Nick Cave. You’ve probably heard of him. The legendary lead singer of The Birthday Party and The Bad Seeds, also in Grinderman, has been crafting beautiful, obsessive, lyrical songs about death and violence for decades. Film-making is just one of his hobbies. His latest offering is Lawless, for which Cave wrote the screenplay adaptation and worked on music with Warren Ellis. Wonderland talks to Cave and long-term film collaborator John Hillcoat, who directed the film.
How did you guys start hanging out and working together?
Nick: We met on the Melbourne scene; such as it was back then. John was fresh out of film school, we knew each other anyway and he was involved in the first video we did for the Birthday Party – the infamous Nick the Stripper video. We sort of worked here and there ever since. The scriptwriting actually started with – we were closer in that way with The Proposition.
Was there something about America you wanted to emphasize?
N: I think that there’s an idea within America of its immortality and invincible nature. That’s an American thing and that’s at the heart of the story, so yes. Obviously, within the story the characters aren’t immortal, and that’s the way the film ends. I think that’s something that America’s understanding about itself at the moment. That it’s actually not invincible and not immortal.
What made you decide to work on this film?
John: Well, I read the book. Red Wagon, the producers of the film, gave me the book, and then I gave it to Nick, because I thought he would app
reciate what was in the book.
N: John doesn’t actually read, but he did read this one. That says something about the book – that John actually got through it. John’s way of going about projects with me is: “I’ve got this book, it’s absolutely amazing, read it”, and I’ll say, “have you read…?” and he goes, “No”…
J: …Hoping that Nick will come back and say…
N: “… Hey, you’re right, it’s incredible. Let’s make it into a film!” But anyway, this was an amazing story: a beautiful, lyrical, violent story. It was given to us because, I think, it was in some ways an American proposition, in the sense that it was very atmospheric. There was a kind of lyricalness about the nature of the film, splintered with extreme violence. And I guess that’s kind of what people now think that we do.
J: ‘Til the rom-com.
N: Personally, I can see the logic in bringing this particular book, The Wettest County in the World, to us because stylistically, we were the right people for the job.
J: Long history with whiskey.
What’s drawn you to Western/ gangster films recently?
N: I don’t know about being ‘drawn’ to gangster things. I was drawn not so much by the theme of this book but rather the lyrical nature of the book, that’s what really excited me about it. I think we were probably drawn to it for different reasons, me and John.
How would you say depicting violence visually is different from writing or singing about it in a song?
N: In the broader context, film became for me a much more effective way of talking about violence, and that’s something that I’ve always done in my songs, but… the idea of violence and the kind of language of violence that existed in my songs always sat at odds with the form. To me, film seems to be very much a very effective way to talk about violence. Which has been one of the themes that I’ve been banging on about for years.
Lawless comes out on 7 September on general release. lawless-film.com
Words: Julia Lichnova