Hank Williams Biopic ‘I Saw the Light’ Premieres in Nashville
A touch of Hollywood came to Nashville Saturday night (Oct. 17), as the stars of the new Hank Williams biopic I Saw the Light visited Music City to premiere the film.
I Saw the Light stars British actor Tom Hiddleston as the late, great singer-songwriter. Some Williams aficionados — including his grandson, Hank III — initially decried Hiddleston's casting, though his performance in the film has generated substantial buzz for its dead-on accuracy and subtle nuance.
"A great weakness of my character is that when people tell me I can't do something, it's like a red rag to a bull," Hiddleston laughingly tells Taste of Country at the premiere. "It makes me want to do it even more."
"I expected [that reaction]. There's this slightly sensationalizing debate that happens every time a Brit plays an American or an American play a Brit. That happened to Meryl Streep," he adds with another laugh. "She played Margaret Thatcher, and everyone in England [is] going, 'Nooo, it's Meryl Streep playing Margaret Thatcher.' So as soon as I signed up, I understood the enormity of my responsibility, and it took me a while to fully say yes, because I knew that once I said yes, I was going to have to cancel everything else in my life and make this a priority, because Hank Williams means so much to so many people. He's an icon, and he's left a legacy in American music which is evergreen."
The task in front of Hiddleston could have been daunting, but it's a testament to his commitment that he not only overcomes those concerns with his performance in the film, by just a few scenes into the movie, it's virtually impossible to picture any other actor in the role. He achieved that transformation by "changing the way I look, changing the way I sound ... getting under the skin of his particular artistic spirit and music and the culture and honoring that, doing right by him. It was challenging — of course it was — doing something like this isn't easy, but it's the best kind of work," Hiddleston adds. "It's the sort of work you dream of as an actor."
Doing something like this isn't easy, but ... it's the sort of work you dream of as an actor.
The film is based on the 1994 Williams biography by Colin Escott, George Merritt and William MacEwen. Elizabeth Olsen stars alongside Hiddleston as Williams’ first wife, Audrey. Bradley Whitford also stars as music publisher and songwriter Fred Rose, Davis Krumholz plays New York journalist James Dolan and Cherry Jones portrays Williams’ mother, Lillie Skipper. Rodney Crowell served as the musical director for the movie.
Written and directed by Marc Abraham, I Saw the Light focuses on the years between Williams' marriage to Audrey and his death on New Year's Day in 1953 at the age of 29, chronicling both his stellar professional career and turbulent private life, which included several stormy romantic entanglements, as well as medical problems that both contributed to, and were exacerbated by alcohol and drug abuse. Abraham says finding a balance between the personal and professional aspects of Williams' life was his main objective.
"I could tell the personal relationships," Abraham tells us. "That's real — the wives, the relationships, the battles, the personal demons that he had to deal with. And I could tell about the music. So those are the two things I decided to do."
The writer-director chose not to attempt to psychoanalyze Williams in the film. "I know people make movies, and they say, 'This happened, and this became this.' I don't have an answer to that," he reflects. "I just decided, I'm gonna show the personal relationships that all of us are very familiar with ... man and woman, trying to get along, trying to make our lives work with demanding professions. I'm gonna show that, and then I'm gonna show the music, and I'm gonna let the audience put those two things together. I pared it down to that, and that's what the movie is about. So if anyone wants that movie, that's what they've got."
I Saw the Light is slated to open in New York, L.A. and Nashville on March 25 and will expand to other cities afterward. Take a look at a clip from I Saw the Light here, and see stills from the production below.
See Pictures From the Film