The Making of Thriller Part 5: Rehearsing With Ola Ray
Ola Ray Reacts To Michael’s Passing
Reflects on Famous Role
June 25th 2010 ABC Talks about how she fell in love with him and how she remembers him
June 25th 2010 ABC Talks about what base they got up and how he isn’t that innocent
Playboy Magazine, June 1980
Her favorite entertainers were “Michael Jackson, Donna Summer, Ben Vereen, Emry Thomas.” She also listed her turn-ons as “music, men, dancing and romancing, health and nature” and turnoffs as “waiting for something that never comes.”
Pre-production begins on the Thriller short film directed by John Landis & choreographed by Michael Peters.
Michael shoots the Thriller short film in Los Angeles.
The 14 minutes short film of Thriller is premiered on MTV.
Jet, 5th March, 1984
Ola Ray, “On The Road With Michael!” Mark Bego, 1984
“He’s a perfectionist for sure, but he was always very friendly with the dancers and the crew. He’s a practical joker. He kept saying, ‘I can’t wait until I do the werewolf scenes so I can chase you.’ I’d say he’s shy, but only when he’s around people he doesn’t know. Actually, Michael seems almost outgoing, at least while he’s working. I could tell just by the way he playfully flirted with me that he likes women. I met Jane Fonda at the studio while getting my makeup done and she asked me to take him a note and give him a kiss and a hug. When I told Michael about the kiss he said, ‘Well…!?’. I think if he finds the right girl, he’ll marry her. But in the meantime, I just don’t think he deals with sex. He seems to be on a different level. I mean, sex isn’t everything.”
HollywoodNews.com, Dec 9, 1984
Before 23 years-old Ola Ray was Michael Jackson’s thrilling video date she was a cover girl for Johnson Products. And although the former No 1 video has all but faded from Music Television play lists you’ll still see her on every box of Classy Curl permanent wave and conditioning treatment.
Look for her on the big screen too She will make her acting debut in the film Fear City with Billy Dee Williams.
During the time she spent with Jackson during the making of theThriller video Ray said in a press release the singer took special notice of her curly locks. He would always play with my hair and say ”Oh your hair is so pretty”
Vibe, May 2001
Presently, she lives in Sacramento, California where, as a single mother, she is raising her 14-year-old daughter. She said in a 2007 interview that she has plans to put out a book and to start a music career. In the same interview, Ola Ray talked about the Michael Jackson Thriller video, reflecting upon its popularity on the 25th anniversary of its premiere.
“I remember that day like it was yesterday,” Ray said. “I am so excited that people are still talking about it, still remembering it.
“I didn’t know that I was going to be a part of history, but that is the way it turned out. I’m thankful.”
Thriller was the video that changed pop music forever… and turned Michael Jackson into the biggest star in the world.
Made by a top Hollywood director and lasting 14 minutes, it was the most expensive pop promo of its era with a thenunprecedented budget of £400,000.
It helped Jackson’s Thriller album to become the biggestseller of all time with profits of £700million.
Ola Ray and Michael Jackson in the Thriller video (SM)
Now, as a 25th anniversary edition of Thriller is released this week, featuring remixes by stars such as Kanye West, we can reveal how the unknown actress chosen to star alongside Jackson was paid just £600.
Ola Ray was a 22-year-old glamour model trying to break into acting in 1982 when she beat hundreds of other hopefuls to the part of Jackson’s girlfriend in the mini-horror movie.
The former Playboy centrefold was a huge fan of the singer and says she was always confident of landing the role. “The minute I walked into the audition I knew it was mine,” she says. “I read a few lines, danced to some music and the rest is history.”
Ola still had to wait two weeks until she got the good news. But she’ll never forget her first meeting with Jackson.
“I was getting changed, so I was crouched down halfnaked on the dressing room floor and he came in and giggled,” she recalls.
“I was used to taking my clothes off in front of strangers.
Michael seemed very relaxed about it.” Ola, 47 and a full-time mum living in California, knew Thriller was going to be no ordinary video. “It helped that I was crazy about Michael and he seemed taken by the fact I was a Playboy model,” she says.
Ola and Michael became good friends during the two-week shoot. She says she loved to flirt with the star, who was then dating actress Brooke Shields. “I teased him, saying I wanted to be his girl,” she says.
“After we shared a limo, I sprayed my perfume around so he’d remember me. He was cute but childlike. Michael then was nothing like the Michael of today. He loved chasing me or jumping out from behind a wall.”
The Thriller video, directed by John Landis of Blues Brothers fame, was a record-breaking success, helping start the MTV phenomenon.
The album is still the biggest seller of all time, with 104 million sold.
But Ola didn’t have a share of the honeypot and ended in financial trouble. She says Michael used to help out with cheques of around £2,500. “I did lots of TV commercials but I wasn’t exactly flooded with work,” she says.
“Everyone thinks I made millions but I don’t care… I wouldn’t change anything.” She saw Jackson a few years later but lost touch.
In 1992 Ola was charged with cocaine possession and after a stint in rehab she left Los Angeles to start a new life in Sacramento, where she lives with her daughter Iam, 12.
Ola says: “I’m just so proud to have been part of something that’s still so special.”
Millions lusted after her. Just as many envied her.
Twenty-five years ago, Ola Ray bagged a dream job, and a piece of history, by landing the role of Michael Jackson’s blushing love object in the video for “Thriller.”
Today, with “Thriller” bound for a new life as a Broadway musical, the 48-year-old Ray lives quietly as a stay-at-home mom in Sacramento, Calif.
She made little money from the clip and scored only a few major acting jobs in the last two decades.
“Everyone thinks I made millions,” Ray told the U.K.’s Sunday Mirror recently. “But I don’t care. … I wouldn’t change a thing.”
It just thrills her to have been a part of a music video that changed the nature of the form and helped shoot Jackson’s career into the stratosphere.
It all began in 1983, when Ray, a then-22-year-old model pining for an acting career, turned up at a casting call to play Jackson’s girlfriend in “Thriller.”
The clip, directed by the “Blues Brothers” overseer John Landis, promised to be the “Gone With the Wind” of music videos, the longest and most expensive clip ever made. Hundreds of young women showed up that day.
“I remember it like it was yesterday,” Ray recently told Sacramento TV station KCRA.
“The minute I walked into the audition, I knew the part was mine,” she commented to the Mirror. “I read a few lines, danced to some music, and the rest is history.”
Ray had some prior experience before the camera – though in a far less demure role.
Three years earlier, she purred across the cover of Playboy’s June 1980 edition and also graced its nude centerfold. “[Michael] seemed taken by the fact I was a Playboy model,” Ray has said.
Her time with Playboy coincided with that of cover model Jeana Keough, now one of the bitchy stars of “The Real Housewives of Orange County.”
At the time, Jackson was dating Brooke Shields, though Ray made it known she wanted that spot in real life as well as on screen.
It wasn’t happening.
“He was cute, but childlike,” Ray told the Mirror. “He loved chasing me or jumping out from behind a wall.”
The clip took two weeks to shoot with an unheard of budget of $500,000. Ray knew her part didn’t call for Meryl Streep-level acting.
“I was the girl who went running around screaming,” she told KCRA.
The 14-minute video brought the already hot “Thriller” to a scorching peak. It greatly extended a run on the charts that, eventually, made it the top selling album of all time.
Meanwhile, Ray’s career wasn’t doing quite so swimmingly.
She snagged a bunch of small parts in the ’80s, including playing “Hooker No. 1″ in “Body and Soul,” plus cameos in 1982′s “48 Hrs.,” 1983′s “The Man Who Loved Women,” and ’87′s “Beverly Hills Cop II” (in which she played – guess what? -a Playboy Playmate).
For a time she also dated the actor and ex-football player Jim Brown. Soon, however, the work dried up.
In 1992, Ray was charged with cocaine possession, which earned her a stint in rehab.
Jackson helped her out with money from time to time, cutting her checks for several thousand dollars, according to the Mirror.
For a while, Ray blamed Jackson for not getting her more money from the “Thriller” video, but in an interview last year, she said she had forgiven him.
In this decade, Ray gave up life in L.A. and moved north to Sacramento, where various relatives live. She resides there now with her daughter, Iam, 13.
Ray still aspires to an acting career, as well as one in music. In the meantime, she cherishes her memories.
“I didn’t know that I was going to be part of history,” she has said. “But that’s the way it turned out, and I’m thankful.”
The purpose of Thriller, in Landis’s mind, was “to give Michael some balls”. The female presence in Jackson’s two previous videos was virtually zero, “so I said I want to get a pretty girl, and I want you to relate to each other sexually. And he went, ‘OK.’
“He was agreeable to everything, even when I wrote that line where he says to the girl, ‘I’m not like other guys.’ I warned him, ‘Mike, this is a laugh line.’ He said, ‘Why?’ And I said, ‘Because, Michael, you are… unusual, and people will laugh and interpret it any way they want to.’”
The next potential problem arose with Ola Ray, the actress Landis wanted to play Jackson’s girlfriend. “We found out she had been a Playboy playmate. Oh, Jesus Christ! I went to Michael and told him and said, ‘Can I hire her?’ He said, ‘Sure’, though I don’t think he even knew what I was talking about.”
Los Angeles Sentinel Newspaper, Firpo Carr, October 1 – 7, 2009
Ola Ray (Thriller): Ola was Playmate of the Month in the June 1980 issue of Playboy magazine. After being dazzled by the centerfold the Gloved One selected her out of all those beautiful women who applied for the job of being his love interest in the blockbuster short film, Thriller (1982). According to the former playmate, she and Michael got intimate, though they stopped short of having actual sex. To this day she has their German Grammy for Thriller that Michael said she could keep. She strikes me as a classy lady with a controlled edginess about her. (It’s a compliment.)
Vanity Fair, 10 June 2010
Michael Jackson, a shy pixie in a red leather jacket and jeans, stands in shadow in the theatre’s entryway, talking with actress Ola Ray and John Landis. The camera crew is making final preparations for a crane shot that will pan down from the marquee as Jackson and Ray, playing a couple on a date, emerge from the theater. Judging from th saucy looks she is sending his way, Ray is clearly besotted by her leading man, who responds by casually throwing an arm around her shoulders.
“It’s only a movie,” Jackson reassures his date. “You were scared, weren’t you?”
Landis calls for another take and coaxes: “Make it sexy this time.”
“How?” asks Jackson.
“You know, as if you want to fuck her.”
The star flinches and licks his lips uncomfortably, then gazes earnestly into Ray’s eyes. Landis then gets the shot he wants and calls for the next setup, satisfied. He whispers to me, “I bet it will be sexy.”
He attended services at the local Kingdom Hall and abstained from drinking, swearing, sex before marriage, and supposedly, R rated movies. The gregarious Landis teased Jackson about having watched the R rated An American Warewolf in London. “I said, ‘Michael, What about the sex?’ He said, ‘I closed my eyes.’”
But Landis had precisely the opposite of ‘I Won’t Grow Up’ in mind: he wanted Jackson to satisfy his young female ans by showing some virility.
“The big thing was to give him a girl,” says Landis, pointing out that Jackson hadn’t interacted with females in the videos for Billie Jean or Beat It. “That was the big breakthrough.”
On a desolate city street, Jackson lip synchs to a playback of Thriller as he dances and skitters playfully around Ray.
Landis has barely rehearsed the scene because he is hoping for some spontaneous sexual energy between his actors and has asked Jackson to improvise. Ray, who looks deliriously smitten, it supposed to keep the beat with each footstep. Landis puts his hand over his eyes and quietly shakes his head as she repeatedly messes up the tempo, necessitating many takes. Jackson remains charmingly frisky in every one, hugging her as he sings, “Now is the time for you and I to cuddle close together…”
Ray has made it clear to Jackson and everyone else that she wants the cuddling to continue after the “Cut!” Michael is very special, not like any other guy I’ve met,” she says, kicking off her high heels and settling into her set chair after the scene wraps. “Since we’ve been working together we’ve been getting closer. He was a very shy person, but he’s opened up. I think he’s lived a sheltered life. He knows a lot of entertainers, but he needs friends that he can go out and relax and enjoy himself with, instead of talking to his mannequins in his room.”
The congenial atmospher on Thriller seemed to have a salutary effect on Jackson. He delighted the crew by hanging out on the set between shots, and although he didn’t say much, he responded graciously to anyone who approached. Landis frequently got him giggling with horseplay, once lifting him up by the ankles and shaking him upside down while Jackson shrieked, “Put me down, you punk!”
He would also enjoy a secret interlude with Olay Ray.
Vanity Fair writer Nancy Griffin, who was on set during the 1983 filming of “Thriller,” talks with director John Landis about Michael Jackson, and with Jackson’s co-star, Ola Ray, who reveals for the first time in depth the relationship the two shared offscreen.
The flirtation progressed. “I had some intimate moments with him in his trailer,” says Ray. How intimate? “Let me see how I can say this without, you know, being too…” She pauses. “I won’t say that I have seen him in his birthday suit but close enough,” she says, laughing. Because he was shy, she tried not to scare him by coming on too strong.
She describes their involvement as “a little kindergarten thing,” saying that she thought it “important for him to be around someone who would make him feel comfortable.” She describes their intimate moments as “kissing and puppy-love make-out sessions – and a little more than that,” but refuses to say more. “I’ve already told you more than I’ve ever told anyone!”
Ryan hung out with Michael in his bedroom, which had a mattress on the floor, toys everywhere and illustrations of Peter Pan on the walls. They talked about music – “I was amazed that Michael didn’t know who U2 was” – and the girls they had crushes on. Jackson revealed how discombobulated he had been by Ola Ray’s sexual allure after a dance rehearsal with her. “He started getting all nervous and stuff,” says Ryan. “He said, ‘She’s adorable, she’s adorable. She’s so hot!” It was just so funny seeing him that way.”
Griffin reports that Ray got romantic advice from Jane Fonda, who was shooting a workout video in the same studio where Ray got her make up done each day. Ray tells Griffin that “Miss Fonda said, ‘Be yourself-just be sweet and talk to him about things he might be interested in or like to do. He’s a Jehovah’s Witness, so you should talk to him about religion. Maybe he will want you to go to church with him one day.’?”
Ray, who has never spoken at length about Jackson before, tells Griffin that “every day, Michael came and sat and watched me. He was in awe of me. He was always in my face trying to learn to do things with makeup like I did.” Jackson asked Ray to give pointers to his own makeup person-”I have a shine on my nose that I can’t get off” Jackson told her. According to Ray, as she was advising Jackson’s make up artist on what to do, she said to Ray, “‘Girl, don’t you know that no matter how much powder I put on his nose it’s going to shine? Do you know how many nose jobs he’s had?’ Then Michael started laughing, because I didn’t know he had had nose jobs!”
After Jennifer Beals turned down an offer to co-star, Landis cast the unknown 23-year-old former Playboy Playmate. “I auditioned a lot of girls and this girl Ola Ray-first of all, she was crazy for Michael,” Landis tells Griffin. “She had such a great smile. I didn’t know she was a Playmate.” Jackson signed off on Ray, then reconsidered the seemliness of cavorting with an ex-Playmate and came close to derailing the casting. According to Landis, “I said, ‘Michael, she’s a Playmate, but so what? She’s not a Playmate in this.’ He went, ‘O.K., whatever you want.’ I have to tell you, I got along great with Michael.”
Ray says she watched Jackson switch from silly to businesslike with ease, and Landis tells Griffin that when he barged unknowingly into Jackson’s trailer while Jackson was meeting with Jacqueline Onassis (then an editor at Doubleday, and there to discuss Jackson’s memoir) the star coolly said, “John, have you met Mrs. Onassis?”
At the premiere…
Ola Ray looked for jackson before the lights went down and found him in the projection booth. He told her that she looked beautiful, but refused her entreaty to come sit in the audience. “This is your night,” he told her. “You go enjoy yourself.”
Ola Ray also sued Jackson on May 5 2009, for nonpayment of royalties. “I got the fame from Thriller,” she says, “but I didn’t get the fortune.” (The suit is ongoing) In 1998 she fled Los Angeles and the casting couch syndrome that plagued her during the years following Thriller.
Ray enjoys hearing from Michael Jackson fans on facebook and twitter. “I can’t walk down the street without people recognizing me.”
Ray tells Griffin that she thinks about Jackson every day, with considerable regret. “I just wish I would have had the opportunity to be a little bit more in his life. I bet he would have been happy with me. It would have taken someone like me who would not put pressure on him or play him for his money or anything other than that I wanted to be with him for who he was,” Ray says. “I had no other agenda than that.”
Ray has since abandoned Hollywood-”There were so many big-name directors who told me that if I wanted to do films I had to sleep with them,” Ray says-but recalls the shoot, and especially her co-star, with great fondness. “That walk with Michael, when he was dancing around me and singing, I felt like I was the most, I don’t know, blessed girl in the world. Being able to do that and being able to play with Michael, and having him play around me. I felt so in love that night. You can see it in my eyes. You can see it for sure.”
ABC 20/20 June 25th, 2010
Ola: When I think of Michael I think of innocence. I think of love. I think of a very brilliant performer and his love for and passion for music and dance.
ABC: If I walked in your house in Sacramento, would I see anything that would remind me you of your time with Michael?
Ola: Yes. I have a huge poster of Michael, just of himself and then I have the 25th Anniversary album. Then I have a picture of us walking together in the video. So yes, I see Michael every morning when I wake up.
ABC: Two weeks you spent with him, what point did you realize you were in love with him?
Ola: When we did the dancing, when he had to walk around me and flirt with me. Coming from out of the movie theatre and we did the little walk – dun dun dun – to the beat. He had to dance around me and flirt with me, that was when I was like Oh my God, like Ola, I could not believe I was the girl, I was the one chosen.
ABC: When did you tell him that you were in love?
Ola: I didn’t. I didn’t tell him. And that’s one thing I hate the fact that I didn’t really get a chance to tell him how I really felt about him.
ABC: Why didn’t you get a chance to tell him?
Ola: Because I didn’t think I would never see him again. I thought I would see him again. I never thought Michael wouldn’t be here. If I had known he wouldn’t be here, I would have told him a lot more.
ABC, June 25th 2010
Ola: He got to flirt with me. He got to play with me, touch me and flirt with me. So that was great.
ABC: what’s that like to have Michael Jackson – Michael Jackson – playing with you, flirting with you?
Ola: What it’s like is like… I got to fall in love. And I’d never been in love before.
(Narrator: Their relationship would deepen in Michael’s trailer.)
Ola: We would just sit in his dressing room and we’d talk about food, religion, why he couldn’t date me (laughs). You know, why we couldn’t be as intimate as I wanted us to be.
ABC: Why couldn’t he date you?
Ola: Well… he told me that there was someone else that really liked me on the set and he couldn’t cross that line.
(But some lines were crossed all the same)
Nancy Griffin: I think things got pretty sexy between Ola and Michael. Some very sweet kind of physical interaction going on beteen the two of them.
ABC: First base, second base? (laughs)
Nancy: Uhhh… I would say not first, I would say second base… maybe… third.
ABC: do you think it was farthur than he’d ever been with another woman?
Ola: I wouldn’t say that. (shaking head) I don’t think he’s that innocent. (laughs, speaking while laughing) He’s not that innocent. He definitely knew what he was doing. In his own little way.