An offer to audition for the role of Prince in a movie would be a dream come true for any funk aficionado, but when Dallas-based musician Ronnie Heart got the email, he didn't respond at first.
A friend had seen an open call for actors by AMS Pictures and tagged Heart on Facebook. "I was recommended because everyone compares me to Prince all the time — the musical style, the style of my performances," Heart says. "Somehow I carry the aura in a very similar way."
Heart inquired with the producer, but he chickened out once he learned more about the audition process.
"She said, 'Well, you have to send in an audition tape and you have to read some lines, and I've never acted before so I felt shy and didn't do it," he says. "I shrugged it off and forgot about it."
The production, a docudrama being filmed by AMS in Dallas for the Reelz Channel, found its Prince. But meanwhile, the producer kept hearing that Heart was a perfect fit for the role. She approached him again a few days later, this time with a slightly different offer: She needed someone who could play the instruments.
"She said, 'We've got the actor who’s gonna play him, but we also need someone who knows how to play all these instruments. Someone said you can play anything that would be in the studio,'" Heart recalls.
He worked as a stunt musician for the movie. (Its working title and release date are still under wraps.) In closeup shots when the Prince character needed to play music, Heart donned the purple suit with frilly cuffs and made the performance look authentic.
"They had me play basically after every shot that the actor did. I’d have to come in and put on his wardrobe," he says. "I’d play the chords to whatever song it was, depending on what instrument."
"Behind the scenes, whenever I was doing all the instrumental parts, [the actor playing Prince] was like, 'Man you're going to steal my job.'" – Ronnie Heart
Heart also served as a musical consultant on the film, showing other actors playing musicians how to hold their instruments and instructing set designers on where to place certain props. "Maybe I would say, 'Uh, that amp wouldn’t be placed there,' or, 'That guitar cord wouldn’t be plugged in that way.'"
He took his job so seriously that he tuned the guitars, even though they wouldn't be heard.
Heart says he had to learn Prince's songs quickly, but it wasn't a problem because of his familiarity with the genre.
"Prince’s music isn’t too challenging," he says. "He was really good at it, and there are some really good solos, great production and his whole entity as an artist is what is impressive, but the songs are structured really simply."
Heart's scenes were filmed primarily at the AMS production studio in Addison and Mediatech Institute in Farmers Branch. A live performance scene was filmed at the Texas Theatre in Oak Cliff.
Heart says the miniseries isn't heavily plot-based. It will feature a mixture of interviews with people who knew Prince and re-enactments of select events.
"It’s going to address his famous romances, his early life. I think it’s going to show a lot of his personality as far as him being very controlling of his artistry and of all the musicians he played with," he says.
He believes Prince fans will be happy with the treatment the funk legend is given. “It seemed like everyone [working on the project] had a big adoration for Prince, and everyone has their own take and angle on what Prince meant to them,” Heart says. “I think it will do Prince some kind of justice.”
Heart is nominated for a Dallas Observer Music Award this year for Best Funk Act and has a string of shows coming up, including a Saturday show at Three Links and an Oct. 19 opening gig for Corey Feldman at Club Dada.
Now that he's on the other side of his first acting gig, he thinks he may also have a career in acting on the horizon — at least, a brighter one than he'd initially thought.
"I think when I was there I was a little bit kind of jealous or mad at myself that I didn't try harder to get the part," he says. "Behind the scenes, whenever I was doing all the instrumental parts, [the actor playing Prince] was like, 'Man, you’re going to steal my job.'"
But Heart says he learned a lot from the experience. "I was pretty much behind all the cameras watching," he says. "Any time I had a chance to ask a question and it didn’t seem too bothersome or intrusive, I would."
Although this was his first movie, Heart is realizing that all of his time performing — whether for the camera in a music video or photo shoot, or in front of a crowd — has prepared him well.
"I like drama. That’s kind of what I do onstage, minus the lines," he says.