Taylor Hackford and Jamie Foxx on the set of Ray.
Hollywood veterans like to say it's an honour just to be nominated for an Oscar. Taylor Hackford got that honour for directing Ray. And that's all he'll get.
No one expects his name to be called on Sunday night. But he'll surely be mentioned during an acceptance speech, assuming Ray star Jamie Foxx does the expected and wins the best-actor prize for playing -- hell, call it channelling ... a virtual revival from the dead -- the legendary singer Ray Charles.
The last time Hackford was at the Oscars as a nominee, he was a no-name film-school graduate who launched his career late, in his mid-30s. When he won that night in 1979, there was little fuss. Hackford took home the prize for best live action short film for his debut effort, Teenage Father.
Since then, his directorial career has been episodic, perhaps bizarrely so for a current Oscar nominee. Hackford's first feature, The Idolmaker (1980), was a terrific, small-scale drama about the music business. But it failed to arouse audiences. Instead, the public responded when he made a formula romantic melodrama, An Officer And A Gentleman (1982), which catapulted Debra Winger and Richard Gere into new levels of stardom.
Since then, however, Hackford's career has been spotty, both artistically and commercially. The titles range from Against All Odds (1984) to more recent credits such as The Devil's Advocate (1997) and Proof Of Life (2000).
With this pedigree, the 60-year-old, Santa Barbara-born Hackford ranks as a journeyman capable of putting together a decent film and handling quality actors. That is, unless the material is just too ridiculous to elevate to acceptable levels, as was the case with The Devil's Advocate.
Oddly, he was better known as actress Helen Mirren's live-in lover than he was as a major Hollywood player. Only when he dabbled with pop music did he brush with greatness.
In 1987, he directed the ass-kicking documentary, Chuck Berry: Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll, bringing it to the Toronto filmfest for a rousing sendoff, with Berry in attendance. As a producer, Hackford helped deliver La Bamba (also in 1987) and served as executive producer of Genius: A Night For Ray Charles, a 2004 TV special.
With Hackford's congenial nature, his love of the music world and his inate understanding of a musician's temperament, it was no accident that Charles trusted him -- and that Charles trusted Hackford's uncanny choice of Foxx to play the musician.
On the recently released Ray DVD, one of the singular treats is watching Hackford watching Charles jam with Foxx early in the pre-production (Charles died in 2004 without seeing the film finished). In the jam, Charles is seen trying to teach his acolyte how to play Charles-style on some tunes.
When Foxx, a classically-trained pianist who also knows his way around a soul-blues riff, gets it -- really gets it -- Charles leaps to his feet with glee.
Hackford knew then that his casting was golden. The ironical twist is that he chose Foxx for his acting, not his piano playing abilities, admitting on the DVD that he did not even know initially that Foxx had any musical background.
Another interesting twist is that Hackford owned the rights to telling Ray Charles' story for 15 years, and worked extensively with Charles on the project. But he just could not get it made.
"It was very difficult to find financing," Hackford told Entertainment Weekly. "Hollywood is not fond of biographies or black-themed movies unless they're exploitation movies. But I didn't give up."
And now Hackford is glad he waited so long. He recently told the Sun's Jane Stevenson: "Had I made the film 15 years ago, Jamie Foxx wouldn't have starred in it."
As for Foxx, his admiration for Charles remains.
"(The movie) is a beautiful testimony to Ray Charles," Foxx told Stevenson. "It's basically giving him his flowers, you know, because we lose a lot of people sometimes, and we don't get a chance to do anything about it. This is a chance for us to show the world."