NASHVILLE, Tenn (Reuters) - When British actor Tom Hiddleston was tasked with portraying country music legend Hank Williams, whose tragic, short life was marred by adultery, alcohol and drugs, he wanted to do it as objectively as possible.
“It is the responsibility of the actor to tell the truth and to not judge a character,” Hiddleston, who plays Williams in the drama film “I Saw the Light,” told Reuters.
“Everybody has his bad days ... I have something in me that makes sure I can control my impulses.”
“I Saw the Light,” which premiered last week in Nashville, details the meteoric rise and fall of Williams, from his breakthrough in the 1940s to his death at age 29 from heart failure in the back seat of his powder-blue Cadillac on New Year’s Day in 1953.
It is the latest leading role for Hiddleston, who is best known as the villainous Loki in Marvel films, commands a loyal fanbase of ‘Hiddlestoners’ and can currently be seen as the seductive Thomas Sharpe in gothic romance “Crimson Peak.”
The 34-year-old Londoner said he mastered Williams’ southern Alabama drawl with help from Nashville singer-songwriter Rodney Crowell, who schooled him in all things Hank Williams.
”It was like climbing up a mountain,” Hiddleston said.
Williams’ story has been told before, but director Marc Abraham said he tried to understand the contradictions of a man who released God-reflecting tunes like “I Saw The Light,” while boozing, popping pills and womanizing his way through “Lovesick Blues” and “Honky-Tonkin’.”
“We knew he led a troubled, often painful, spontaneous life,” Abraham said.
As his fame rose, Williams’ relationship with his wife Audrey became more tempestuous with his growing reliance on alcohol and painkiller drugs.
“I felt sorry for her,” said Elizabeth Olsen, who plays Audrey.
Just as Williams lived and died after a fast-paced life, Abraham said he drew inspiration from gritty films like 1974’s “Lenny” and 1980’s “Raging Bull” to tell the story, based on Colin Escott’s “Hank Williams: The Biography.”
Hiddleston said the intense shoot, filming more than 150 scenes in 57 locations over 39 days, allowed him to take risks in capturing the “common humanity” of the man who lived with “joy, mischief, rebellion, loneliness, sadness and shame” - much of it self-inflicted.
“I Saw the Light” is due for release next year.
Reporting by Tim Ghianni; Editing by Piya Sinha-Roy and Diane Craft