×

‘I Saw the Light’ Director on Channeling Hank Williams’ Attitude

I Saw the Light” made its world premiere Friday at the Toronto Film Festival, 50 years after  “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” the first major film release on the life and death of country star Hank Williams, and almost anyone who cares about country music, the life and legacy of Williams is keenly interested to see if the film’s writer-director, Marc Abraham, succeeded in capturing the passion that made Williams the great talent and tragic figure whose songs and records continue to move us today.

Abraham has a couple of decades of Hollywood film producing experience under his belt, but is still new the directing game. Still, the Hollywood veteran grew up in Louisville, Ky., and listened to plenty of country music over the years.

“About seven or eight years ago, some people in Nashville came to me for advice about how to get a movie going about Hank, and the more I thought about it, the more I thought, ‘Why am I trying to figure it out?’ ” he recalled.

Although those conversations did not lead anywhere, Williams was stuck in Abraham’s mind. A few years later he started working on a screenplay about Williams, one that would give the audience a real feel for this troubled singer.

“I tried to show his attitude,” Abraham said. “I mean, he was a recalcitrant guy. So when I started working on the film, (like Hank, I thought) ‘This is the way I’m gonna do it and if you don’t like it, go screw yourself!’”

He had a couple of things going for him when he started working on the film. First, he had Troy Tomlinson, president of Sony/ATV Music, the company that publishes Williams’ catalog of songs. Before Sony, Tomlinson had worked for Acuff-Rose, the publisher that had signed Williams as a writer back in the mid-1940s. For Tomlinson, the life of Williams was a key part of his company’s — and his — institutional memory.

“After I wrote the screenplay I gave it to Troy to read and he was captivated with it,” Abraham said.“With his backing and support, I moved forward.”

Abraham’s primary source for the screenplay was “Hank Williams: The Biography,” by Colin Escott with George Merritt and William Macewen. That book, published in 1994, is thought by many to be the best of the Williams biographies, and Abraham felt confident that it would not lead him astray.

Also, he said, “I was lucky. I put the movie together with independent financing, Bron Studios in Vancouver, and Ratpac Entertainment in L.A.”

He felt they gave him maximum support and allowed him to operate without creative interference to work on a project he loved.

Sony Classics releases the film, starring Tom Hiddleston as the iconic country star, on Nov. 27.

Every real country fan knows Hank Williams died Jan. 1, 1953, in the back seat of a Cadillac. Perhaps “I Saw the Light” will give us a profound understanding of why.

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • Amanda Awards

    ‘Out Stealing Horses’ Tops Norway’s 2019 Amanda Awards

    HAUGESUND, Norway —  Hans Petter Moland’s sweeping literary adaptation “Out Stealing Horses” put in a dominant showing at Norway’s Amanda Awards on Saturday night, placing first with a collected five awards, including best Norwegian film. Celebrating its 35th edition this year, the Norwegian industry’s top film prize helped kick off the Haugesund Film Festival and [...]

  • Editorial use onlyMandatory Credit: Photo by

    Richard Williams, 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit' Animator, Dies at 86

    Renowned animator Richard Williams, best known for his work on “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” died Friday at his home in Bristol, England, Variety has confirmed. He was 86. Williams was a distinguished animator, director, producer, author and teacher whose work has garnered three Oscars and three BAFTA Awards. In addition to his groundbreaking work as [...]

  • Instinct

    Locarno Film Review: 'Instinct'

    Now that “Game of Thrones” has finally reached its conclusion, releasing its gifted international ensemble into the casting wilds, will Hollywood remember just what it has in Carice van Houten? It’s not that the statuesque Dutch thesp hasn’t been consistently employed since her startling 2006 breakout in Paul Verhoeven’s “Black Book,” or even that she’s [...]

  • Good Boys Movie

    Box Office: 'Good Boys' Eyes Best Original Comedy Opening of 2019

    Universal’s “Good Boys” is surpassing expectations as it heads toward an estimated $20.8 million opening weekend at the domestic box office following $8.3 million in Friday ticket sales. That’s well above earlier estimates which placed the film in the $12 million to $15 million range, marking the first R-rated comedy to open at No. 1 [...]

  • Pedro Costa’s 'Vitalina Varela' Wins at

    Pedro Costa’s 'Vitalina Varela' Triumphs at Locarno Film Festival

    The 72nd Locarno Film Festival drew to a close Saturday with Portuguese auteur Pedro Costa’s dark and detached film “Vitalina Varela” coming away with several awards together with superlatives from segments of the hardcore cinephile crowd, including jury president Catherine Breillat. In announcing the Golden Leopard prize for the film, as well as best actress [...]

  • Vitalina Varela

    Locarno Film Review: 'Vitalina Varela'

    Frequently beautiful compositions and the theatrical use of a fierce kind of artifice have long been the hallmarks of Portuguese auteur Pedro Costa, regarded by a small but influential group of aesthetes as one of the great filmmakers of our era. For those in tune with his vision, the director’s films offer an exciting lesson [...]

  • Notre dame

    Locarno Film Review: 'Notre dame'

    Not to be too cynical about it, but might the recent horrific fire in Paris’ cathedral attract audiences to a film in which the gothic gem plays a major role? It’s likely a wiser marketing strategy than promoting the unrelenting silliness of Valerie Donzelli’s oh-so-kooky comedy “Notre dame,” the writer-director-star’s return to contemporary Paris following [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content