A man hires a young local kid from Montgomery, Alabama to drive him to Charleston. The kid has no idea who this man is, just knows he's got to get him to his destination, or he won't get paid.
Sounds like a simplistic story? Well, it is. But it is, of course, the tale of the last three days of Hank Williams's life--a story that ended up with a legend passing in the back seat of that car. It's also the subject of focus for a new film about Williams, The Last Ride, which examines the relationship between Williams and the teenager who shared his final 72 hours; as well as the journey the singer managed to achieve in near anonymity before his death.
There are many highlights to the film--from an exceptional score to an evocative and subtly handled script--but probably the brightest is the portrayal of Williams by actor Henry Thomas. If Thomas looks familiar, it's no accident--he played the unforgettable childhood role of Elliott in E.T. 30 years ago. Now 40, he manages to channel 29-year-old Hank Williams's "old soul" with remarkable agility.
I had the opportunity to talk to Williams's own daughter, Jett Williams, about her take on the latest examination of her iconic father's life. Jett, who with her husband handles her dad's estate, was originally not on board with the project. "The movie went to production, and the folks that were doing the movie were under the impression that the estate had been notified and was on board. That wasn't the case," she explained. "It wasn't until later that they realized that."
The realization came about via a song Jett wrote, "Hank Williams Blues," which her co-writer wanted to sing for the soundtrack. When Jett said she'd never even heard of the movie's existence, the director and producer hosted a screening for her. Jett ended up "really impressed," gave her full blessing, and even agreed to write more music just for the film.
In a way, this particular look at Williams--traveling in obscurity--is an unusual parallel of sorts to Jett's own life. Born five days after her father's death, she was adopted and raised unaware of her real identity, and had to discover the amazing story through her own determination to find out who she really was.
Jett also approves of the soundtrack, which she claims is perfectly on-point for the entire film. You can watch our video of her track-by-track discussion of the music as well.
The Last Ride is currently in limited release. Check here for theaters. Enjoy!
Our Country: There have been lots of projects out there examining your father's life. What about this particular film stood out to you favorably enough for you to approve and be involved with it?
Jett Williams: One of the reasons I was impressed with the film is because it's not a bio pic. It's a snapshot, a section, of my dad's life--the last 72 hours. Most of what is on there is true. Some of it is, you know, added to the story. But for the most part, it's fairly accurate. I thought it was very clever that they didn't mention the name "Hank Williams" but you knew who it was, and that he didn't sing or play the guitar. It was more about this man Hank Williams, trying to get from point A to point B, and the relationship he ends up creating with the driver.
It's interesting that although his music is played in the background, there is nothing in this film that suggests anything we all think of when we think "Hank Williams." No singing, no stages, no Nashville, no Opry...
The thing about that is everybody knows the songs he wrote. This shows you, this is the man who wrote them. Everyone knows "Your Cheatin Heart" and "Jambalaya," but this shows a glimpse into this man, Hank Williams. And you can only imagine...here's this guy, and everyone around him wants something from him. So he's really kind of enjoying himself, being able to travel without the pressure of being Hank Williams. And having a driver who doesn't own a radio.
What I found particularly fascinating is that he was able to travel in obscurity. His driver had no idea who he was; he went into stores and restaurants unrecognized. Nowadays, a celebrity of his magnitude wouldn't have a chance of being able to do that.
Not today, but back in 1952 it was very possible. Even though he was on TV, most Americans didn't own a television. Most people listened to him on a battery-operated radio. So all they knew was the name "Hank Williams" and they knew the song. But they wouldn't know Hank Williams if he walked in the door.
Right. There's no way that, say, Kenny Chesney could do that today.
That's why I thought it was a wonderful concept to go that route--you know, see the man, instead of the legend.
What did you think of Henry Thomas's portrayal of your dad?
I thought he did a great job, I really did. I thought he moved a lot like him, too.
I thought it was amazing that a 40-year-old actor was cast to play a 29-year-old. So opposite of typical Hollywood.
Yeah I do too. My dad, even though he was 29, to me he looked more mature. But Henry, I thought he did a great job. And you know it's funny, "Henry"--"Hank" could be "Henry." And, he has scads and scads of family in Alabama! So that made it kind of special, that he knew who Hank Williams was.
Did you feel any parallel to the character of Silas the driver, who starts out not even knowing who Hank Williams is?
I thought it was interesting, because what I took away from the whole thing--was that you've got this young kid starting this journey, and you've got this guy that's trying to get to these shows. And at the end of the movie, that young kid becomes a man. And the man in back, when he dies, he becomes a legend. And all that takes place in those 72 hours.
Watching this film must have been very different for you than it was for me, or for anyone who is simply a fan and not family. Did you find any parts particularly difficult to handle?
Well, the dying part really kind of got to me. The back seat of a car...that was definitely hard to watch.
The film was finished when you found out about it. Was there anything you would have liked to add to it?
I had the opportunity to speak to the gentleman that had the place where they embalmed my dad. He told me, "I was the one who drove your dad from Oak Hill back to Montgomery. I drove him in a silver Cadillac hearse. As we started our journey out of Oak Hill to Montgomery, word of mouth had passed around." And he said as they got to every town, the streets were lined with hundreds and hundreds of people. People were standing there to pay their respects. All the way to Montgomery...He said it was just unbelievable. He'd turn into a small town or whatever, and people would just be lining the streets.
What do you think this story shows fans about your dad that they might not have realized about him before?
In this movie and in reality, he truly did go from point A to Point B. And he did everything, including break the law, take an airplane, to try and make it happen. The Good Lord just wasn't willing.
- Arts & Entertainment
- Hank Williams
- Jett Williams