Who Should Play Hank?

hank williams

Tom Hiddleston, an English actor best known for playing Loki in the Thor and Avengers movies, has been cast to play country music icon Hank William Sr. in an upcoming movie about Williams’ life.

Hank Williams’ grandson, Hank Williams III, recently made waves when he panned the selection of Hiddleston and suggested that the American icon should be played by an American, preferably a Southerner. (Go figure.)

Williams III, often affectionately referred to as Hank 3, is an accomplished musician in his own right, and one who apparently inherited a heaping helping of his granddaddy’s notorious rebellious streak. It is this rebellious streak that likely made Hank 3 willing to speak out in such a politically incorrect manner in our increasingly PC censorious society. As a point of reference, Hank 3’s official website lists TakiMag regular Jim Goad as a friend.

I agree with Hank 3. While I have previously made my distaste for super hero movies known, I don’t think I’m holding Hiddleston’s obnoxious character Loki against him. Hiddleston has the frame to play the gaunt country music legend, but as a matter of principle, I think an American icon should be played by an American as politically incorrect a thought as that may be today. I doubt the Brits would take kindly to Churchill being played by an American.

Some who know me may object that I don’t seem to have a problem with English actors playing Rick Grimes or The Governor in my beloved Walking Dead TV series, but that’s different. In that situation they are playing characters, not actual historical figures. I wouldn’t support David Morrissey playing Elvis as much as I loved him as The Governor.

That said, when I expressed in another venue my agreement with Hank 3, it prompted an inquiry. “Who then should play Williams Sr., especially if you narrow the candidates down to Southerners?”

This question got me thinking.

I’m not a pop-culture fanatic so my “off the top of my head” repertoire is somewhat limited, but I do like movies, and I suspect my knowledge of Hollywood actors is at least average. Off the top of my head, I couldn’t really answer his question.

I don’t agree with Hank 3’s suggestion of Matthew McConaughey. It may surprise many, but Hank Sr. passed away when he was only 29, and while he looked older than his age, likely due to a lot of hard living, I think McConaughey is too old for the role. With modern make-up techniques, I do think the role is available to actors into their upper 30s.

My inquisitor suggested Josh Holloway of Lost fame. Holloway was born in California but was raised in Georgia and even went to my alma mater UGA for a year, but Holloway is over 40 and doesn’t seem physically slight enough to pull off the role, barring some McConaughey Dallas Buyers Club style weight loss.

Reportedly Hiddleston will sing in the movie. If singing is a necessary part of the role, then all bets are off because I don’t know which actors that might or might not rule out. But putting singing ability aside for the moment, some actors who came to my mind that fit both a rough age and build profile were Josh Hartnett (35, MN), Casey Affleck (38, MA), Aaron Paul (34, ID), James Franco (36, CA), Justin Timberlake (31, TN), and Cam Gigandet (31, WA). Two others that popped to mind were Ryan Gosling and Ryan Reynolds, but it turns out both of them are Canadian. Of those, Affleck and Timberlake feel the most right to me. Affleck has the acting chops and looks younger than his age. Timberlake has the build and we know he can sing. Whether he can make himself sound like Hank Sr. is another story.

With regard to my inquisitors’ question, only Timberlake from the list above is from the South. Again, while I’m not an encyclopedia of pop culture, and I’m sure there are many fine Southern actors who could play the role of Hank Sr. if you put out a broad casting call, it does strike me as noteworthy that I can’t spontaneously think of any specifically Southern actors to play the role even with a couple of days to stew on the topic.

Timberlake is from the South, but he is a national figure and Southerner is, I’m sure, not the first thing that comes to mind when most people think of him. He’s from the South, but is he recognizably a Southerner? By contrast, no American at the time would have failed to recognize Hank Sr. as a Southern man. And for that matter, no one would fail to recognize Hank Williams Jr. or Hank 3 as Southerners.

So what does this mean? That Hollywood discriminates against Southerners? Perhaps. It certainly tries to drum their accent out of them, as testified to by Josh Holloway’s IMDB page where he reveals that he spent a lot of time trying to lose his Georgia accent so he could get more roles and then had to try to get it back when he was cast as a Southerner in Lost.

More likely I believe it suggests a homogenization of American culture that we should be consciously attempting to counter. We need specifically Southern actors, Southern writers, Southern filmmakers etc. who can preserve our unique heritage against the pernicious influence of homogenization. With regard to the subject matter of the film in question, country music is one of the few pop culture genres that have managed to do this with debatable results, but Hollywood, not so much. I’ll leave what’s right and wrong about country music for a future essay.

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