A Gigantic Leap: From New Jersey Stage Theater to Hollywoods Silver Screen
Ray Fisher Reprises His Debut Role as Superhero, in Mega-Budget Blockbuster, Justice League
The story begins with Ray Fisher; a young, talented actor from New Jersey, working desperately hard to land a role. Not just any role though: his dream role. After being cast as a line-less bodyguard in the play, “Fetch Clay, Make Man,” he aspired to become the lead, Muhammad Ali (or at least the understudy, he admits).
However, the production came to an end, and its chance to go to Broadway was highly uncertain. Plays notoriously sit in ‘limbo’ for years before getting picked up on Broadway - if they do at all. But that didn’t deter Ray, and he began to obsess over the role, training like he had already landed the part. He was determined to transform his 193 lb frame (slender for a man who is 6’3’’) to resemble Muhammad Ali’s boxer physique. He trained excessively, spending all of his time lifting weights and eating everything in sight.
But months passed, and there was no sign the play would ever resurface. Ray took other jobs, but was always sure to mention that he would leave production if the Ali opportunity knocked. More months passed, and Ray continued to bulk up for a role that didn’t even exist. He bashfully admits, “I didn’t know at the time, but that’s not something people usually do… with respect to plays.” It was definitely a gamble, but Ray was steadfast. “I had really good feeling about it… sometimes you just have to go with your gut.”
Three years later, and 20 pounds gained, Ray was working in his second season in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Finally, on a fateful day, he received the call he’d was waiting for. Ray was asked to read for the part at the New York Workshop Theater. Beyond thrilled, he read for the part he’d been dreaming of. “I lusted after this role for three years… I trained for the potential of the play, and now here it was, being produced off-Broadway.” And sure enough, his preparation, unadulterated devotion and intuition proved victorious and Ray landed the role of a lifetime.
The play drew wide interest and his performance was critically acclaimed. The New York Times reported, “His lively, funny and sympathetic portrait provides the play with a necessary core of authenticity” And described his delivery as an “incandescent performance.” It seemed like things couldn’t get any better for Ray. Yet he confesses, “nothing could have prepared me for what was about to happen.”
Ang Lee had been quietly scouting for his own Muhammad Ali to star in his 3D boxing movie, Muhammad Ali. After Ang Lee attended the Off-Broadway performance, the industry hype and buzz surrounding Fisher exploded, and a previously unrepresented Fisher was suddenly fielding courtship from countless Hollywood agencies. He recalls, “there was a different lunch everyday and a different dinner every night… it was a whirlwind.”
Reflecting on the experience up to this point, Fisher humbly credits a strong support system, and people believing in him. Though, he also considers, “how little control you actually have over your career, half of it is what people say about you, and you just hope that it’s good!” He had no issues in that area; as his reputation preceded him, due to glowing reviews about his Muhammad Ali performance. The Warner Brothers casting directors actually attempted to contact him, but to no avail, as he was previously unrepresented.
Nonetheless, six months later, Ray found himself in LA for the first time, meeting with Warner Brothers. The casting team alluded to the possibility of a role befitting of Ray. They ‘couldn’t say’ specifics, but that the role was in the realm of Batman v Superman, which undoubtedly excited Ray, a devout DC comic book fan since childhood. He passionately exclaims, “There is no other film that I would want to be apart of, more than this film. I would turn down just about anything to be a part of this.”
So in the middle of filming Batman v Superman, he was called to Detroit to test for the role of Cyborg; a half-man, half-machine superhero. Fisher recalls, “I tested and had a great experience. The environment was really conformable, it didn’t feel like [the director or crew] were stressed, and I didn’t feel pressure…. If it were not Zack [the director], the crew, in that time, or in that place, it probably would not have gone the way that it did.” And it undoubtedly went incredibly well; for if it had not, Ray would not have received a phone call two weeks later confirming that he won the role as superhero, Cyborg.
Fisher can seemingly do no wrong and his upward spiral continued when the director, Zack Snyder suggested that Ray and writer, Chris Terrio work through the script in New York. Costar, Jessie Eisenberg, who portrays villain, Lex Luthor, had the same unique opportunity. Ray describes the process, “I felt really involved and they made me feel like a partner, which I know is unusual.” Fisher was grateful for the experience to observe his character’s development and provide input in real time, “usually you step on set and they tell you what to do and where to look and then it’s over,” Fisher light-heartedly exclaims, “so I knew it was unusual, and by the time we were finished with the process, I felt like I could retire, I had such a perfect experience, there’s no way it could get any better than this!”
He especially enjoyed his time on set and access to a personal trainer and meal plan to help him transform into the Cyborg character (a luxury he did not attain when training for the Muhammad Ali role). The astonishing transformation from 191 lbs to 224 lb was strictly due to “clean eating and lifting like a mad man.” His 30 lb gain had an interesting byproduct, “it allowed me to feel like I was outside of my body, like it was armor that my character was wearing.” Fisher is genuinely humbled and grateful of the whole experience to live and work on something he’s so passionate about. He describes it as, “A perfect storm of your childhood dreams and adult aspirations mixing together, it’s still kind of surreal.” Ray Fisher’s upward spiral will likely culminate when stars in solo film, Cyborg optioned for 2020. He will reprise his role of Cyborg in the sequel to Batman v Superman, entitled Justice League scheduled to release November 17, 2017.
Ray Fisher’s experience is undoubtedly extraordinary, however, he is a very extraordinary human. He attributes much of his unique journey and success to his strong support system but also reveals his understanding that “there were karmic connectors that affected [his] journey… there’s an intricate web of interactions that, even I cannot replicate.” Albeit, Ray’s journey is unique; nonetheless, his inimitable catapult onto the silver screen can be characterized by his raw passion and incomparable determination. His path to the motion-picture industry is likely enviable to many, and for those who ask, “How does one do it?” he responds, “I’ve got no clue!”
Photo Portraits by: NORMAN JEAN ROY
and Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures ™ & © DC Comics