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Loving Ray
It was said that the only time Ray Charles acted blind was when he was around a beautiful woman. His gift for seduction and romantic escapades were legendary; yet women also played a major role in shaping the man he was and the man he would become. Four of these women are at the center of Ray: Della Bea Robinson, Ray's devoted wife, played by Kerry Washington; Margie Hendricks, the fiery vocal legend from the Raelettes (so named, it was said, because to become one, the women had to "let Ray"), portrayed by Regina King; Mary Ann Fisher, played by Aunjanue Ellis, the Kentucky singer who was also known as the "Queen of Blues" before and after she toured with Charles in the mid-1950s; and Ray's beloved mother Aretha, a role taken by Sharon Warren, making her screen debut.

When Kerry Washington read the screenplay for Ray, she realized she barely knew the man whose music she had adored throughout her life. She was especially moved by his relationship with "Della Bea," a former Gospel singer who inspired Ray early in his career and stood behind him through fame, controversy and even addiction—until his lifestyle began to threaten their family. "Della accompanied Ray on this whole incredible journey from having not very much money to overwhelming wealth and popularity," notes Washington. "She loved him and believed so strongly in his gifts, but there also came a point when she realized she couldn't be with a man who was destroying himself."

For Taylor Hackford, Washington was the perfect choice for the role of the woman who was Ray's foundation and inner strength for many years. "Kerry captured Della's sweetness and vulnerability but also showed how she became a real rock of a woman," he states. "Kerry has such an innocent, bright-eyed look, but when you see her go through so much pain and trouble, you see how she becomes the only person who could really talk to Ray."

Washington met with the real "Mrs. Robinson" as part of her preparation. "Mrs. Robinson's a remarkably non-judgmental person," observes the actress. "She said to me: ‘I don't like broccoli, so I don't want anybody to tell me to eat broccoli, and that's why I didn't go around telling people not to drink or do drugs, because everybody makes their own choices, everybody has their own journey.' I saw that she was a very independent and strong woman, and also a very spiritual woman who made difficult choices. I think she loved Ray as much as she could until she saw that this love was taking away from her ability to love herself and her family."

Once on the set, Washington found that working with Jamie Foxx brought new dimensions to her character. "Jamie turned out to be so talented and committed," she says. "The scenes we had together were very special because they were so intimate. When Ray was with Della he was able to really show his soul, the essence of who he was, and Jamie did that so gracefully and beautifully, it made it easy for me to respond emotionally."

She summarizes: "To me the story of Ray is about people learning to embrace their own gifts. For Della, it's about learning to love herself as much as she loves Ray, and for Ray it's about forgiving himself enough to stop running from his demons. I think it's an important message—and behind it all is the power of Ray's music. I now own every single Ray Charles CD ever made!"

Regina King had a very different challenge in playing another of Ray Charles' influential lovers: his mistress and tremendous singing talent in her own right, Margie Hendricks, who tragically passed away of a drug overdose after she had left the Raelettes. Hendricks had started out in the ‘50s all-girl backup band known as The Cookies, but soon a

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