Feature by: Jack Foley
IF RAY Charles was considered to be a genius, then Jamie Foxx,
the actor who portrays him in the new biopic, Ray, isn't very
Spending time in his company is truly inspiring, especially when
he talks passionately about the challenge of playing Ray Charles,
and the many challenges he faced in becoming the celebrity he
It's little wonder that Foxx made history before Christmas by
being nominated for three Golden Globe awards for his performances
in three different movies - Ray, Collateral and TV movie, Redemption.
But, true to form, the star is amazingly modest about the achievement,
as well as excited.
"LA has a saying about the sizzle, whoever has the sizzle
in LA is hot. I had about 70 missed calls on my two phones, and
you feel like everybody is rooting for you, so this a really good
"The next couple of years will be the testing time, but
this is the sentimental time," he explained from the luxury
of a plush suite at London's Dorchester Hotel.
"Ray is a great movie, Taylor
Hackford did a great job; Collateral
and Redemption, all of the movies feel good. I've done movies
before where the movies' over but I'm still performing to try
and compensate for how bad the movie was, but this feels good."
It's hard to disagree, especially once you have seen Foxx portray
Ray Charles. He doesn't so much take on the role as inhabit it
and it's very difficult to see past Foxx for the best actor Oscar
Butit would be ample reward for the hard work that the star put
in to getting his performance just right - from grasping the singer's
voice to playing the piano, coping with blindness and even stuttering
during awkward moments.
Yet it was this attention to every facet of Charles' life story
that attracted Foxx to the biopic in the first place because it
did not seek to overlook the darker side of the icon.
"When you first read the script it blows your mind. For
young cats like Kanye West and Sean P Diddy Combs, and the young
producers out there, I say 'You guys have got to see this film
because it's you'. Since you don't know what Ray Charles is about,
when you see this movie you'll know some of the other things about
the business that you're in.
"The good and bad thing about this is that it's an independent
film - Taylor Hackford did it on a shoestring budget.
"Some of the things that we get into in this movie, if we
had been under the umbrella of a big film company, we wouldn't
have been able to talk about drugs, seeing him as a mean guy;
movies right now are just about trying to sell as much as they
can - which is understandable because it's a business.
"I mean, when was the last time you saw a movie which was
real and showed the imperfections and the flaws?
"That's why biopics sometimes suffer, because there is someone
from the big studio saying 'No, no, no' we can't say that, we
have to keep this guy or girl's reputation looking good', but
Ray Charles was the type of guy that said if you don't show that,
then it's not going to be the real thing, so we took chances."
By taking chances, however, Foxx was able to better develop a
grasp of the young Ray Charles, and deliberately resisted the
temptation of hanging out with the singer while researching the
role, especially when it came to getting the voice (which he can
slip into with uncanny easy).
"When I met Ray he was old and Taylor [Hackford] was mad
because I hadn't been to the studio to meet him that often, but
I said 'I can't hang out with him because he's slowed down',"
"Quincy Jones gave me a tape of the Dana Shaw tape and it
had Ray's young voice being interviewed, and another thing, a
nuance that I got from that tape, was when he was asked about
the drugs, there was silence for five seconds and then he stuttered;
when he was confronted by something, he would hesitate or use
his blindness as a shield, so in the movie whenever he's challenged
on something like, 'Ray I'm pregnant', or 'What you gonna do,
Ray', there's a stuttering."
Foxx was also rendered blind for
long periods of time during filming, which also served to give
him a greater appreciation for sight.
"The blindness is tough because if you close your eyes right
now, you still have a perception of the room; I could get up and
walk out of here, but after six hours you lose that perception
and you begin to notice noises a lot more.
"When they glued my eyes together for the prosthetics I
had to stay that way for lunch, which was tough, because when
you go to lunch you just want to take the prosthetics off, so
you can see again, but you couldn't because the process of putting
them on again would take too long.
"But it meant I could understand how there can be sweet
bitterness to Ray Charles' whole life - the way you start out
wanting to do the best that you can do, as far as music and singing
and writing music, and then you have to take somebody's word for
it that they really are clapping and they are happy. That must
have been a little tough for him."
The risk-taking paid off, however, and Charles, himself, gave
Foxx his wholehearted support throughout much of the production
Foxx still remembers fondly the time he spent at the piano with
Ray, during which he was able to showcase his own skills as a
"When we started playing, we started playing the Blues and
then we moved on to this other stuff that I didn't think Ray Charles
even knew," he recalled, with a wry smile.
"I was like 'how does he know that' and he started playing
some Thelonious Monk and I hit a wrong note and he said [in Ray
Charles voice] 'Now why the hell did you do that?' And he was
really looking for an answer as to why I'd played the wrong note.
"And he said [in accent again] 'The notes are all underneath
your fingers, all you've got to do is take your time to play the
I thought is this the test? But we got it licked and he jumped
up and said 'the kid's got it'!"
Not that Foxx is a slouch behind the piano, given that his grandmother
taught him from a very young age.
"I learnt piano when I was five, so I learnt how to digest
things and keep them up here, in your head. But my grandmother
always said: "Always learn piano because you'll have something
that makes you different from everybody else."
"And in my country town where I grew up it was different,
I was playing in the church when I was 13, and by 15 I was making
money at it - I was playing all over town, wine and cheese parties
on the other side of the tracks, which was big.
"I remember I was 15 and my friend drove me way out into
the country, to this big country house, and the guy at the door
said: "What's going on here?" [in Southern accent] and
I said: "I'm here to play for you."
"And he said: "What are two of you doing here?'' And
I said: "Well, he drove me here,'' and he said: "I can't
have two niggers in my house at the same time."
"But that didn't bother me, being from the South you get
kind of numb to that word, so I said, "OK, well can he at
least sit somewhere," and he said, 'No, he can't even wait
on the street," so anyway, I go in and he takes me for a
walk in his closet, which was as big as my house, and he gives
me this jacket with the patches on the elbows and I thought, 'wow,
that's a jacket right there'.
"So I started playing and I can hear them telling their
racial jokes and the ladies are apologising, saying 'don't mind
them', but at the end of he evening, he gave me a 100 bucks; 100
bucks to a 15-year-old boy, and I went to give him back the jacket
and he said, 'I can't wear that jacket no more', so I kept the
jacket and he made me go out into the street because he didn't
want me waiting for my lift home in his house after the party.
"But sitting in the street with that jacket and my $100
in my pocket made me remember what my grandma said. "It's
not just about making $100, you're playing the piano to change
the way a lot of people in that house think about black folk,
and she said, 'keep that in mind and it will all work out for
It's a prophecy that has certainly come true, especially since
Foxx's portrayal of Charles has even got fellow movie legends,
such as Denzel Washington, predicting his awards success.
"That's what great about people like Denzel and Will Smith
and Tom Cruise; they've remained the same and they look at this
as a job and they don't look at it as what defines them,"
"Sometimes the Hollywood business is like this - does the
business make the man or does the man make the business? In their
cases, the man makes the business, so Denzel is very open to young
kids coming up.
"So for him to say that about me is fabulous," he concluded.