"And so, of course, what's on the screen is different from all of that. And because it's so close and personal, it was really hard for me to have any kind of objective response.
"The second time I watched it, though, I was much more relaxed and I was able to enjoy it and be like, 'OK, that's really well done, what they did with that!'
"And, of course, a lot of those scenes tended to be the ones that happened the way I wrote them. They used my dialogue! Now, that's a great line!"
"But you know, novel-to-film adaptations are always a little messy. Things get cut, things get exaggerated."
In the case of The Wettest County in the World, first published in 2008, Bondurant is doubly protective. The book is about his family, his heritage: The Bondurant Boys - Howard, Forrest, and Jack - were legendary moonshiners in Franklin County, Virginia, during the Depression, and Bondurant grew up hearing tales of their run-ins with the law, with the big-city bootleggers who tried to muscle in on their turf.
LeBeouf, Hardy, and Jason Clarke play the three brothers. John Hillcoat, of The Road and The Proposition, directed, from an adaptation by Nick Cave, the singer/songwriter, novelist, and screenwriter. Lawless opens Wednesday.
Bondurant, 41, lives in Dallas, where he teaches literature and writing at the University of Texas. He dropped into Philadelphia recently to talk about Lawless, and the research he did to bring alive the world his great-uncles found themselves in - cooking whiskey in stills, distributing the illegal booze, getting into heaps of trouble.
Bondurant had a few family letters and photos, newspaper accounts, and the transcripts from the "Great Franklin County Moonshine Conspiracy" trial of 1935. He went from there, extrapolating and expanding - and making stuff up - for the critically acclaimed book. It's his second novel. His third, The Night Swimmer, a contemporary drama about an American couple who move to Ireland, where they've won a pub, has also been generating movie interest.
As for the title change from The Wettest County in the World to Lawless, Bondurant says it was not unexpected.
"I realized early on that Wettest Countyin the World was an awkward title for a movie. . . . And they had told me they were having trouble with it, because it didn't make sense in Europe."
And anyway, they got Lawless from Terrence Malick, of The Tree of Life and Badlands. "His next film was due to be called Lawless," Bondurant explains. John Hillcoat liked it so much he actually called Malick up and said, 'Hey, can we have it?' And he gave it to him.
"Occasionally, I'll be talking to someone who clearly doesn't think much of the title - film people, especially - and they want to get me to say something [negative] about it . . . and then I'll tell them that it was Terrence Malick's title, and all of a sudden it has total cred. It's all good!"
In Lawless more so than in Bondurant's book, the legend of the bootleggers' invincibility is played up. Forrest, the strapping middle sibling, played by Hardy, survived a throat slashing, bullets, and beatings. It's as if nothing, or no one, could do him in.
"Through the historical records we had, it was clear that the brothers were a feared group, and they were dangerous, but we didn't really know what specifically they had done," he says. "We know that Forrest had had his throat cut and that they had been shot. So one of the things that struck me early on is Forrest is a Rasputin-like figure, and so in the book I suggest that even when they were young boys, they survived the Spanish flu epidemic. They are survivors, and Forrest in particular can't be killed.
"That's why people are afraid of him."
Bondurant brought his father down to the shoot in Georgia last year, and saw Hardy's work firsthand. A big, hulking presence, Hardy is the terrorist villain in The Dark Knight Rises, but in Lawless he doesn't have a big, crablike mask affixed to his face. You can actually see him act.
"We saw the scene where Tom Hardy punches those guys out, at his place. We were there all day and we watched him punch those guys like 16 times, over and over, from different angles. And it was really impressive and frightening. Hardy's obviously an athlete because he moves with a kind of fluidity and speed and power that's actually frightening. And I've been around athletes my whole life, and I've seen some things. He's a frightening dude when he was springing into action, and I think that translates in the film. . . .
"When he takes on those two guys, and does them both in, that's when I think the audience is like Whoa, this guy's a force!
"And I liked the way that Hardy played it, and this is to some degree in the book, too: Forrest doesn't want to beat these people up, he doesn't want to do any of these things. . . . And I think Hardy did a good job - there's a weird sort of nervousness about it afterwards, as he's trying to clean off his hand, he's almost embarrassed by his strength."
In the film, it is Jack, the younger Bondurant brother, played by LaBeouf, who invites trouble when he agrees to sell their moonshine to Floyd Banner, a big-city gangster. Oldman is Banner, his hair slicked back, wearing a slick suit and a sinister smirk.
"Everybody always asks me, 'Why can't there be more Gary Oldman in this film?' " Bondurant says. "And I'm like, 'I agree. More Gary Oldman!' I'm just glad he's in it at all."
Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or email@example.com.