In “I Saw the Light,” which premiered Friday night at the Toronto International Film Festival, Elizabeth Olsen plays Audrey Mae Williams, the first wife of legendary country singer-songwriter Hank Williams.
Olsen’s powerful performance portrays Audrey as someone who is strong-centered, but at a certain point, becomes fed-up with her famous husband’s cheating and hard drinking. She ends up divorcing him. Williams (played by Tom Hiddleston) would die tragically at the age of 29.
But, like Hiddleston, who really sings the Williams songs in the movie, Olsen gets to show off her vocal skills, too — but in a different fashion.
Audrey aspires to be a country singer and performs duets with Williams at the gin joints Williams plays at during the early stages of his career.
When Audrey gets increasingly serious about her career and wants to sing with Williams at his radio gigs, things don’t go so well. While belting out the songs in a high-pitched wail, even Williams can’t defend his wife when she’s finally told she can’t continue to perform alongside her husband.
Olsen said singing badly on purpose was a lot of fun.
“It was very freeing,” she told Business Insider. “[Tom] is trying to sound like someone so iconic, I’m trying to sound like someone who it’s even hard to find sound clippings of.”
Though Olsen managed to track down some recordings of Audrey singing, she was able to take liberties in how Audrey would sound.
The bigger challenge was making sure not to make Audrey sound too awful.
“In the movie when she sings in the household and in front of people you can enjoy listening to her, so we had to make sure a general person would think she’s okay,” Olsen told BI. “But when she starts singing for people that work in the industry and who have a musical ear, it had to be like, ‘She’s never going to be successful.’ So that was the balance.”
Olsen is no stranger to singing on screen. She did it in “Very Good Girls,” an indie film in which she co-starred with Dakota Fanning, that was released last year.
But singing badly on purpose in “I Saw the Light” was more fun.
“There’s so much humor in it,” she said. “You need that in a film with a lot of sadness.”
“I Saw the Light” opens in theaters November 27.