Bet You Didn’t Know: Secrets Behind The Making Of “Ray”
Before 2004, Jamie Foxx was a comedian, known for his standup and his role as “Wanda” on “In Living Color.” Sure, he’d been in a couple of movies; but he’d only really flexed his acting chops in Any Given Sunday. Booty Call won’t necessarily go down in history as a classic. But all of that changed in 2004, when Jamie Foxx landed the role of a lifetime, portraying legendary musician Ray Charles. From that moment on Jamie was an actor, a true thespian. You saw the movie, you were amazed by the performances but we bet you don’t know these behind the scenes secrets. Check them out.
The man with the money
It took 15 years for the filmmakers to secure financing for the making of the movie. Though you may have never heard his name, or might not associate it with the entertainment industry, Philip Anschutz financed all of the film’s production costs, which ended up being $40 million dollars. Anschutz has his hand and his money in a lot of ventures including his father’s drilling company, real estate and several sports teams. His investment in the film paid off, as it eventually earned almost double his initial investment at $75 million.
Ray Charles was given a Braille version of the script and despite the seemingly unfavorable depiction of his life, he only had a few objections. The fact that the script alluded that he took up piano begrudgingly and another implying that Charles showed his mistress, Margie Hendricks, how to shoot heroin.
Fact vs Fiction
In the movie, Ray watches as his younger brother, George drowns because he thinks he’s joking at first. By the time he realizes what’s going on, he’s paralyzed and can’t move. But in his autobiography, Ray Charles wrote that once he realized his brother was drowning he did try to save him but was unable to do so.
Ray’s Two Moms
One aspect of the Ray’s life that was completely neglected from the film was the fact that there were two women who greatly shaped his childhood and ultimately the man he grew up to be. In his biography, Brother Ray, he explained that he had a biological mother, Aretha and an adoptive mother, Mary Jane, who he called “mother.” After the movie was released Ray’s co-author David Fritz told Slate that after a 6 year old Ray went blind, his biological mother stressed the importance of him being independent, while his adoptive mother, allowed him to indulge.
The amazing Sharon Warren
In a cast full of stars, Sharon Warren still manages to stand out as one of the best performances in the film as Ray’s mother, Aretha. Though she was absolutely riveting in the role, she’d had no previous film or television work and no manager or agent when she auditioned. She told Jet magazine that she stumbled upon the role when she walked into an audition as she was doing a show at Atlanta’s Alliance Theatre. She was the only actress they auditioned for the role. Warren said that her personal struggles, including being homeless for a time, prepared her for the role, saying: “Aretha wouldn’t have ever come out of me had I not discovered who Sharon is first.” Ray Charles, who was very concerned about how his mother would be portrayed gave Warren his blessing when he saw a rough cut of the film before he passed. Unfortunately, Warren never got to meet Ray Charles and didn’t know he approved of her performance until after he passed.
The hardest part
While you might think the hardest part for Jamie Foxx tapping into the role of Ray Charles, was learning his mannerisms and making his musical performances look believable; but that wasn’t the case. In an interview with “Chuck The Movieguy” Jamie describes what was the most demanding aspect of playing this role:
The toughest part was losing the weight. I walk around at like 190. And I lost 30 pounds. I was 157 pounds because at that time, you know in the ‘40s and ‘50’s, nobody was going to Bally’s and working out and stuff like that. And then Ray Charles had a certain thing how the clothes laid on his shoulders… Then it was a matter of crunching down the impersonation.
Check out the rest of Jamie’s interview with Chuck below.
Ray Charles on Jamie Foxx
In an interview with Blackfilm.com, Hackford described how Ray Charles responded to Jamie playing him on screen. The two rehearsed rigorously together before Ray finally gave Jamie and Hackford his stamp of approval.
And ultimately after being really tough on him, he got up and hugged himself and said “this is it, this is the kid.” Ray anointed Jamie himself. I watched Jamie grow from whatever his regular height was, till about 10 feet, right there at that moment. But there are those moments that ultimately say, the man himself said you could do it. Then there is that responsibility and that pressure that said Jamie was going to do it. And he was just great.
Regina King had the option to play any of the female roles
In another interview with Chuck the Movieguy, Regina King revealed that her agents said that she had the option to play any of the female characters. The director, Taylor Heckford, assumed, because Della Robinson, Ray’s wife, had the most screen time, that Regina would audition for the role of Della. But little did he know, Regina had already connected with Margie.
“Margie just jumped out the page to me. Just like, “Play me.” When my agents had sent me the script, they said they’re four roles for women in there, we want you to read the script and whichever one you respond to, that’s the one you can meet on. And Margie said, “Me, me, me, me…me!” And I’m like yes, yes, yes, yes yes. What do I have to do? Immediately. I read the script in record time.”
While the other characters had the luxury of studying the real life individuals they were going to portray, that wasn’t the case for Regina King. In a lot of ways she, the wardrobe team and the director had to invent the woman that was Margie. See how she was able to pull it off.
It’s a lot of pressure because there’s not a lot about her. So you’re kind of like in the dark. There’s not a lot of photographs on her, there’s not a lot of video clips. So it’s not like I really have someone to kind of study their movements. All I had was her music and her voice to study. And for her voice to be so powerful and the information that Ray had given Taylor and the little bit that I was able to read on her background and where she was from, I just kind of took all those things and just felt that she was just this raw talent that was strong in the sixties and spoke her mind. And that wasn’t really received well, women speaking their mind that way. So we just, with the wardrobe, tried to do little things like put her in pants, because women really didn’t wear pants. But we felt like Margie would be that one woman that was going to wear pants. Not only was she going to wear pants, she was going to wear pants everyday if she could.
In case you forgot, Regina nailed the role. Watch one of my favorite scenes from the movie in the clip below to see what I mean.
Playing Mrs. Robinson
Unlike Regina King, Kerry got to spend a bit of time with Della Robinson, Ray Charles’ wife. She met with her at her home and interviewed her about all sorts of things, which was a rare occurrence for her. When her husband was in the limelight, Della Robinson never did press and just hung in the cut, happy to be devoted to taking care of her children and the home she and Ray shared together. In another interview with BlackFilm.com, Kerry spoke about what it was like to meet Mrs. Robinson and why she couldn’t have her around her while she was filming.
It’s a good question. It’s sort of two-sided. In some ways it was incredibly helpful to meet the real Della cause when I play a character, I make a little list such as if my character were an animal, what animal would I be or what’s my character’s favorite book or what’s my character’s favorite food. In this case I got to actually go to the source and ask her, which was delightfully silly of course for her to think, if I were an animal what would I be. But I got to actually have real concrete answers from someone rather than to come up with that. The problem was that I really fell in love with Ms. Robinson. She’s just a phenomenal woman and so I got nervous that my respect for her would get n the way of me creating a character that had real vulnerability and humanity that I would be drawn to play her as a hero which is often the problem with bio pics which is why this one is so good cause it doesn’t do that. What I did was that on the very first day of shooting, I spoke with her that morning. The humming bird scene was our very first day of shooting, and I spoke to her that morning when we were at the restaurant, and then I said, “I’ll talk to you in a few months” cause I knew I couldn’t talk to her while we were shooting. It would have held me back. So I let her sort of build the base and I just played on it.
The other women
Kerry became so attached to Della Robinson that it was hard for her to watch the scenes with Ray (Jamie Foxx) and Margie (Regina King). She knew that as a wife it would be difficult for the real Mrs. Robinson to see her husband’s relationship with his mistress be broadcast on screen for millions of people to see, especially after she’d been so private throughout her husband’s career. But surprisingly, Mrs. Robinson took it better than Kerry did in a sense.
I think that was the thing that surprised me the most cause I knew the storyline and I saw Regina in New Orleans and I love Regina and I was excited that we were both doing the film; but particularly those moments where she talks about me; when she talks about my character and she mentions, “Your precious Della.” A year and a half later, that still hit me personally, and that surprised me a lot; and it’s also a testament to what an incredible actor she is.
Quincy Jones had no qualms about being portrayed in the movie…or if he did, he had gotten over them by the time he was approached about it. He told the filmmakers to just “go for it.”Just like Jamie and Ray Charles, Larenz Tate was able to spend a nice chunk of time with musical genius Quincy Jones, the man he would portray in the film. The two spent so much time together that Tate referred to him as a friend after the movie had been made. Still, he hoped that his portrayal would make Quincy proud.
Taylor on Ray Charles’ death
Ray Charles, who was heavily involved in the film and what would ultimately make it to the screen, was suffering from alcoholic liver disease and hepatitis C as the film was nearing its completion. But despite all of that he still made time to make sure that he oversaw the moves that were being made in production. Though he was close to the end of his life, Taylor Hackford, the director, who worked closely with Ray didn’t really let that fact sink in until after he was already gone.
I start to realize now that he probably knew he was sick, although he was vibrant and alive and completely on top of his game. There was no portrayal of any weakness. But that very time, he gathered all 12 of his children from around the world, for the first time, together. And I now realize, looking at that, what he was doing. We went to shoot the film and when I came back I saw him and he seemed to be in fine shape. He was there on the set with us when we were at RPM Studios in Los Angeles, he seemed fine. But I went into the editing room and I spent about 10 weeks to cut it and I took a rough cut to RPM to show him because he would say he wanted to see it but he sat next to the Šand I could tell that he was not the Ray Charles that I knew from before. And he was starting to deteriorate. Typical Ray Charles fashion, it went about 3 months more than the doctors ever thought possible. He was dying, dying; he’ll never make it past this. And he was proving them all wrong. And at certain point, Ray was going to do like always, he was going to do it his way. And he’s going to prove them wrong. And of course, when it happens, it’s a huge shock. Yeah, it’s painful he’s not hear to see the film. But ultimately he did see the rough cut. First thing he asked to see was, I want to see my mom, I want to hear what you put in for my mom. That was the most important thing to him. And he loved it.
A long time in the making
Depending on who you ask, the movie took anywhere from 15-25 years to make, since the idea had been swirling around ever since Charles’ biography was released in 1978. But it was certainly worth the wait. Ultimately, Ray was happy that they’d gotten the story, the casting and the timing right and that his story was going to be told for a whole new generation to enjoy.
“Hollywood is a cold-blooded motherf*ker,” said Ray. “It’s easier to bone the President’s wife than to get a movie made. So I say God bless these cats. God bless Benjamin and Hackford and Ray Jr. Weren’t for them, this would never happen. And now that it’s happening, maybe I’ll have a better chance of being remembered. I can’t ask for anything more.”