Foxx is cinema's twenty-first century man

Musician, comedian and Oscar-winning dramatist -- there's nothing it seems Jamie Foxx can't do.

Dialogue with Jamie Foxx

If anyone ever informed Jamie Foxx that he should narrow his interests, he clearly turned a deaf ear. By the age of 39, the newest recipient of a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame has racked up not just commercial but critical success in every arena of entertainment. He's been a brilliant standup comic, an Oscar-winning actor, a heralded television star and a R&B singer with a multiplatinum-selling album.

"In a way, Jamie's rise is almost the classic version of the African-American entertainer who has to have so many oars in the water he's like a one-man sculling team," notes film and cultural critic Elvis Mitchell, who currently hosts KCRW-FM's radio program "The Treatment." "His gift for delivery isn't just finding the right pitch, but giving it the grit of realism."

Yet while Foxx's talents are diverse, he's no dilettante. His latest role puts him back in the line of fire, playing a government agent investigating terrorism in the Middle East in Universal Pictures' Sept. 28 release "The Kingdom" (directed by Peter Berg). He's also sprung into action as the producer and host of Sirius Satellite Radio's channel "The Foxxhole," an urban comedy, lifestyle and entertainment outlet where he performs comedy sketches and responds to the news.

"He's someone who's always looking at a very big picture, which is what you find with people who are really brilliant," says Bill Condon, who directed the actor in last year's "Dreamgirls." "You can talk about a specific scene with him and see that intelligence, but he's busy talking about a whole culture and finding ways to express himself within that culture. That's why the canvas is so wide with him. He realizes he has a lot to say, and since each arena can only express so much, one medium can't contain him."

Foxx first gained attention when he left Texas and his music studies -- changing his name from Eric Bishop along the way -- and commanded the stage at various comedy clubs around Los Angeles as the 1980s changed into the 1990s. In 1991, he was recruited to join Jim Carrey and the collective Wayans family (Keenen Ivory, Damon, Shawn, Kim and Marlon) in the Fox series "In Living Color," where he earned applause playing characters like Ugly Girl Wanda and doing impressions of Bill Clinton and Don King. But his three-year tenure of 17 episodes wasn't just about laughs; Foxx credits his sketch-comedy training as being of enormous import in taking on roles as diverse as Ray Charles and a Marine under fire.

"We were working on trying to make those characters well-rounded, with different layers," he says. "That's why you laugh, because a comedian gets into the character and disappears."

Foxx was generously rewarded for his efforts, snagging his own self-titled show on the WB that ran from 1996-2001. But while he could do no wrong in the television industry, his film career got off to a less than auspicious start. He kept his comedy light and horny, with roles in films like 1997's "Booty Call," which later had him joking, "I still don't understand why we got overlooked at the Oscars."

Foxx was lauded for tackling drama in Oliver Stone's 1999 football drama "Any Given Sunday" and has largely stuck to more serious roles since then. And by 2004, first with Michael Mann's "Collateral" and then with Taylor Hackford's "Ray," he was primed for Academy notice.

Other storied organizations were also starting to line up with awards: 2005 was the year Foxx made history, winning an Oscar and a Golden Globe for his performance in the Charles biopic, along with earning a Golden Globe nomination for his role in the FX drama "Redemption: The Stan Tookie Williams Story" and additional Globe and Oscar noms for his supporting role in "Collateral." Foxx became the first person to be nominated for three Golden Globes in one year, as well as the first African-American to be nominated for two Oscars in one year and one of the only actors to score four major awards in one season, with a Golden Globe, a BAFTA win, a SAG Award and an Oscar.

"The Oscar win served notice that his wit as an actor could bring grace and humor to a biopic that's fairly staid in some ways," says Mitchell. "Music's not a sideline for him. He wanted -- needed, really -- to apply his training as a serious musician along with his ambitions for performing."

Still, it can be tough to sustain that much attention, and Foxx's next projects -- 2005's disappointing actioner "Stealth" and drama "Jarhead," and even 2006's remake "Miami Vice" (again with Mann) -- couldn't possibly compete. Yet their failure to catch boxoffice fire was offset by Foxx's glowing success in the music industry. Although Foxx had released an album in 1994 ("Peep This") that sold only moderately well, he recorded one of 2004's biggest singles, "Slow Jamz," with Kanye West. His second R&B album, "Unpredictable," came out in 2005 and won him a Grammy nomination, was certified multiplatinum and earned him an important fan in Condon, who was gearing up to direct "Dreamgirls" and needed to cast the role of manipulative music manager Curtis Taylor Jr.

For Condon, Foxx was not only the obvious choice, but the only choice. "When you look at everything the part demands, the list of actors to choose from gets very small," the director explains. "You need someone who is a movie star who could be at the center of the film and the glue that holds it all together, but could also sing and perform."

According to Condon, Foxx became the glue that held the disparate cast together. "Jamie took to the role very well in terms of shepherding the cast off the set," he says. "He has this incredibly generous quality. He was (co-stars) Beyonce (Knowles) and Jennifer Hudson's biggest cheerleader, but he was also the same with Eddie Murphy, even though he knew that Eddie had the electric part in the movie. There was nothing competitive about him; he let everyone do their thing."

Foxx's next project after "Kingdom" completes a kind of trilogy that began with "Ray" and continued with "Dreamgirls." He's committed to starring in DreamWorks SKG's "The Soloist," a biopic about the Julliard-trained cellist and violinist Nathaniel Ayers, whose schizophrenia unraveled his life until he was homeless. Joe Wright (Focus Features' December release "Atonement") will direct from a script by Susannah Grant (2000's "Erin Brockovich"), with Robert Downey Jr. co-starring as the reporter who discovers Ayers living under the Los Angeles freeway. The film is currently slated for a 2009 release.

Whatever the future may hold, Foxx's fans in and out of the industry are rooting for him. "He's so absolutely and incredibly brilliant," says Condon, "And I don't think we've seen half of what he's capable of yet. There's just so much talent there."

As for Foxx, he says his only goal is to keep his head down and continue finding exciting roles. Regardless of what parts he decides to play, this much is clear: Foxx is one actor who's playing for keeps.



Foxx in "Dreamgirls"

In living color: A peep through Jamie Foxx's boxoffice attractions

Any Given Sunday
(1999)
Director: Oliver Stone
Boxoffice: $75.5 million
Former high school football player Foxx ran with the role of Willie Beamen, a gifted but arrogant quarterback. After parts in 1997's "Booty Call" and 1998's "The Players Club," "Sunday" earned Foxx his first notices as an actor capable of emotional gravitas and dramatic range. Foxx also co-wrote and performed the movie's title song.

Ali (2001)
Director: Michael Mann
Boxoffice: $58.2 million
With a budget of more than $100 million, "Ali" wasn't a moneymaker, but it did boost Foxx's career. As Drew "Bundini" Brown, Foxx conveyed both the tragedy and humor of Ali's friend and rhyming verbal coach, a tortured genius who ultimately lost his battle to drugs and alcohol. To gain Bundini's paunch, Foxx spent preproduction doing what he calls "cupcaking out."

Collateral
(2004)
Director: Michael Mann
Boxoffice: $100 million
Playing a cab driver held hostage by a contract killer, Foxx protested that driving a murderer around "Ain't my job!" Foxx, on the other hand, did his brilliantly, earning Oscar, Golden Globe and SAG nominations for best supporting actor.

Ray (2004)
Director: Taylor Hackford
Boxoffice: $75.3 million
Thanks to studying music in college, Foxx was ready to play the blind, gregarious musician. Hanging out with Ray Charles and attending Braille classes helped. The actor, who once stated that "drama is easier to do, because comedy is a crapshoot," bet on the right project, earning an Oscar and a Golden Globe for best actor.

Miami Vice (2006)
Director: Michael Mann
Boxoffice: $63.4 million
Foxx reteamed with "Ali" director Mann for this sun-baked remake of the 1980s TV series, in which he played Ricardo Tubbs (originally played by Philip Michael Thomas in the series). Production, which took place in the tropics, was plagued by three hurricanes and other delays, but Foxx reportedly received a salary of $10 million for his trouble.

Dreamgirls (2006)
Director: Bill Condon
Boxoffice: $103.3 million
Foxx hit another high note playing Curtis Taylor Jr., the Svengali manager behind a supreme 1960s all-girl band. He also lent his voice to several of the songs on the soundtrack, though he says that he intentionally recorded in only one take in order to sound a bit flawed, as a manager would when singing.
comments powered by Disqus