PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Fetch Clay, Make Man's Will Power, Ray Fisher and K. Todd Freeman

By Robert Simonson
01 Oct 2013

Ray Fisher and K. Todd Freeman
Photo by Joan Marcus

Ray Fisher

What did you know about Muhammad Ali before you took on this role?
Growing up, I knew very little about Ali. I knew he was a boxer and that he was famous for "floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee," but being a child of the 90's, he was an obscure figure to me. I don't remember discussing him in history class when we learned about the civil rights movement, and when the movie "Ali" was released, biopics weren't really on my radar. I can say I knew of him, but I didn't know the full scope of what he accomplished until I starting prepping for the show.

What did you learn about Ali that most surprised you?
I was really surprised to learn that during the years he was banned from boxing for his refusal to fight in Vietnam, Ali actually starred in a musical on Broadway called Buck White!

What, for you, was the key to playing the part?
The key, for me, was deciphering who Ali was when the cameras were off. Reading and listening to interviews with people that knew Ali best (his family, his ex-wife, his trainers) really helped paint a clear picture of who he was behind all the bragging and bravado.

K. Todd Freeman

What did you know about Stepin Fetchit before you took on this role?
All I knew about Stepin Fetchit before I began the play was that he was a stereotypical, negative African-American image/character that originated in old Hollywood films.

What did you learn about Fetchit that most surprised you?
I had not known he was the highest paid black actor of his time — a millionaire. I also didn't know he was a Hollywood bad boy or that he was the first black actor to receive a screen credit. He actually paved the way for his contemporaries in many ways.

What, for you, was the key to playing the part?
After the late 1930's and his final exclusion from Hollywood stardom because of his contentious dealings with studio heads and directors, he spent the rest of his life fighting poverty, and a hostile attitude from other African-Americans who considered his film image degrading and was constantly trying to regain stardom — none of which he ever achieved. He was forever misunderstood until the day he died. That to me is tragic. And that to me is the key to this role: His fight, his hope and desire. 

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Nikki M. James, K. Todd Freeman, Ray Fisher and John Earl Jelks
Photo by Joan Marcus