It took Hackford 13 years to get backing for this Ray Charles biopic, which has garnered more than $70 million at the U.S. box office and six Oscar noms so far.
“The studios all said Ray Charles wasn’t popular with movie fans,” Hackford says. And the disappointing box office perf of Michael Mann’s “Ali” several years ago made it even more difficult to get a greenlight for a biopic about a famous African-American performer.
Through his production partner, Stewart Benjamin, Hackford eventually came up with a sugar daddy outside the studios in Philip Anschutz.
The multi-billionaire — a majority holder in America’s biggest theater chain, Regal, and an avid supporter of family friendly entertainment — was willing to personally invest $30 million in “Ray,” but only if it qualified for a PG-13 rating.
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After some back and forth, Hackford agreed to leave out any four-letter words and scenes of overt sexuality. Otherwise, he was free to make the picture he wanted.
“He told me, ‘You can make this film as tough and sexy as you want to,’ ” Hackford says of Anschutz. “And by not having a studio looking over my shoulder, that allowed me total freedom to cast who I wanted and make the film my way.”