News for 3/7/2005

The following article appeared in the February 28, 2005 issue of Jet Magazine

News for 2/21/2005

The following article appeared in the January 29, 2004 issue of Time Magazine

News for 1/11/2005

Warren, from rags to 'Ray'

By William Keck,

LOS ANGELES Ray Charles' mother, Aretha Robinson, lived one rough life. As portrayed in the new biopic, Ray, dirt-poor Aretha buried her younger son, George, after he drowned in a tub, then watched helplessly as her surviving son, Ray, gradually lost his sight. Strength and faith helped Aretha through her pain, and that's just what's helped Sharon Warren, the 27-year-old actress who plays Aretha, survive her own personal struggles.

Universal Pictures is temporarily putting Warren up in an L.A. apartment while she helps promote the film. With her car back in Atlanta, the actress, who admits she is struggling financially, must get around town by foot or bus. At an outdoor mall just a five-minute walk from Warren's pad, she talks about how she landed a crucial role in a major Hollywood picture with no previous film or television credits to her name.

Raised in Tuskegee, Ala., Warren, one of four daughters, says acting in her hometown was considered a "frivolous waste of time." Her mother, an education administrator, and father, sheriff of Macon County, never understood and refused to support their daughter's passion.

In Atlanta in August 2002, Warren stopped by a hotel to reserve a room for her parents, who were coming to town to see her perform in a play. She didn't realize Ray director Taylor Hackford was holding auditions there that day for some of his film's smaller roles. Seizing the opportunity, Warren, at the time sporting a "huge afro" and dressed in jeans and flip-flops, ran to grab a photocopy of her headshot, then signed in with the casting director.

The next day she was called back to audition for Hackford. "He walked in, looked at me and said, 'You look perfect. Now I need to know if you can act,' " recalls Warren, who apparently could.

Two weeks later, she was working a ticket counter at an Atlanta theater when her cell phone rang. It was Hackford, whose name Warren had forgotten, offering her the role. She accepted, then returned to her life of busing tables and doing secretarial work.

"It's a true Cinderella story," Hackford says. "I had read a number of really talented people, but the problem was they were a little more sophisticated. And Ray (Charles) had described his mother as bone-thin very, very frail of body, but fierce of spirit. Someone who worked herself to death. When you're given that kind of recipe, you try as hard as possible to find somebody that fits that description."

Six months later, Warren was called to Thibodaux, La., and dressed in washerwoman's rags to begin her role.

It was a wardrobe she was familiar with, having also worked as a maid to help pay the bills. "I didn't want to be a maid, but I wanted my days open to focus on yoga and the arts," she says. For a two-month period, just before her audition, Warren was living out of her car in Atlanta, "reading (acting theorist) Stanislavski," and showering at the YWCA.

"There were some things that needed to happen for me to love myself and feel worthy," the born-again Christian says. "I had to get a relationship with God, and then everything got right one opportunity after another."

After Ray wrapped in June, Warren moved to L.A. and worked for a temp agency through last July. Although she won't say what she was paid for the film, Warren gratefully acknowledges, "Ray changed my career, but not my finances ... I'm a strong woman. I do things that would break many men."

At Ray's Hollywood premiere, Warren received accolades from famous admirers, including Will Smith. "He came to me and kissed me on the cheek and said, 'You were outstanding.' " Hackford believes Warren's series of scenes which both open and close his film place her in best-supporting-actress territory.

All signs indicate that Warren is a woman whose luck is finally changing. She has recorded a single and, earlier this month, left for Texas to begin filming her second movie, the basketball-themed Glory Road.

"Ray Charles came from the dirt roads and went beyond," she says. "And I came from the dirt roads of Alabama, and here I am."

News for 12/24/2004

'Ray' Co-Star Joins CBS Family

LOS ANGELES ( Sharon Warren, currently earning raves for her feature debut performance in "Ray," may be ready to move to the small screen.

The actress, who came out of nowhere to stake a position in most Oscar buzz discussions, has signed a talent holding deal with CBS. The network will attempt to work Warren into a pilot for 2005.

Warren's performance as Ray Charles' determined and independent mother Aretha Robinson earned her the Boston Film Critics' prize for outstanding supporting actress. She earned the part after going to an open audition for "Ray" at an Atlanta hotel, according to The Hollywood Reporter. At the time she had neither an agent nor a manager.

"Sharon had no professional experience in film or TV, but she possessed a huge, burning talent that matched Aretha's intensity," says "Ray" director Taylor Hackford in the coffee table movie tie-in "Ray: A Tribute to the Movie, the Music and the Man."

Now repped by an agent, Warren just finished work on Disney's basketball flick "Glory Road."