I felt awful when the director Lee Daniels told me that he had decided I fitted the role better than Oprah," says Macy Gray. "But she was really gracious about it and wished me the best of luck.
"It's a great part for me and although I'm still a singer I love being in movies and want to do as many as I can." Certainly there's no shortage of Hollywood offers after 45-year-old Macy's performance in The Paperboy, a crime drama co-starring Zac Efron, Matthew McConaughey and Nicole Kidman. Macy plays Zac Efron's family maid in 1960s Florida but also as narrator is a central figure in a drama of love, deception and murder. "To start with I only had four lines," she remembers.
"I was hoping to be a Diana Ross kind of glamorous housekeeper but instead I had a stocking cap and no make-up!" The good news for fans is that Macy has no intention of leaving the pop scene. Millions love her wobbly, smoky and gorgeously gravelly voice singing a mix of soul, funk and jazz. "It's great that people like what I do," she says. "But I guess I'd do it anyway!" Now the girl who's been dubbed the new Aretha Franklin, has signed a $10 million contract and has an album out later this spring. Not bad for someone who was so self-conscious of her voice when a child that she even refused to sing in front of her family.
"When I was little I had this really funny voice," Macy remembers. "Every time I opened my mouth the kids would make fun of me. It never occurred to me that I would ever make a profession out of singing." So what happened? "When I was at college I was helping some musician friends write lyrics. When the time came to cut some demos of their songs, the singer didn't show up the job kind of fell to me. She had gone to the University of South Carolina to study movie and TV writing but that was soon forgotten after the demonstration tapes were made into a disc — and everyone started asking: "Who's that girl with the amazing voice?" "I really thought people were lying to me," says Macy with a smile. "It only became serious when we started doing shows around Los Angeles and people seemed to genuinely love it." Soon she was being compared not only with Aretha Franklin , but also with Billie Holiday and Janis Joplin. Her first single, I Try, spent 15 weeks in the American top ten... But Macy Gray was no ordinary pop star.
Her background, to say the least, is unique — a single mother of three with a failed marriage and two spells in gaol. She's not really Macy Gray — born Natalie McIntyre in the small industrial town of Canton, Ohio, she named herself after a male neighbour, who, she says, "was a lovely man and a friend of my father's." The real Macy Gray isn't in the slightest put out by having his name stolen. "You don't know what an honour it is to have someone remember you and change their name to yours," he said. "She was very shy when she was younger. I knew she was an intelligent young lady." Macy says home life in Canton, with her steelworker turned property-developer father and teacher mother, was "blissful and happy." She remembers: "Mom wanted us to be cultured, growing up knowing stuff and having been places. 'I did piano lessons and was in the swimming, soccer and gymnastic teams.'
"Then I went to boarding school so that I'd meet different kinds of people. Trying to earn a living as a singer in Los Angeles she lived in a purple Volkswagen Beetle for a while and was arrested after driving off from a filling station without paying for the fuel. Marrying a bank official — they had three children in four years — Macy finally ended the marriage in 1998 when she was seven months pregnant. Now based in Canton, where her mum looks after the kids when is touring or recording, Macy has just signed a four-album deal which will make her one of pop's richest and most powerful stars. (John Graham/Tony James Features)