Alan James (Rip Torn) is a Memphis legend, a white man who fell in love with rhythm and blues well before most of his contemporaries even knew it existed. He went on to make his name as a producer of the music he loved in the 1960s and 1970s and is receiving yet another award as Forty Shades of Blue opens. In addition to being a visionary producer, James is a jerk.
Like many people who have become larger than life, he believes in his own legend more than a little bit, and treats people poorly because he’s learned that he can get away with it. Primary among those who fall victim to his whims is Laura (Russian actress Dina Korzun), his much-younger Russian girlfriend. The two met in Moscow where Laura was acting as a translator and have been together every since, about five years. While James clearly cares for Laura and dotes on their young son, he also cheats on her and takes her very much for granted.