Ethan Hawke Talks Bringing Blaze Foley Biopic to Late Artist's Home Turf at SXSW

Ethan Hawke SXSW 2018
Sean Mathis/Getty Images for SXSW

Ethan Hawke speaks onstage at the premiere of First Reformed during SXSW at Elysium on March 13, 2018 in Austin, Texas. 

This week’s South By Southwest screening of Blaze, the new film about the late Texas songwriting legend Blaze Foley, is “equally exciting and nerve-wracking” for director/co-writer Ethan Hawke, star Ben Dickey and the rest of the film’s team.

Though it premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, this Friday's (March 16) Austin screening – followed by a tribute concert to Foley – brings the project to ground zero. “It’s everything we’ve been working toward,” Hawke told Billboard on Wednesday at Gibson Brands’ Austin showroom, where he and Dickey played a selection of Foley songs as a preview of the film’s music. “We’ll show it to probably the largest accumulation of Blaze Foley fans ever assembled, many people who knew him and were at his funeral, who loved him, who were mad at him, people who helped him, a lot of people who knew the actual man. It’s a little nerve-wracking for me ‘cause invariably you cannot please everybody.”

But, Hawke added, that’s not the point. “It’s not a documentary,” he said. “We’re telling the story of his life the way you might write a blues song about somebody’s life. It’s not meant to be factual; It’s meant to be spiritual…I used Blaze’s songs as the backbone of the scrip and tried to tell the story of a man’s life through his songs, but I also wasn’t interested in what his life meant to him but what It means to others.”

The Arkansas-born Foley (real name Michael Fuller), is best-known for songs such as “If I Could Only Fly,” a hit for Merle Haggard, “Clay Pigeons” (John Prine) and “Election Day” (Lyle Lovett). Sybil Rosen, who inspired "If I Could Only Fly," is in the film playing her own mother, and his sister loaned the production Foley's guitar to use on set. 

An idiosyncratic character on the Texas scene, Foley was fatally shot on Feb. 1, 1989, at the age of 39 by the son of a friend. 

Produced by Village Studios, Blaze’s general theater opening dates are still pending. A soundtrack, featuring Dickey’s renditions of Foley’s songs, will be released later this year by Light In The Attic.

A Foley fan since he was young, Dickey – a singer-songwriter in his first major film role – received rave reviews and a Special Jury Awards for Achievement in Acting at Sundance. Having an Austin crowd see it this week will be another matter, however. “I was here last year for the Austin Music Awards and did a little thing with Charlie Sexton where I sang a Blaze song,” recalled Dickey, who’s also recorded his favorite Foley song, “Sittin’ By The Road,” for his own upcoming album A Glimmer On The Outskirts. “I bet I had two dozen people who knew Blaze just come up and say something to me. I think I was a little worried that people were like, ‘Don’t mess with my man. Don’t mess with my friend. Don’t mess with Austin.’ But everything we did was with love towards Austin and trying to capture what it was and still is.

“So it’s a big deal. We can only happen once where we come to a place we portray in (the film). And I’m still expecting people to be like, ‘No, that’s not the way he talked’ and ‘That’s not the way he did this,’ ‘That’s not the way he did that…’  And that’s fair.”

Friday’s concert, which will follow the film screening, takes place at the Paramount Theatre – where Hawke said he’s premiered every movie he’s made with Austin filmmaker Richard Linklater – and will feature performances by Dickey, Gurf Morlix, Nikki Lane, the Texas Gentlemen, Hurray for the Riff Raff’s Alynda Segarra, JT Van Zandt and others.

Festivals 2018


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