The Important Lesson Jay Reeves Learned From Ray McElrethbey While Prepping For Safety

Playing a real-life figure is an intimidating challenge for an actor, but when the job is done right, they can learn something valuable that’ll help them through the rest of their lives. When it came time to make Disney+’s latest sports-drama Safety, actor Jay Reeves learned that sort of lesson from the real-life Clemson player he was portraying, Ray McElrethbey. What Reeves took away from his prep to be the lead in this streaming sports tale is something that Reeves admits he’s still trying to incorporate into his life, even after the cameras have stopped rolling.

As I was present for the press day promoting Safety, I was able to speak with some of the cast members on behalf of CinemaBlend, which led to a spirited conversation on just what it takes to capture the essence of this true story. Part of the preparation naturally included talking with Ray McElrethbey himself, as he was actually present on the set of director Reginald Hudlin’s film for most of the production. But in the case of Jay Reeves, the man who would be Ray, he got to work out with his real-life counterpart; which lead to the following motivational moment:

While working out, Ray would do this thing where we would do a lot of reps, and right when I’m tired he’d say, ‘You’re not as tired as you think you are,’ and he’d just keep going. So just that, that stuck with me because this man would say, ‘Even when your brain is at that point of wanting to give up, you don’t want to give up,. It’s just your mind talking to you.’ So he knows how to push past that, and that’s still something I’m working on in my life.

Detailing the 2006 events that saw Ray McElrethbey needing to take care of his younger brother Fahmarr, after his mother was entered into a drug rehab program for 30 days, Safety tells this story with warmth and heart, as well as some humor. Basically, if you love stories like Remember The Titans, The Rookie or Miracle, you’ll probably get a lot out of director Reginald Hudlin’s film. Which is a good thing, as Hudlin teamed with producer Mark Ciardi, the man who helped make some of those movies happen at Disney. His decade-plus quest to make this specific story landed the project at Disney+, which is a crucial part of how Safety got made in the first place.

14 years saw Ray McElrethbey’s story of personal struggle and triumph turn into a tale that could inspire people far and wide. And in finding Jay Reeves, who had previously starred in a recurring role on The CW’s football drama All American, as well as in films like David Ayer’s The Tax Collector, the powers in charge of Safety had selected the perfect choice of actor to bring this piece of history to life. Not only was Reeves cut out to handle the performance and its physical demands, but as it turns out the actor lived a half a mile away from the man he was playing; no one knew about it until after casting.

Sharing a corner of the world, as well as a work ethic that sounds like pure Clemson, Jay Reeves and Ray McElrethbey helped make Safety a story that audiences could use on their screens. With streaming bringing a hot commodity to the attention of studio heads far and wide, the fact that Disney+ even had this movie in its library puts the platform at an advantage. But being able to deliver a sports story that shows how a team can act like a family in the darkest of hours is something that resonates even more than ever in the age of the pandemic.

The results speak for themselves, as Jay Reeves’ performance as Ray McElrethbey makes Safety something truly wonderful to behold. You can see for yourself, as the streaming premiere of Safety happens tomorrow on Disney+. So after you’ve enjoyed your latest fix of The Mandalorian, think twice before switching streams for your next entertainment experience.

Mike Reyes
Senior Movies Contributor

Mike Reyes is the Senior Movie Contributor at CinemaBlend, though that title’s more of a guideline really. Passionate about entertainment since grade school, the movies have always held a special place in his life, which explains his current occupation. Mike graduated from Drew University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science, but swore off of running for public office a long time ago. Mike's expertise ranges from James Bond to everything Alita, making for a brilliantly eclectic resume. He fights for the user.