Native Author Prepares to See Work on the Big Screen
Matt Bondurant's 2008 novel 'The Wettest County in the World' to star Shia LeBouf.
Author Matt Bondurant never expected to see one of his novels play out on the big screen.
His 2008 novel, The Wettest County in the World, is being adapted into a film directed by John Hillcoat ("The Road"). The star-studded cast includes Shia LeBouf and up-and-coming actress Mia Wasikowska.
The Wettest County in the World takes a look at Depression-era bootlegging in Franklin County, Va., where Bondurant’s grandfather and great-uncles ran a bootlegging business. In a parallel thread, reporter Sherwood Anderson keeps tabs on the gang and reports on bootlegging while researching a novel.
Bondurant, who grew up in Mount Vernon but is now an English professor at University of Texas - Dallas, currently resides in Dallas with his wife and two children. He spoke with Mount Vernon Patch while he visited the set of The Wettest County in the World, which is currently filming in Georgia.
A Love of Reading
Bondurant was a “huge reader” during his childhood years in Mount Vernon. He credits his mother, an ardent library patron, with instilling in him a love of reading.
“I was the youngest child and I spent a lot of time by myself, reading,” said Bondurant. “That’s the kind of kid I was—sort of imaginative, quiet, solitary–those things have all served me well when it comes to writing, because that’s the way you have to live.”
'I thought I was a poet for a while...'
After graduating from Mount Vernon High School in 1989, Bondurant attended James Madison University and earned both his bachelor’s and his master’s degrees. He never seriously considered making a career out of writing until he was working towards his master’s degree in literature at JMU with the goal of becoming an English professor.
"I ended up taking a creative writing class there, and I had written a few things here and there,” said Bondurant. “I had written a lot of poetry in undergrad comp. I thought I was a poet for a while, which I’m not. In fiction I started writing a story that I started working up pretty well. I started to get good feedback and I started to consider ‘Well, maybe I could make a go of it, maybe I could really try to write something and get it published.’”
By the time Bondurant graduated with his doctorate from Florida State, the manuscript for his first novel, The Third Translation, was completed. It was sold to Hyperion in 2005 and went on to become an international bestseller.
“At that point I was pretty much firmly committed and I started teaching at various institutions,” said Bondurant.
Before landing at UT-Dallas, he taught at institutions including JMU, Florida State, George Mason University, and SUNY Plattsburgh.
A Closed Set
When Bondurant signed away the rights to his 2008 novel to the production company, he lost all creative control over filming, which can be a terrifying prospect for many artists. But Bondurant has been taking it in stride.
“They take it and do whatever they want with it and there’s nothing you can do about it,” said Bondurant. “It stops becoming about your book and it just becomes a movie project.”
Although Bondurant sold the rights to The Wettest County in the World, Hillcoat and the film’s actors do still keep him in the loop and will sometimes contact him with questions.
“They’ve been very kind to me and sort of accommodating and keeping me involved minimally, which they don’t have to, which I appreciate,” said Bondurant. “Especially since I’m not a famous person or anything. They’re under no obligation. I think it’s a testament to their appreciation of the book.”
'An Embarrassment of Riches'
When asked if he had any fantasy picks for actors who would play the roles of his grandfather and his great uncles, Bondurant paused for a moment, then said, “I can’t really think of any right now because [of] the fact that the actors that they have are so good.”
“I’m really pleased with how [Tom] Hardy plays Forrest, it’s a pretty important role, and Jason Clarke plays Howard. He’s a pretty good up-and-coming actor,” he continued. “Mia Wasikowska and Jessica Chastain—I mean these are all incredible actors and actresses. When you add in Guy Pearce and Gary Oldman, two actors that I really respect, it, to me, is like an embarrassment of riches. It’s a lot of really good actors. I’m really shocked and pleased that this many very good actors want to be involved.”
After filming has wrapped up, the fate of the film lies with the production company. The film could be screened exclusively at film festivals like Sundance. On the other hand, the film could be purchased by a major studio and be shown in multiplex theatres nationwide.
“After the movie’s made, it’s a question of distribution. It is technically an independent film, it’s a smaller budget film,” said Bondurant. “Despite all these great actors, they’re all doing this really cheaply, which is great because that means they really believe in this film.”
“I’m just hoping that the filming goes well and that they are able to secure good distribution, but who knows at this point?”
Long before he became a professor and author, Bondurant was an athlete on the Mount Vernon High School Majors swim team who won MVP his senior year.
“I was doing very well my senior year, and that was a lot of camaraderie and a lot of fun,” said Bondurant of his experiences on the swim team. “We were very good. I mean, we were undefeated for four years in a row in the Gunston District. We were kind of this dominant power, and it was a lot of fun to be part of something like that.”
Bondurant’s family still resides in Northern Virginia.
In his spare time, Bondurant enjoys playing water polo. He also participates in open-water swims and recently completed a four-mile open ocean race off the coast of Ireland.
His next novel, The Night Swimmer, will be released in 2012.
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