Hiddleston was delightful to watch, and I was beginning to wonder if anything was wrong with this man. He never seemed bored, he delighted at things that others barely noticed and he was able to simultaneously live in the moment while studying that same moment. But just as his expressions seemed to exist outside of the terrestrial realm, he too always felt a little out of reach.
One thing I noticed very early on was that Hiddleston had an enthusiasm for Luke the Drifter, an alias under which Williams recorded religious-themed songs and recitations. “Luke the Drifter was a real revelation for me,” he says, “because it’s like suddenly you have a window inside the man. It is something more personal.”
Laughing, Hiddleston then flips a switch, launching into an oration that sounds so much like Williams on his old recordings that it gives me chills. “This song‘s been written by my half-brother, Luke the Drifter. You can get those records for 99 cents on EMM-GEE-EMM (MGM). I don’t care if you buy ’em or not cause strictly I don‘t need the money no more. I don‘t know where they got the Luke part, but I sure do know where they got the drifting part.“
Before I can ask him to stay, Luke leaves the building. Hiddleston refocuses his eyes, continuing on in his native British accent. “There’s basically a massive overwhelming darkness in him that maybe is too dark for selling records at that time, and Luke the Drifter expresses that.”
Hiddleston leans on the side of academic when he talks about Williams, but when Luke is brought up he doesn’t just speak about him, he invites him in. (I prayed the film wouldn’t leave Luke on the cutting room floor, due to run-time constrictions.)
“We have Hank Williams, someone who is confused and charismatic and ambitious and tempted and floored,” Hiddleston says, putting his hands on the back of his head as he thinks out loud. “He’s probably got a hole in his heart that he’s trying to fill, which is why he is so desperate to get on the Opry and be a star. He gets to the Opry and realizes there is nothing there, and that’s a tragedy in a way. It’s like he is so desperate to be in the center of the limelight, and he gets to the center of the limelight and he realizes there is no center. By the time he realizes it, he is too drunk and high and lost — and that’s something very real about the human condition. Even though I’m sure he hurt a lot of people indirectly, I don’t think he ever meant to. There are some people who just lose control and hurt people in the process. So I kind of love him, I love his irreverence, I love his wit.
“It’s like there’s a compulsion towards an exploration of darkness or people who have the courage to lean into it and make no apology or request to be liked,” Hiddleston continues with a pause, and I wonder if he’s talking about himself or Williams.