A new biopic film about one of country music’s most interesting, iconic, influential, and troubled acts is being developed. Real life best friends Ethan Hawke and Alessandro Nivola are teaming up to play Charlie and Ira Louvin, known collectively as The Louvin Brothers, in a film adaptation of Charlie Louvin’s famous account of his life in country music, Satan Is Real.
The Louvin Brothers are given credit for being one of country music’s best examples of blood harmony and close singing, and their beloved recordings went onto greatly influence country, folk, and Gospel artists for decades. Though Charlie was a devout Christian and the duo was just as well known for their Gospel music as secular country, his brother Ira was a troubled soul and an alcoholic, famous for tirades and antics, and for dying in a car crash in 1965. The struggles of the duo also resulted in a lot of the inspiration for their music and the true-to-life cautionary tales, including their signature song, “Satan Is Real.”
“It’s such an important expression to us,” says Ethan Hawke. “It sounds both violent and beautiful and the music should be that. It’s aggressive, it’s electric, it’s strange. It’s not Brooklyn folk rock. It’s not wannabe cool guy country. It’s hillbilly gospel music. They’re singing these songs and then backstage they’re taking speed and hitting on girls and beating the shit out of each other.”
Born Lonnie Loudermilk and Charlie Elzer Loudermilk respectively, the two brothers from Alabama had a string of hits through the 50’s and into the early 60’s, and were asked to join the Grand Ole Opry in 1955. The duo broke up in 1963 due to Ira’s drinking, two years before he died in a car accident. Charlie Louvin would go on to perform as a solo artist, and the duo was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2001.
Ethan says that he will be working with Alessandro Nivola to attempt to perfect the Louvin’s “blood harmony,” and the two will be recording some music to present to potential underwriters for the film’s development. At the moment, Satan Is Real is still in the preliminary stages, with a screenplay being adapted by Jon Raymond and Shelby Gaines from Charlie Louvin’s book. The film is being directed by Phil Morrison, who has worked with Alessandro Nivola before. Ethan Hawke and Alessandro Nivola have also worked with each other previously, and feel they can pull off the chemistry to bring the magic and struggle of the Louvin Brothers to life. They will be presenting the film to buyers at the Cannes Film Festival, which is occurring this week in France.
This will not be the first time the story of the Louvin Brothers will be told in film. Country music filmmaker and videographer Blake Judd released a documentary film in 2011 called Still Rattlin’ The Devil’s Cage in 2011, which profiled Charlie Louvin and featured interviews with George Jones, Emmylou Harris, Marty Stuart, Alison Krauss, and others about the duo’s lasting influence. Blake Judd and co-director Keith Neltner worked closely with Satan Is Real co-author Benjamin Whitmer on the film.
Satan Is Real is still in the early stages, and as we’ve seen with promised biopics on Merle Haggard, and two on George Jones, sometimes these projects can take time to develop, if they ever develop at all. But with the success of biopic films on Queen, Johnny Cash, and others, and the rise in interest in music films like A Star Is Born, the time is hot for telling the story of music in movie form, and The Louvin Brothers definitely have a story worth telling.