. It’s almost like Robin Hood. There’s a few names in pop culture like Billy the Kid and Robin Hood that you say and everybody knows. It’s strange how the name recognition can become like that. Society just passes, it down and it just grows and grows, and pretty soon it’s just the iconic nature of their names. It’s kind of strange if you think about it: How does everybody know who Bonnie and Clyde are, without even knowing who Bonnie and Clyde are?

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It’s true that Clyde lived during really hard times. It was the Depression. What do you think it was that made him turn to a life of crime?

I think he started out as a petty vandal, doing it for fun and to be wild with his brother Buck. He was just mischievous. After he got sent to prison, where he got raped and beaten, I think that that was really what turned him into a violent criminal. I think that kind of abuse hardened him. He wasn’t the same boy anymore. He became a bit of a rattlesnake even.

At one point he talks about wanting to go straight – in the movie anyway – but Bonnie urges him back into a life of crime. What was her power over him? What is your take on her?

I think that he was just obsessed with her and wanted to impress her, so he did whatever it took to be with her. He wanted her to be his girl. He wanted to be the guy who was like John Dillinger. He wanted to be the guy calling all the shots and making all the decisions, the guy in charge. Bonnie was smarter than him in a lot of ways. Bonnie was the creative one. Bonnie was the poet. Bonnie was the glamorous one. Bonnie was the one with the real personality. I feel like she complimented him really well. She made him feel like he was the boss at times.

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Throughout this film, it seems as if Clyde can foresee things, like when he was a little boy and he had that dream, and he later meets Bonnie and he thinks she’s the woman that was in the dream, the angel. Do you think he had second sight or do you think they just played it up?

I don’t really believe in [second sight]. I think that Clyde was a bit of a romantic and, I think, he believes things were meant to be in a way, and he had very selective thinking. I wouldn’t really call it second sight so much as this animalistic sixth sense. He seemed to know how to get out of situations. He seemed to know where the cops would be before they were there. He got out of so many situations that people thought that he had second sight because he kept escaping. I feel like he just had that wild-animal intuition, where he could walk down the street and just get those hairs prickling up on the back of his neck, and he would know somebody was there. How does he know? Who knows? Some people just have that weird ability.

"Bonnie & Clyde" (Photo: A&E)

When you were researching the role, did you learn anything about Clyde or about the crimes they committed that surprised you?

Yes, one of the things that is the most shocking the more research you do on Bonnie and Clyde is just how much crime they committed, how many robberies, how many hold ups, how many cars they stole, how many people that they killed, and how many people that they took hostage. The numbers are huge. They did so much more crime than criminals these days do because criminals these days, they get caught by technology. They’re tracked. It’s much harder to be a criminal, thankfully, in our modern country. Our governments are better coordinated. There’s better technology. There’s better defenses. Bonnie and Clyde were pretty much left unchecked by the system, and they committed this vast number of crimes across the board, a really staggering number.

There’s the expression: Live fast, die young, and leave a beautiful corpse; do you think they thought they were going to get caught, or do you think they thought that they would somehow get away with it?

No, there’s certain writings and papers, and even poems that Bonnie wrote, where they knew that they were both going to die. She knew that the end was coming. She told her mother, “We’re both going to die,” and her mother urged her to leave him, and she said, “No, I won’t leave Clyde. Clyde knows he’s going to get killed, it’s only a matter of time.” They knew it, which is a crazy, depressing place to live mentally.

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You mentioned earlier that you hadn’t seen the Warren Beatty-Faye Dunaway film. Have you seen it since you’ve completed this? If you have, do you think yours is a more accurate portrayal?

I saw the Warren Beatty version the day after we finished shooting our version. I loved it. I thought that the Beatty version was imaginative and funny, kind of screwball comedy, and really different. I was shocked immediately by how different Beatty and Dunaway’s Bonnie and Clyde characters were to ours. I feel like we had come to different conclusions of who the people were. I felt like our Bonnie and Clyde were maybe a bit more serious. Beatty and Dunaway are really charming, and kind of jokey and smiley in a way that I just never really saw Bonnie and Clyde. Once I learned about what had happened to Clyde in jail, the conclusions I came to were a bit more grim, you could say.

The other thing about the film, I remember was Warren Beatty portrayed him as if he had sexual dysfunction.

Yeah, that was something that I had heard, but of course I had never seen the Beatty version while we were shooting. Everything that I had read, and I read pretty extensively about them, there was not a trace of that in any of the historical material. I think that that element might have been — unless there’s some weird thing out there that I found zero evidence for, it’s a product of the writer’s imagination.

One last thing, I want to congratulate you on landing the starring role in the John Belushi film. Is there anything you can say about that? Do you have to change your look? Where are you filming? Or are you under wraps, and they told you, you couldn’t say anything?

There’s an air of secrecy to it. We’re real excited and still in the early stages. We’re certainly going to do a lot more research and a lot more work, [director] Steven Conrad and I put together a great cast and will make what, I think, will be a really, really good movie. I certainly have my work cut out for me. I’ll be diving into that head first and figuring out the right ways to figure it all out.

The four-hour, two-night “Bonnie & Clyde” TV event will be simulcast on Sunday, December 8 and Monday, December 9 at 9/8c on Lifetime, A&E and History.

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The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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