“I’m as respectful of the man’s work ethic as I’m mystified by his transformational skills. Without a doubt, the filmmakers chose the right actor for the job.“
This is the long and short of how Rodney Crowell feels about the job British actor Tom Hiddleston is doing to morph himself into Hank Williams for the upcoming biopic I Saw The Light based on Colin Escott’s biography. Rodney Crowell was hired on by the production company of the movie to be the Executive Music Producer and Tom Hiddleston’s personal voice coach for his Hank Williams transformation.
In a lengthy post on Rodney’s Facebook page from earlier this week, the country/Americana performer expounded about his experiences with Tom while in training for the part.
During the month of September 2014, our house in Tennessee became the base camp for Tom Hiddleston’s steady transformation into Hank Williams. I’d been hired by a film company—whose vision of shining a gritty light on the life and times of Hank Williams piqued my interest no end—to produce the music and assist their leading man in finding his way into the heart of one of the greatest singer-songwriters of all time.
The classically trained British actor arrived in Nashville on the fourth day of the month and the very next day climbed on a tour bus bound for Michigan and the Wheatland Music Festival, his traveling companions Claudia, myself, and a four-piece band consisting of Jerry Roe, Byron House, Pat Buchannan and Steve Fishell. Just minutes before taking part in an afternoon workshop with Sarah Jarosz, whose permission I had sought first, I asked Tom if he’d like to join us onstage and sing “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” a Hank Williams song I’d heard him practicing on the bus. I was surprised when he said yes and skillfully performed the tune before what must have been 1500 people. Later that night, with my band on the main stage, and with very little urging from me, he rendered a joyful version of “Move It On Over.” Afterward, brimming with delight, he admitted, rather boyishly, that he’d never in his life performed with a band and had loved it.
The pick to have the part of Hank Williams played by Hiddleston has been a controversial one in some sectors. Hank’s grandson, Hank Williams III, has been a vocal opponent of the casting, saying that it would take an American to understand the unique the role of playing country music’s first superstar. Hank3 has also criticized the pick of Rodney Crowell as Hiddleston’s vocal coach. Hank3 told Saving Country Music, “It definitely puts Rodney Crowell in a strange position. I’m definitely not wanting to be hard on him. But if if Rodney Crowell is the voice coach, it says a lot right there … No disrespect to Rodney Crowell, but there’s two Hank Williams walking this earth right now.”
When video surfaced of Hiddleston performing at the Wheatland Music Festival, the debate started anew about Hiddleston’s abilities to assume the role realistically and believably. Producers for the film have said that Hiddleston will be performing multiple Hank Williams songs live in the movie, and “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” “Move It On Over,” and “Lovesick Blues” are the three songs that have come up multiple times as being potential movie cuts.
Rodney Crowell went on to speak specifically to Hiddleston’s dedication and work ethic for the role.
On a typical day in September, I watched him sit for a wardrobe fitting, read through four hours worth of key scenes with the director and leading lady, spend another two hours with a dialect coach, and then, in order to lose the weight needed to look Hank Williams gaunt on screen, run seven wicked miles over hilly Tennessee terrain. With those chores done, he’d then commit to six more hours of singing, over and over again, a very hard to master song like ”Lovesick Blues.” And then, when he finally unlocked the mystery of yodeling the blues, hillbilly style, and was treated to a playback of his performance responded by saying “I can do it better, let me go again.” Then came a late dinner, wolfed down before giving in to a few hours sleep. After nearly a month spent collaborating with this gifted artist, I’m as respectful of the man’s work ethic as I’m mystified by his transformational skills. Without a doubt, the filmmakers chose the right actor for the job.
I Saw The Light is set to begin filming in Louisiana in mid to late October, and the casting of local extras has begun. Elizabeth Olsen has also been selected to play the role of Audrey Williams, Hank’s wife.
The debate will likely rage over the pick of Tom Hiddleston to play Hank Williams well after the movie is shot and released, but Rodney Crowell makes it clear that he believes they found the right man.