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Ray - In conversation with Jamie Foxx



Compiled by: Jack Foley

Q. Congratulations on three Golden Globe nominations.
A
. Thanks man, you know what? It's very, very exciting. 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 time. The next couple of years will be the testing time, but this is the sentimental time.
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.

Q. Where were you when you heard?
A.
I was asleep, I was at home in bed, I've been working on Sam Mendes' new movie, so I've been to boot camp and feel tired. We didn't have time to party. It was announced on my birthday, December 13, and at night we were going out for a birthday dinner but next day it was back to work.

Q. If Sean Combs had have stayed in Any Given Sunday..
A.
He'd be sitting here now talking about three Golden Globe nominations!

Q. So is it fair to say you came off to bench and really made a name for yourself?
A
. Yeah, I compare everything to sports because I come from that background. I was talking to Kanye West last night, he's up for 10 Grammy nominations, and he said "What do I do now?'' and I said "What do you mean, what do you do now!'' 27-years-old, it's not over.
But I compared it to a big game and I told him that when [Michael] Jordan played the Nicks and scored 52 points he didn't cancel the trip to the LA Clippers the next day, he carried on playing.
So you've just got to keep on playing ball and hopefully you'll get another hand like this, but while you have it it's so much fun.

Q. You see some lousy biopics, what made you pick this one out?
A.
When you first read the script it blows your mind. For young cats like Kanye West and the 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.
When is 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.
We take it for granted when we hear Ray Charles, but back in the day he was doing gospel as R&B, man, I'm 37 and when I was in 7th grade I got caught dancing.
This is true, I had to go to church and explain to Reverend McConlon why I was doing the Moonwalk, it went around the whole town - there were only 12,000 people in the town where I grew up - and I played piano for the church, so there was no way I'd be dancing or I'd go straight to Hell.
In the 40s, the only thing that black people had at that time was religion, because in America, a black man was taking his chances travelling too much and going outside of where he'd grown up as a little kid, so he said 'this is how I want it to be told, this is how the movie is going to be or you won't have it'.

Q. The movie expertly captures the whole Atlantic records period, doesn't it?
A.
The one thing that the movie didn't really get a chance to dwell on was that Ahmet Ertegun was very instrumental in Ray Charles breaking out and having a hit and when you speak to Ahmet he'll tell you, he's an elderly man now but he says, 'Jamie, I was hip Jamie, I wasn't like that bald-headed guy in the movie'.
Ahmet Ertegun's story is interesting in itself because he would have to catch an all-black cab to get to the Teardrop Inn to see Ray Charles and all his guys, because they weren't allowed uptown, and he couldn't be seen in a black cab, so he and his colleague would have to lay down on the floor of the cab until they got to the Teardrop and that's where they created all these different songs.
That's why that era of music is so important, because those guys were creating things against the law - Ray Charles and Ahmet shouldn't have been hanging with each other.
Another interesting story is the way Ray Charles and Ahmet connected with one another. Ahmet came over in 1935 from Turkey, his father was the Turkish Ambassador and he was 13 at the time and he was drawn to African American culture because he hadn't heard of it in Turkey, so he started talking like those guys and when Ray heard him, he thought he was black and they told him where he was from and Ray thought it was out of sight for him to be taking the chance on his life to hang with him.
As black Americans, even to this day, you need someone on the other side.
For me, it's Michael Mann, Oliver Stone, Taylor Hackford, somebody from the other side, because my life, I grew up on the other side of the tracks, the black people one side and the white folks on the other, that's the way we grew up, and if you never left that town, you would never know it any different.

Q. Denzel Washington has been saying you're get the Oscar? How does that make you feel?
A.
I feel great. Denzel was so instrumental in me, and 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.
He was asked in Japan a few years ago, when all I'd made was a movie about football, who were the up-and-coming actors to look out for, and he said `Jamie Foxx'.
I was sitting with him when he didn't receive the award for Hurricane and I was at the aftershow party and I asked him why it was troubling him, and he explained to me what it was about and the Oscar was the true test, to go beyond those boundaries, and he said it really is serious and told me that whatever happened to me to resepect the process.
So I took those words on board at that time and so for him to say that about me now is fabulous.

Q. How did you avoid pooping your pants when playing with Ray Charles?
A.
It was very nerve-wracking before he arrived, because I was thinking what should I be doing, but then he got there and you just go 'wow' and you felt like the young son.
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.
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] 'The notes are all underneath your fingers, all you've got to do is take your time to play the right ones''.
I thought is this the test? But we got it licked and he jumped up and said 'the kids got it!'
It was a couple of hours, short and sweet that first meeting, but then I had to come back and get the real Ray Charles, when I was talking to him, I came back a different person - it wasn't the young kid looking for approval, I said 'Look, if I'm going to play you there has got to be certain questions that you're going to have to answer'.
'Did you have many women, Ray?'; 'No'; "Well that's not what Quincy says''; "Quincy's lying'; "I said, come on Ray'', and he said: "Well, there was this one girl', and this one girl turned into this beautiful story of how torn he was between his wife and his music.
He would tell her, 'you need to come with me' because he told her it's lonely on the road and he needs a woman to be there. So to hear those stories, and of how he got around New York without a dog or a cane, he said: "I listen to women because they talk a lot."
And he would ask women for approval on everything, from his songs to his appearance.
Quincy Jones had a good take on this, he said: "That Ray Charles, he always had the best of everything, he was always in the most beautiful suits' because he'd ask the women what they would want to see a man wearing."
It was very interesting to have those things explained to me, the women and the drugs, in his words. It's a lot different from reading it in black and white.

Q. How much did you know about him prior to shooting?
A.
All I knew about Ray Charles was the stuff you are supposed to know, that he was a part of our pop culture, he sang Georgia, you know. America is very fast, we turn things over real quick and you don't get a chance to be nostalgic. Out with the old and in with the new.
It was not until I actually met him and read the script and talked to other people about him. I had no idea, and for young kids that watch this movie they are amazed.
That's what is great about Taylor Hackford and how he expressed his movie, it's really a ghost story, the way he talks about his mother and his brother, and when you talk to him they are the last things he can remember seeing, his brother and how tragic that was, and how he led his life the whole time looking for that one thing that validated him and told him it wasn't his fault.

Q. Is it true your grandmother taught you piano?
A.
Oh man, my grandmother has just passed, but she always said `You learn to play piano, for one you'll learn how to read quicker'.
I learnt piano when I was five, so I learnt how to digest things and keep them up here (in your head) so when I got to second grade, third grade I was bored because I was so far ahead of everyone else, but she 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 was 15 and my friend drives 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 you'.
And I was reminded of that story when I was doing the scene where Ray Charles walks into the Country and Western bar and they want him out until he starts playing.
I knew Taylor was trying to find someone who could play the piano and I said 'I can play piano'.

Q. How tough was it being blind?
A.
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.
So that was tough, and then there was the weight, I had to get down to 157lbs to get that look of the clothes drapped on and Ray was a small guy in stature, I went from 190 to 157lb.

Q. What was Ray's take on the voice, which you seem to have mastered perfectly?
A.
He viewed the movie and he loved it. He was telling me how he loved hearing his mother's voice and I guess it was amazing to him to hear his young voice because when I met Ray he was old and Taylor 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.
But I think his wife saw through that and that's why when he was with the other women, we never took his shades off because I definitely think the way he was with her was different to how he was with the other women.

Q. Has taking on this role changed your perception of blind people?
A.
You definitely appreciate sight. You get so much from sight and being able to see things. You can 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, and that must have been a little tough for him.

Q. Do films like Ray knock down racial barriers?
A.
I don't know if it knocks down barriers but it definitely gives the young kids a chance.
I look it like this. For those people that I grew up with, or that were older than me in that city, there's no way you are going to be able to change them; the George Bush era and those people that think like that, but if you can get to the kids, because racism and things like that are taught.
When I grew up, from first grade to eighth grade, we all hung out, we danced to the same music, we interacted, because we didn't know. It wasn't until we got to High School and people would say, 'What you doing with him?' and you'd say 'Coz that's my friend', and they'd say 'Not anymore', and when you asked why, they'd say 'Coz that's just the way it is'.
When you go to your senior year, when a black song was played, the black folks danced, when a white song came on the black folks sat down.
I look at Ray Charles as the first eminent connection because he connected all of us with his music. And the great thing about this, when you talk about breaking down barriers, when we played this in Toronto everybody was together. I'm walking around Texas and the white folks come up to me and say 'Hey man. I wanna tell you something, I love the way you do that Ray, man - he was the one black guy I really did like'.

Q. Was Ray governed by the dollar?
A.
I think Ray was governed by the dollar because he needed to have that on his side. He wanted to do other things and he knew that if he didn't have that he could probably waste away somewhere.
He had people around him to make sure he was protected so that he could get his music out there. A lot of the time it wasn't about the money because that wasn't his thing but it was about, if you don't get this money we won't be able to make this music and have or own studio and our own label. And that was the one thing that peeved him. He would say: "How can this guy benefit from everything that this guy is creating?"
Sso I don't think it was being 'governed by money', because he wasn't flamboyant, he didn't want the biggest cars, he was very modest like that.

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