This weekend, one of the patriarchs of country music comes to life on the big screen, as British actor Tom Hiddleston plays Hank Williams in the new film I Saw the Light. Hiddleston very ably does his own singing in the movie, which focuses on Hank’s life from the time he first sang on the radio in Montgomery, Alabama, to his return to his hometown in January of 1953 after his death. The roughly two-hour movie pays particular attention to Luke the Drifter’s fraught relationships with his mother and his wife Audrey.
Hiddleston, who’s perhaps best known for playing Loki in the Avengers movies, knew it would be no easy task to play the man who is perhaps the most mythic figure in country music history. But something one of Hank’s contemporaries said helped set him on the right path.
“You know there’s that amazing quote I found from a friend of his, Danny Dill, who said, ‘Legends don’t know they’re legends when they’re being made.’ They’re just people. They’re just folks,” he recalls. “And to start with that — to just try and have compassion for the man, a young guy trying to make his way in the world with a particular gift, and to put myself in his shoes, to try not to think of the icon, but think of the husband, the father, the musician on the road, you know, trying to make a life for himself: In a way, I had to normalize him, to take him off the pedestal and make him real,” he says of his approach.
As someone who didn’t grow up in the States, Hiddleston knew it was crucial to absorb as much of the culture of Music City as possible. He did that while the film’s music producer, an eighties hitmaker himself, coached him to sing like Hank.
“I spent about six weeks before we started principal photography on the film. I came here and I lived with Rodney Crowell, and it was important to me to come here to do my homework,” he says. “I needed to understand Nashville’s culture and the tradition of music here and the power of Hank Williams and the impact he had, before we went off down to Shreveport, Louisiana to shoot the film.”
Hiddleston — who clearly takes the musical component very seriously — says he never even considered not doing his own singing.
“It would have been inauthentic, it would’ve been — it just wouldn’t have been right,” he asserts. “If you’re gonna make a film about Hank Williams, you have to commit to the part, to translating the part of that music. If I was gonna lip-sync, I’d just recommend that everyone buy the Greatest Hits, you know. There’s no need for me to be there. What I was trying to do, I was trying to get inside the authenticity and the sincerity of the songwriting. And hopefully with my performance and in the film, try to communicate the power of that, the power he had.”
You can check out Tom Hiddleston’s singing for yourself this weekend, as I Saw the Light is new in theaters all across the country.
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