When director and producer Taylor Hackard decided to cast Jamie Foxx to play Ray Charles in Ray (the movie), he had no idea what an excellent decision he made. Hackard told Foxx that he’s been watching his acting career and believed that Foxx could carry the role. Hackard continued to tell Jamie that he would hire a professional pianist and make it look like Jamie was really playing the piano. Jamie told Hackard that he didn’t have to hire a pianist because he already knew how to play the piano. Jamie attended United States International University where he studied classical music and composition.
The Dedicated Transformation From Jamie Foxx to Ray Charles
In July 2002 at RPM Studios Jamie Foxx and Ray Charles got together. Ray taught Jamie how to play his greatest hits. It was difficult for Jamie at first because there was no sheet music. During the session, Taylor Hackard became concerned that Ray might have been pushing Jamie too hard. Hackard stated that Ray could be difficult and was afraid Jamie might throw his hands in the air and say forget it. To Taylor’s delight, his fears did not become reality. Jamie showed patience and superior professionalism while working with Ray Charles. Jamie was excited and thankful for the opportunity to play with Ray.
One day Jamie didn’t come to the studio, so Hackard called him to ask what was wrong. Jamie replied, “I’m like a sponge. If I get too much exposure to the old Ray, it will be difficult to play young Ray in the movie.” Looking at the situation from a director and actor’s point of view, Taylor agreed with Jamie.
Jamie and Hackard got with Quincy Jones to learn more about the young Ray. Jamie also studied an old tape of Ray on the Dinah Shore Show. Foxx copied Ray’s mannerisms in the Shore interview for an interview scene in the movie. Jamie also insisted on acting in the movie blind. Makeup artist applied silicone to Foxx’s eyelids to keep them closed. Jamie was blind 14 to 15 hours a day including lunch breaks. Foxx also stayed up until 5:30 in the morning when he had to be on the set at 6:30 a.m. to practice his “Ray Piano” technique.
The Aftershock of the Transformation
Taylor Hackard stated that he got the film rights 15 years ago to make a movie about Ray Charles’s life. However, Hackard was glad he didn’t make the movie 15 years ago because he would have missed out on a great actor to perform in it. Hackard admits that working with Jamie was a real gift since Jamie could play the piano. “I could do a close up of Jamie’s hands without fear of it looking fake.” Camera angles in the movie captured the depth of the character.
During shooting, Jamie Foxx really freaked people out behind the scenes because he had really become Ray Charles. For instance, after a scene was finished Hackard walked over to Jamie and asked if he was all right (Jamie had the silicone makeup on so he couldn’t see). Jamie said yeah, but can you make that guy stop tapping his pencil. Hackard asked what pencil. Jamie pointed in the direction of the noise and sure enough there was a man on the other side of the room lightly tapping his pencil. Being blind really does heighten other senses.
Larenz Tate, who played Quincy Jones in Ray, commented that the cast would be shooting on location and they would look over at Jamie (in makeup) and say, “For real, is that the young Ray Charles?”
Quincy Jones (himself) said that there were times in the movie he wasn’t sure if it was Jamie or Ray in the scene.
Co-producer, Ray Charles Jr., said he got emotional on set because there were times that Jamie’s mannerisms reminded him of the real Ray Charles. “There were times it was just too real. There were times he reminded me of my father,” Ray Jr. said.
Jamie’s dedication to the role earned him an Oscar, Image award, Blake Reel award, Critics Choice award, and a Golden Globe.