Actress Holliday Grainger seeks to define real 'Bonnie'

The Fresno BeeDecember 3, 2013 


McCLATCHY-Emile Hirsch, left, and Holliday Grainger play the notorious couple in the two-part miniseries "Bonnie and Clyde."


There's a scene in the two-part A&E offering "Bonnie & Clyde" where Bonnie Parker (Holliday Grainger) is trying to decide if it sounds better to say "Clyde and Bonnie" or "Bonnie and Clyde." Bonnie definitely comes first in this cable production to be simulcast on A&E, History and Lifetime.

The Bonnie that Grainger plays is the driving force behind one of the most famous criminal couples because of Parker's obsession to become famous. When her efforts to become an actress fail, Bonnie hooks up with a smooth-talking Clyde Barrow (Emile Hirsch) to go on a crime spree that ends with one of the bloodiest curtain calls in law enforcement history. Along with Grainger and Hirsch, the production stars Holly Hunter, William Hurt, Sarah Hyland, Elizabeth Reaser, Lane Garrison, Austin Hebert and Dale Dickey.

The fact that this four-hour cable production offers a detailed back story about the notorious criminals — particularly Parker — is a big change from the 1967 movie starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway that deals chiefly with their lives of crime.

"Because we start with them so young, it's an opportunity to see who they are. See their passions," Grainger says. "There's a sweetness and scariness in Bonnie. When I first read the script, I didn't like her. I thought she was very selfish and manipulative. She seemed so shallow and vain.

"Then I read a few biographies about her and I read her diary and some of the letters she wrote. That's where I saw the innocence and sweetness in her. She was just a lost little girl who needed to find love. I think she's trying to get what she wants and does that by reinventing herself all the time."

Acting obstacles

Grainger's audition for "Bonnie & Clyde" was a high-tech experience. She lives in England, so flying to the U.S. for every audition was impractical. Instead, producers sent the script to her and she taped herself doing one of the scenes.

The "Bonnie and Clyde" production team saw her self-shot audition and one Skype session later, she had the job.

Before stepping into the role, the British actress had to learn a Texas dialect. That meant working with a voice coach and then listening to those around her with similar accents. To make sure her own accent didn't slip through, Grainger continued to use the Texas drawl even when cameras weren't rolling.

Varied career

Grainger started acting when she was 6. She says she is drawn to the craft because, "I love how everyone is working toward the same goal and getting lost in someone else."

Grainger has found fame with roles in films like "Jane Eyre" and "Great Expectations" and a memorable turn as Lucrezia Borgia in the TV series "The Borgias."

As for going from playing the scandalous Borgia to the infamous Parker, Grainger says she always has been attracted to strong characters who are both manipulative and sweet.

There was only one time while filming "Bonnie & Clyde" that Grainger thought she might have made a mistake taking on the role. That came during filming of the dramatic shootout that ends the life of the criminal couple.

The two actors and the car were covered with hundreds of special effects explosives to show the impact of the bullets fired at the car. Grainger noticed that the crew — many wearing protective masks and ear plugs — kept moving further away from the car before filming started.

"We couldn't wear any protection because the camera was on us. We had to get this scene in one shot because they only had one car. The director said that if it got uncomfortable I should give a nod and they would stop.

"I knew once we started, there would be no stopping," Grainger says. "It was so terrifying shooting that scene, no acting was involved."

Show info

"Bonnie & Clyde": 9 p.m. Sunday and Monday, Dec. 8-9, on A&E, Lifetime and History


TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at

The Fresno Bee is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service