It was 5 years ago that cinema goers became familiar with the name Tom Hiddleston. Although having appeared prominently in the British theatre, being nominated for the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Newcomer in a Play for his roles in both Cymbeline and Othello (winning for the former), he would explode onto the Hollywood scene thanks to his devilishly charming Loki in Thor; a role he owes to fellow thesp Sir Kenneth Branagh.
Since then he has worked with Woody Allen, become a staple of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, starred as a romantic rocker/vampire in Only Lovers Left Alive, led Gothic master Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak, continued to perform Shakespeare in The Hollow Crown series, and is currently dominating our Sunday nights in The Night Manager.
Yet it is his role in the upcoming I Saw the Light that may prove to be his toughest challenge. I Saw the Light, a biopic about Country music legend and poet Hank Williams, offered Hiddleston new challenges. Not least of these challenges was singing. In an interview with Billboard, Hiddleston explained more about director Marc Abraham’s approach:
“Marc was always adamant that he wanted to cast an actor who could sing, not a singer who could act. He kept talking about the contradiction between [Williams’] charisma and his vulnerability. And then, not secondary to that, I had to get up there and sing those songs. I was more nervous about it than he was”.
Doubt was something which troubled Hiddleston until he met with country musician Rodney Crowell, who, Hiddleston claims, “gave me the key into the music and I felt like it was going to be a big challenge, but a challenge that I could take on”.
Inhabiting the body of another is always a challenge for actors, especially when that person is shrouded in their own self-contained myth. When we think of great music biopics and the actors that star in them, it is the ones where the actors reflect their subject convincingly and truthfully that stick in our minds. When approaching his preparation, Hiddleston isolated himself and immersed himself in the music of Hank Williams:
“It was the only way to do it, really. The scale of it was so monumental as was my sense of duty and obligation to Hank Williams and his legacy and his family and to the thousands upon thousands of people who love his music”.
In his isolation, he joined Rodney Crowell on tour (even performing songs with him) and he changed his vocal range from a deep baritone to Williams’ famous tenor. As he continued to explore the character of Hank Williams, he began to see similarities between himself and Williams:
“I think he wrestled with that tension between his artistic sensibility and the commercial demand. If you’re a professional performer, sometimes you’re looked upon to deliver something you don’t feel like doing and you have to do it because there’s a paying audience out there. Have I felt that? Absolutely”.
Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash in I Walk the Line; Cate Blanchett as Bob Dylan in I’m Not There; Angela Bassett as Tina Turner in What’s Love Got to Do with It; Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles in Ray. They’re all considered some of the greatest performances that those actors have ever given. And if Tom Hiddleston’s commitment to the story of Hank Williams tells us anything, it’s that I Saw the Light and Hiddleston’s performance will stand among these other great films.
I Saw the Light arrives in U.S. cinemas today and you can watch the trailer below.