Ethan Hawke and Alessandro Nivola are teaming up in “Satan Is Real,” the story of the Louvin brothers. The real-life best friends will portray Charlie and Ira Louvin, influential country musicians whose relationship is forged by love, hate, jealousy, and alcohol.
In an interview with Variety, Hawke and Nivola said they hoped to achieve a music term called “blood harmony” in their performances. It’s a term that describes the kind of harmonizing that can be achieved when family members sing together, because their genetic link allows them to share the same tone in their voice.
“It’s such an important expression to us,” said 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.”
The film will be directed by Phil Morrison, who previously worked with Nivola on “Junebug.” Jon Raymond and Shelby Gaines are writing the screenplay drawing on Charlie Louvin’s adaptation. Protagonist Pictures is handling sales of the film.
The brothers may have been related, but they had dramatically different personalities. Charlie Louvin was an honest Christian man and churchgoing singer, and his brother Ira had the devil in him, known for smashing his mandolin to splinters onstage and wrecking havoc in his wake.
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“It’s ultimately a tragic story but it needs to be injected with a kind of wit,” said Nivola.
The film’s producers include Frida Torresblanco for Braven Films, Ryan Hawke for Under the Influence Productions, Jeff Elliott for Off the Pier Productions, and Nivola for King Bee Productions. Executive producers are Jason Blum of Blumhouse, as well as Eric Laufer and Giovanna Randall from Braven Films.
The brothers may have been known for their buttermilk-smooth harmonies, but their personal lives were filled with sturm und drang.
“They’re singing these songs and then backstage they’re taking speed and hitting on girls and beating the shit out of each other,” said Hawke.
The two actors will be presenting the film to buyers at Cannes. In order to draw interest, they headed to the studio to record some of the singers’ work.
“We wanted to show the financiers that we can do it and it will be good,” said Hawke.
Nivola said that acting isn’t all that different from being a musician, even though one medium demands that a performer be able to sing on key.
“Creating a compelling scene is just like performing a song,” he said. “You have to choose the climactic moments. You have to find the right rhythms.”
It helps that the actors have been longtime friends since 2010 when Nivola starred in the Off Broadway revival of Sam Shepard’s “A Lie of the Mind,” which Hawke directed. Later, Hawke moved his family to the same Brooklyn neighborhood where Nivola lives.
“We like to drink beer and play guitar,” said Nivola. “Now we’ll be doing it for work.”
Hawke said that the goal is that the musical sequences will help chart the brothers’ deteriorating relationship much as the boxing sequences in “Raging Bull” served as metaphors for boxer Jake Lamotta’s problems with his brother and wife.
“We want to put all our love and disappointments and all the real stuff of life into the film,” said Hawke.
Photo credit: Jen Maler