You can’t talk to Taylor Hackford about RAY and not understand why this was a project that he pursued doggedly for over a decade. Given Jamie Foxx’s electrifying performance as Ray Charles, it was worth the wait. Hackford saw the story not just of one man beating the odds personally and professionally, but also as metaphor for the society in which he grew up and which he eventually influenced. When we spoke on October 12, 2004, that was where the conversation began, but he also explained how he used the color of memory to bring the story to life, and what it was like watching Ray Charles listen to the film version of his life.
Hackford’s RAY does what the best of biopics should do, tell not just who someone is, or what someone has done, but the why behind it all, in this case Ray Charles. Based on his decades of knowing the man himself, Hackford takes facts and mixes them with a healthy dose of poetic license to splendid effect. The result is a kaleidoscopic view of Charles’ rise from unimaginable poverty to fame and fortune. Incidents in his life coalesce using the framework of the mans music to move the story along, both the personal and the professional as the gradual synthesis of the musical traditions with which he grew up turned into the unique sound that made Charles a legend. The performance Jamie Foxx gives as Charles may just make him a legend of sorts, too.
Foxx hasn’t just worked up an imitation of the man, his tics, his quirky body language, and the rough velvet of the voice. He’s captured the essence of Charles enormous personal magnetism and his intense capacity for life, a razor-sharp mind cloaked in what he termed country dumb, his playful innocence mixed with a callousness all the more disturbing in contrast. If fate robbed him of his sight at age seven, it wasn’t just his other four senses that compensated. Charles, as channeled by Foxx, becomes a vessel of pure joy, abject sorrow, and everything in between. The film co-stars Kerry Washington and Regina King. Hackford directed from a script he co-wrote with James L. White.