With huge thanks to Sony, here are a few words from Tom on Hank Williams and his role as the singer in I Saw The Light. Be prepared, it’s quite long so it’s also under a read more!
“He was such an extraordinary man”, Tom Hiddleston says of Hank Williams. “In my mind, I always think of him like a firework, a firework that was burning brightly, made people gasp in awe, and gave people delight, but then blazed and burned out very fast”.
Of his decision to accept the role and sing Hank’s songs in the film, he explains, “It’s hard to say why I choose to do the films that I do. It’s hard to say why I play the characters I choose to play. But it’s always something instinctive. It’s a pure gut feeling. ” “There was something in Marc Abraham’s script, which I read for the first time four years ago, in March 2012, which seemed incredibly authentic, which I really connected to.
Marc had written Hank Williams with such compassion and lack of judgement. He’d taken this very famous man – an icon of American music, a legend in songwriting, folk and blues – and he’d written the man behind the icon. He had somehow tapped into the heartbeat of a legend, with all of his vulnerabilities and fallibilities, his weakness, pain and grief, and at the same time, his joy and playfulness, mischief and energy, and whitehot talent.” Hiddleston has a deep passion for music. “I have such respect and admiration for musicians, and they’ve inspired me to do some of the work that I’ve done, or just live the life that I have lived. I think a musician or a singer, as an artist, has nothing to hide behind. There is a raw vulnerability in singing, and especially singing your own songs. It’s expressive of a kind of immediate personal truth.” He applied that passion to studying Hank. “Hank’s truth changed the landscape of American music. He sang what he knew about. And what he knew about was going out and meeting girls, getting into trouble, falling in love and falling out of love, loss and loneliness—’lonesomeness,’ as he would have it.
And it was so simple. His songs were so simple, but they were so true. And I think what people connected to in his music was the authenticity of it.” “If you think about where Hank sits in the development of 20 th Century music, and it was really an education for me in many respects, the more research I did. Hank took the blues and infused folk music with this blues rhythm. When I hear the chorus of “Move It On Over”, I can hear “Rock Around The Clock” coming round the corner. Hiddleston notes that they had “the same melody and the same chord progression,” calling it “formative rock and roll.” “When you read interviews with Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen and Keith Richards, they all talk about the influence of Hank Williams; that Hank was the first guy – the first guy doing a particular kind of thing.
And so you realize he’s this link in a chain, this crucial link: a cornerstone in music history. If he hadn’t done what he’d done and written those songs, then the history of contemporary music and rock ‘n’ roll would be completely different. “All of those songs that the greatest singers in other genres covered. Ray Charles sang “Your Cheatin’ Heart” and Tony Bennett sang “Cold, Cold Heart” and everybody sang “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.” Hiddleston shared Abraham’s belief that Hank’s music and personal life—the ups and downs– were deeply intertwined. “It was very important to tell the truth. I felt, and I know Marc felt, a great responsibility to Hank Williams, to the legacy of Hank Williams, to the idea of Hank Williams and to his family: simply to tell the truth.
We didn’t want to edit his life story in any way. We didn’t want to lionize him too much, but we also didn’t want just to tell the sad story.” Hank’s interactions with the women in his life and his producer-mentor, songwriter Fred Rose, himself a recovering alcoholic, also fascinated Hiddleston. “Hank was surrounded by very strong women,” he declares, “by his first wife Audrey and his mother Lillie and later by Billie Jean, all these women fighting for his fortune and his success. Very, very few men he would listen to. His father clearly wasn’t a major figure in his life, and I think he respected Fred Rose as a songwriter and as a producer.
If he were going to take constructive criticism, he would take it from Fred. Fred had been down that road himself. It was really important to have him in the film because there was nobody else to temper that direction.” Preparation for the role took time, Hiddleston explains. “Before I started, I filled myself up with everything I could find about Hank Williams: his circumstances, his rise and fall, what his hits were, how he wrote those hits. And it just goes to show there are no hard and fast rules in show business, in entertainment or in making art, and it’s sometimes the things that the experts don’t think is going to work. It catches fire and spreads across a nation.” The actor also feels the film reveals details about the man not widely known. “I think there are many people are familiar with his music, and perhaps fewer people are familiar with the circumstances from which his music arose. People maybe knew he drank, but didn’t know he had Spina bifida occulta. They knew he wrote great songs, songs that you’d tap your feet to, but they didn’t know that he died at the age of 29. They may not have known he was married twice.” “I think people perhaps don’t know his struggle, a huge struggle within himself between art and commerce.
And as soon as he became a star, it’s almost as if the engine behind his stardom started to eat him up from the inside. He didn’t know how to stay true to himself, while also becoming commercially successful.” “I put a huge amount of pressure on myself as an actor with everything I do. I knew that we had an extraordinary crew: Dante Spinotti, a truly amazing cinematographer, whom I have respected all my life; Merideth Boswell, a great production designer, who was already building incredible sets. I’d already met Lahly Poore-Ericson, our costume designer, who was making Nudie suits for me to wear. But I knew there was one man who was going to have to sing these songs and that was me. I just had to dig in and do the work.
I had to give myself a little talking to, and say: ‘Are you going to do this, or not?'” “It was a very handmade film. It was just a couple of us, really – a couple of us who felt it was worth doing, and we put our best foot forward and we did it. It really felt like that – felt like a small family, which is why it’s amazing to me that it’s having this extraordinary release by Sony Classics.” “I think the influence of Hank Williams is too great on American culture, so to misrepresent him in any way – I didn’t feel we had the right to do that. I felt a personal duty and a responsibility to play him honestly; to commit myself to looking like him, to sounding like him, to playing like him, to feeling what he felt, and putting myself through the paces that he put himself through. He brought so much joy to so many people from so much pain.” “I Saw The Light is how that cost him his life in the end.”