THE BOOT – Playing Audrey Williams in the upcoming Hank Williams‘ biopic, I Saw the Light, proved challenging for Elizabeth Olsen. The actress admits that it was tough to know how to best portray the complexity of the country icon’s first wife, to whom he was married for seven years.
“I didn’t know much about Hank and Audrey. I knew who Hank Williams was, [but] I didn’t know who Audrey was until I read the script,” Olsen tells The Boot. “So before doing any research, you just see the relationship on the page, which was a woman who, on the surface, it seems like she’s difficult. She’s demanding, and she has an ego, and it blows up his ego, and she’s stubborn and manipulative.”
However, it only took one read through the script, written by director Marc Abraham, to convince Olsen to take on the role. And when she signed on, Olsen explains, her goal became to “defend” Audrey Williams.
“I read it and felt really sorry for her, and I felt like she had a very difficult situation …,” Olsen says. “Even though there aren’t certain things that I agree with that she fought for, that she fought about, I at least tried to find out why, or what that motivation is.
“I think if you can see two sides of the equation, it makes for a much more interesting dynamic between relationships, or in a film or in drama,” Olsen continues. “I just tried to defend her as much as possible so people could care for her, because in history, people kind of give her a hard time.”
Olsen spent months before filming began doing research, looking wherever she could to find as much information as possible about Audrey Williams.
“The internet has kind of an okay amount of things about Audrey. The documentary that the BBC did about Hank was very helpful, because they do a lot of interviews with people who knew her. So you get to hear how people hear stories about her, which they laugh about how difficult she was, and there are also reportings of interviews she’s done about Hank, in her older age after he passed. And then I also got a good bit from the Country Music Hall of Fame, where they just finished doing a Hank Williams exhibit last year when we were here,” Olsen notes. “… I got to see a lot of personal journals and writing and her business work.
“She was a business woman. She was circling all the top charts: ‘… and here’s Hank, and here’s someone singing one of Hank’s songs,’” Olsen adds. “They’re divorced, and she’s still circling, and it’s all in a big scrapbook.”
Audrey Williams aspired to be a singer as well. Although she lacked her husband’s talent and charisma, in I Saw the Light, Williams spends time alternating between trying to make herself be heard and being angry that Hank Williams’ career is taking off while hers is stagnant. For Olsen, the mediocre singing was perhaps the most arduous part of the role.
“I’m not saying I sing great. I do have vocal control. I know what flat is, I know what sharp is, and I do know how to crack my voice. Those techniques, you learn,” Olsen admits. “So it was a really fun play with Rodney [Crowell], and to try to figure out to the astute musical ear what sounds bad enough, but maybe to the everyday man, it’s not that bad. Because you can’t make her look like an insane person for thinking that she can [sing], and you don’t want to make him look like an insane person [for thinking she can’t], so you try to strike a balance there.
“… Anytime I got Rodney Crowell to laugh, I was like, ‘Great! Let’s stick with that one,’” she says.
I Saw the Light, which also stars Tom Hiddleston as Hank Williams, is set for release on March 25 in New York City, Los Angeles and Nashville, and on April 1 nationwide.