Country music legend Hank Williams is the subject of the new biopic I Saw the Light, a movie that deviates from the traditional cradle-to-the-grave structure and instead offers a more focused look at seminal points in the singer’s life.
British actor Tom Hiddleston not only plays Williams but also sings his music onscreen, a deliberate choice that was make-or-break for director and screenwriter Marc Abraham. Hiddleston may be primarily known for playing the villainous Loki in the The Avengers and Thor films but he was more than game to fill Hank’s robust shoes and try something new.
Tom Hiddleston and Marc Abraham recently traveled to San Francisco to promote I Saw the Light. We discussed the rigorous preparation to play Hank Williams and why when it comes to Marvel films you should never believe what you read on the internet. This is a transcription of that conversation.
Q: You are obviously going from city to city answering a lot of the same questions. Is that something you can get used to or do you see it as part of the job?
Tom Hiddleston: I didn’t know it was part of the job until it became part of the job. Sometimes it’s not the easiest part of the job because I hate repeating myself but sometimes that’s what you need to do. I always try to keep it fresh.
Marc Abraham: I definitely think it’s part of the job. I think if it were up to me personally I don’t think I would do this as much as I’m asked to do it but I still take it very seriously.
Hiddleston: It’s also important to give context to the work. It’s an unrealistic dream to think that your work will be seen without your help delivering it into the world. It’s important to meet people halfway.
Q: Speaking of meeting halfway, how did the two of you come to an understanding of how to portray Hank Williams onscreen?
Abraham: I know Tom had a lot of preparation to do and I think he’s done a tremendous job with the material. As a director and writer I needed to make sure the material was enough to tell a good story.
Hiddleston: I definitely felt the responsibility to get that right. If you’re making a film about someone you definitely have to try to understand their profession. Hank wrote music as naturally as we breathe oxygen and without Marc and his collaborators I couldn’t have done it. I’m naturally a baritone and Hank is a tenor so you have to make strides to physically make a different sound. The odd thing about music is we rarely listen to live music, it’s all electronic or digitally heard. The physical act of performing live music takes breath and control. I found that surprising and fulfilling because as an actor there’s no hiding place. You have to commit and it’s the hardest I’ve worked on anything. I worked on this for four months and nothing else.
Q: You’ve said before that you didn’t want to do a cradle-to-grave story with Hank’s life so how did you decide which aspects of his life to focus on?
Hiddleston: The blueprint for me was in the screenplay. What I found so fascinating is that Marc had taken Hank Williams off the pedestal and tried to explore the man behind the myth. The only thing I wanted to add was more music. Once I realized I could sing I was like a kid with a new toy and wanted to sing more songs but Marc realized he couldn’t fill a two hour movie with just singing.
Q: Why not? You’ve got a great singing voice in this film.
Hiddleston: (laughs) Thank you but I don’t think our financial backers would have appreciated a two hour film of just me singing.
Q: How confident were you with your singing voice before starting the film?
Hiddleston: Not very. There were moments of doubt but there are always moments of doubt in the best endeavors. I believe that if I work hard enough at something I’ll get there. I’ve always had a musical ear so that helped as well.
Q: Excuse me for switching gears to the Marvel universe but you’ve been quoted as saying that the upcoming Thor: Ragnarok will be your last time playing Loki. Is that true?
Hiddleston: Don’t believe everything you read on the internet.
Q: Fair enough. Does that mean you are contractually obligated to do more films beyond the next Thor?
Hiddleston: Honestly, Marco, I don’t know. It’s very difficult to be precise and specific in ways that people would like me to be. I understand the enthusiasm and the curiosity in the complexity and the detail of the Marvel universe as it transpires in movies. But I’m careful to feed that curiosity because I worry that in spite of the enthusiasm it diminishes the movies. If you know everything going in I just don’t want to know that information so I’m very hesitant to put it out there. I don’t want to spoil it for anybody. I knew about two years before it happened that Clark Gregg was killed in The Avengers and if I had ever let that information out it would have completely ruined the experience of watching The Avengers. So to your point, I may or may not know how many times I’m going to play Loki again but I’m not going to tell you. I’m not trying to be difficult.
Q: Not at all. If anything that’s a very honest answer and I respect your position.
Hiddleston: Thank you. When it comes to my relationship with Marvel, whenever I have said something it usually becomes expanded and misshapen and it then has no bearing to what I originally said at all. I have a pretty good sense of what my future with Marvel is but I don’t think it’s worth telling anyone because it may change. They are very smart over there and like any creative process, they are free to change their minds. Throughout the Marvel universe Loki has changed from movie to movie. Sometimes he’s even changed in the middle of movies in ways you may not even know.
I Saw the Light is now playing in limited release.