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Being Ray
Once Ray was underway, the filmmakers were faced with a daunting question: where would they find an actor able to embody such a highly recognizable and unique character from American culture? The answer was an unexpected one. Hackford and Benjamin decided to take a chance on Jamie Foxx, best known at the time as a stand-up comic and television star, but also an actor with whom they'd been impressed by his performances in Oliver Stone's Any Given Sunday and Michael Mann's Ali.

When he met with Foxx, Hackford told the actor his main concern was that whoever played Ray Charles would have to reveal an innate relationship to the very soul of music. As it turns out, Foxx, similar to Ray Charles, had started playing piano at age three. The actor later led the band at his Texas gospel church in his youth and received a university piano scholarship. "When Jamie told me this, I just kind of sat back and thought, ‘My God,'" remembers Hackford. "I'd like to say it was planned, but it wasn't. We got lucky."

The next test was to have Foxx and Ray Charles meet – which they did at two side-by-side pianos, while the filmmakers held their breath. Hackford recalls the story: "Ray was not easy, as I've said, and when it came to music, he demanded perfection. Jamie came over and immediately started playing the piano and Ray could hear at least that he could play. So they started playing and Jamie is playing a little funk and Gospel, but then Ray goes into some Jazz, some Thelonious Monk. And I'm thinking, ‘Oh, no, Jamie doesn't know it.' Ray was saying, ‘Come on, man, it's this,' and he keeps playing this Monk phrase, only Jamie is not getting it. Then Ray gets even tougher, saying, ‘Come on, man, it's right under your fingers.' And I'm thinking, ‘This could really blow up in my face.' But when Jamie finally got it, Ray, who had been pretty tough on him, said, ‘This is it. This kid can do it, see? He's the one.'"

Hackford continues: "Ray anointed him right then and there and you could see Jamie just kind of glow. In a sense, he had won the role directly from Ray Charles."

Foxx had known little about Ray Charles beyond his music before being cast in the role, and found himself on his own personal journey into the man's fascinating and embattled background. "When I read the script I realized that this was a really phenomenal story, not just about music, but abut a man who overcame all kinds of difficulties to become a real leader of the culture. The way he intertwined everything he experienced in his life to make this amazing music, it was really something special."

Foxx threw himself headlong into the role. After meeting with Charles, Foxx began by adapting many of the singer's physical trademarks, from his close-cropped hair to his bodily mannerisms, born out of a combination of Charles' history, blindness and unstoppable inner sense of music. The actor immersed himself in Soul, Jazz and Blues recordings to set the mood; attended classes at the Braille Institute; and spent weeks during rehearsal and production walking around with his eyes sealed tight for 12 hours a day, to gain an intimate understanding of what it really means be blind. "It was interesting to me that not being able to see made me angry at first," comments Foxx. "It's frustrating. But I also noticed my sense of hearing becoming more acute, and I became sensitive to all kinds of sounds nobody else was even hearing."

Many on the set where stunned by how spontaneous and natural the actor's embodiment of Charles became. But imitation was never the point. "The key word for me was nuance, because I didn't want to simply impersonate him," says Foxx. "Rather, I wanted to capture some part of his spirit, that's all. There were a lot of

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