By: Amber Bell
Fort Worth’s Ronnie Heart brings authentic funk musicianship to the role of Prince in a new docudrama for the Reelz Channel. It’s the film debut for the local artist, who was sought out by the production company for his musical talents and Prince-like vibe.
Filmed in Dallas by AMS Pictures, the movie-length production is part of a mini-series called “The Price of Fame.” The Prince episode will shed light on the artist’s life through interviews and reenactments of significant events from his childhood onward. AMS had already hired another actor for the character of Prince, but they needed someone for the musical scenes who could play all the instruments with credibility. And that’s when they called up Ronnie Heart, stunt musician.
Heart has been playing music for about 15 years and producing for six. He plays the guitar (his best instrument) as well as the keyboard, drums, and bass. He also DJs — chances are you’ve seen and heard him around town at parties and events — he played The Greatest Show on NYE in The Foundry District on New Year’s Eve, and often spins at the new Twilite Lounge in the Near Southside. Friends have been comparing Heart to Prince for years for his mannerisms, performance style, and affinity for funk music.
“I have always liked his music, but I didn’t really know too much about Prince until people started comparing me to him a lot,” Heart explains. He learned about the Prince docudrama on Facebook after a friend tagged him in a post by AMS calling for actors. He checked in on the role before initially shrugging it off. But the production company kept hearing about Heart — and they tracked him down.
His part in the docudrama includes close-up shots in musical segments that feature Prince’s songs, from his first album through the ’90s. Although Heart had no acting experience, the role came naturally. “Once they put me in the role, somehow it just felt so easy and simple. The scenes and the shots weren’t too crazy. After the actor played his part, I’d go in and put on his outfit. Then I would sit at the piano or grab a bass or grab a guitar. We’d take one or two shots, and that was it. It was really pretty seamless.”
Prep time was minimal for Heart, who has an incredible ear for music. “I brought my laptop with my music software and a little midi controller, just a little piano. They didn’t need any crazy soloing done; the scenes mostly showed me working through the chords or writing a song. I would show up, and they would tell me what song they would need me to learn that day, so I didn’t even have time to practice some of the music other than right beforehand. It was actually really fun.”
Actor Lance Williams sits at the piano on the set of “The Price of Fame.” Ronnie Heart acted as Williams’ stunt musician, playing the role of Prince’s hands to make musical numbers look authentic.
While on set, Heart also became the crew’s de facto musical consultant. “I helped out with scenes that I wasn’t even in, telling the actors how to position themselves and hold their instruments. It got to the point where the musicians would just look up at me before the scene began to make sure they looked okay.”
Does Heart see a future for himself on film or on stage? Perhaps. He was recently asked to audition for a Peter Pan role at Casa Mañana.
While Heart’s stage career is uncertain, he’ll definitely be writing and performing music with his solo project in the near future. Local musicians Austin Kroll (bass) and Valenti Funk (drums) are mainstays in his band, which sometimes also includes backup singers or other instrumentalists. “We’re playing SXSW for the fourth time this year, and we’ve done a little bit of touring. We’ve performed as far as Moscow already.” A new album is in the works for release sometime in 2018. In the meantime, find Heart in Fort Worth throwing parties, DJing, and hanging out at MASS and Shipping & Receiving. Watch for Heart’s film debut as Prince on the Reelz Channel on Sunday, Feb. 25.
“It was cool to feel needed and to be able to deliver on that. It’s what I felt most proud of.”
By: Amber Bell