'The Next Thing You Know, You're Robbing Banks'

Lane Garrison lives a life of prime for 'Bonnie & Clyde'

Lane Garrison (l) with Emile Hirsch in <i>Bonnie & Clyde</i>
Lane Garrison (l) with Emile Hirsch in Bonnie & Clyde

It's been a sticky year for actor Lane Garrison, but a good one. "I'm covered in corn syrup and blood," he cheerfully explained from the set of Robert Rodriguez's TV adaptation of Texican vampire bloodbath From Dusk Till Dawn. When it screens next year, Garrison will be taking on bank robbers as Pete, the ill-fated liquor store clerk. But this weekend he'll be doing the holdups himself as Buck Barrow, elder brother of the infamous heist man Clyde Barrow, in Bonnie & Clyde.

Emulating the multichannel simulcast success of last year's Hatfields & McCoys, the two-part drama screens across A&E, the History Channel, and Lifetime. Yet it's hardly the first time this true crime tale has been told. The story of Bonnie and Clyde has pervaded American culture: From Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway in Arthur Penn's stylish and violent 1967 feature to Beyoncé and Jay Z teaming up for "'03 Bonnie & Clyde," the gun-toting duo have held a thrilling fascination. "People are drawn by the fact that, at its core, it was a love story about how far these people were prepared to go for each other," Garrison reasoned. This was the height of the Great Depression, when gangsters became celebrities. Garrison explained: "John Dillinger and Pretty Boy Floyd had the North, but once those photos of Bonnie on the car were released, they became famous."

Yet from the opening scene, as Clyde Barrow (Emile Hirsch) and Bonnie Parker (Holliday Grainger) ride into a hail of bullets just outside of Gibsland, La., the moral of the story is pretty clear to Garrison: "In the end, crime doesn't pay. Everyone in this film dies."

For Garrison, this isn't some distant myth, but local history. "I'm from Dallas, Texas, where Bonnie and Clyde and Buck were from," he said. "There was a barn five minutes from my house that was their hangout stop, and my grandfather used to take me to what was called the Barrow filling station." What his grandfather knew, and anyone who remembered the era knew, was that the duo blasted through what Clyde called "the dirty Thirties." During the three-month shoot, Garrison and the rest of the crew immersed themselves in the history of the Barrow gang. It started with Jeff Gunn's seminal history of their two-year crime spree, Go Down Together, but Garrison did plenty of his own detective work. "I got to go to the place where they died, visit the museum, talk to people who were distant relatives of them." He called this story "the historical version of what it would have been like. They were pretty dark, pretty intense, doing what it took to survive during the Depression."

The series is as much about Buck's relationship with his brother as it is about Barrow and Parker's bloodstained romance. Before their life of front-page shootouts, the Barrow boys were manual laborers and petty thieves. "It was Buck that pulled Clyde into doing robberies," Garrison said. When they were boys, they raided chickens and turkeys from the neighbors, just to feed the family. "That led to stealing cars, and the next thing you know, you're robbing banks." To create that sense of sibling intimacy, "Emile and I spent almost every waking moment together," said Garrison. Eating, camping, working out ... even going alligator-watching became a bonding experience. Yet coming out of a revelatory performance as grumpy wastrel Lance in Prince Avalanche, Hirsch had a little more star power than Garrison, "so I was already in his shadow." That mirrored the relationship between Buck and Clyde. The older brother, Buck, found that the headline writers were more excited by the shrapnel-whipping, whirlwind romance between Barrow and Parker than the bloody swath cut by the whole Barrow gang. He said, "You can kind of tell I'm being tested, that all the attention is upon him and Bonnie, and me and my wife are being left in the dust."

Unlike Buck, who faded into the back pages of the history books, Garrison looks set to step into the limelight: Next year he stars opposite Kristen Stewart in Peter Sattler's Guantánamo Bay drama Camp X-Ray. Yet, like Buck contending with Clyde's celebrity, on the small screen, Garrison's stepping into some pretty big boots. After all, Gene Hackman scored an Oscar nomination in 1967 for his depiction of Buck, while From Dusk's Pete was played with jittery energy by a young John Hawkes. Garrison laughed. "I'm in good company."

Bonnie & Clyde Part I airs Sunday, Dec. 8, at 8pm on A&E, the History Channel, and Lifetime. Part II screens the following night.

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