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"I've been a sports fan all my life," Jamie Foxx once said, "and like most other actors, I'm convinced I could have been a pro athlete if Hollywood hadn't come calling."

 

Unlike most other actors, though, Foxx can make such a statement without seeming arrogant. After all, he was a star football player in high school, and despite an Oscar and multiple other awards for his mesmerizing portrayal of Ray Charles, he didn't start out as a dramatic actor. The public first got to know him as a stand-up comedian, but even that was not his initial ambition. It seems that the one constant in Jamie Foxx's career is talent. "Whatever I do has got to be great," he says, and so far he has rarely failed to achieve his goal.  

 

Born Eric Marlon Bishop in Terrell, Texas on December 13, 1967, he was adopted by his grandparents shortly after his mother's divorce from his father. A good kid who excelled in school, Foxx rarely saw his parents and has expressed hurt and bewilderment at their lack of interest in him. "You want your son to play football? I got that. You want your son to be smart? I have that." He now says his parents "copped out," a mistake he is determined not to make with his own children. "I don't cop out on my daughter, no matter how busy I am. So you know, I wouldn't do that. Plus, I had somebody who loved me."

 

That somebody was his late grandmother. "She told me to stand up straight. Put your shoulders back. Act like you got some sense," he said when saluting her in his Oscar acceptance speech. "She still talks to me now. Only now she talks to me in my dreams." She also paid for the piano lessons she insisted he begin taking at age 5, a skill that would lead to his becoming musical director of his Baptist church at age 13, and then to a scholarship to study music at United States International University. Later, he continued his musical studies at Julliard. But he also distinguished himself in  athletics. He played quarterback on his high school football team and aspired to play for the Dallas Cowboys.

 

So, how is it that Eric Marlon Bishop became a stand-up comedian under the name of Jamie Foxx?

 

It happened on a dare.  A girlfriend challenged him to take the stage at a comedy club on open-mic night to do his impressions of Bill Cosby and Ronald Reagan. Although comedy had not been his ambition, he had always been funny. In elementary school, a teacher even promised his classmates that she would let him entertain them as a reward for good behavior. As for the name, he chose the androgynous "Jamie" because he noticed that female comics usually received the first chance to perform. "Foxx" was in honor of the late Redd Foxx, the salty comic best known for TV's Sanford and Son.

 

The young man who earlier aspired to be a musician or football star, was now a professional comedian. In 1991, he was hired for the cast of In Living Color where he was surprised at the strict discipline imposed by producer Keenan Ivory Wayans. "If you weren't on time," he remembers, "you had to explain that in one minute." It was all linked to the advice Wayans gave him which Foxx has not forgotten: "You've got to be top of the line all the time."

 

In 1996, he began a five season run as the star of The Jamie Foxx Show on the WB network. In addition to co-creating and executive producing the series, Foxx directed several episodes. Although he won the NAACP Image Award for the show, the Los Angeles chapter found it offensive for perpetuating racial stereotypes. The next year, he landed his first major film role in the comedy, Booty Call.

 

"The crazy thing about comedy is I never wanted to be a stand-up comedian," he says. "But comedy is acting, too, only on a different level. You're still in character, but you're getting your point across in a humorous way."

 

It was his athletic rather than acting ability that won him his first dramatic role as a football player in Oliver Stone's Any Given Sunday. Reading from the script for his audition proved a disaster, so Foxx put together a reel showing off his football skills and secured the role of quarterback Willie Beaman for which he won critical praise.

 

Another dramatic role came through Will Smith who insisted that director Michael Mann cast Foxx as Bundini Brown, Muhammed Ali's coach, in Ali. "The first time we met," Foxx remembered of Mann, "he didn't like me." Mann would change his mind, though, and would be a significant factor in Foxx's later breakthrough as a major star.

 

"Everybody knows that Michael Mann is like a school," Foxx said. "He makes you get your homework done. And then you feel like every single day you passed the test."

 

Ali earned mixed reviews, but many people agreed with The Cincinnati Enquirer's Margaret A McGurk who believed "Jamie Foxx outright steals several scenes as Ali's loyal, colorful, unstable cornerman, Bundini Brown."

 

His first leading dramatic role came in the 2004 made for cable movie, Redemption, in which he played Stanley "Tookie" Williams, founder of the Los Angeles street gang, the Crips, who was awaiting execution on Death Row as the film was in production. Foxx also joined those who tried, unsuccessfully, to prevent Williams's execution. "When I first shook Stanley Williams' hand, I knew that he was innocent and that we'd be connected until he was either executed or he died in San Quentin," Foxx said, adding that he believed the court authorities deliberately avoided contact with Williams because, "Once you did know him, you couldn't kill him."

 

Next came Collateral, another Michael Mann project, and the first of the two big-screen roles that would make 2004 "The Year of the Foxx." To prepare him for his role as a cab driver who unwittingly ends up chauffeuring hitman Tom Cruise through a bloody night in L.A., director Michael Mann sent Foxx to a racetrack to "have the feel of the cab to where it's natural."

 

When introduced to superstar Cruise, Foxx joked that fate was at work to make the leading man hipper. Appearing opposite Cruise, however, was indisputable proof that Foxx was now a heavyweight, an actor capable of holding his own with Hollywood's biggest stars.

 

"Each actor works in a different way," director Mann observed. "There's no such thing as a method because great actors all work in completely different ways. Jamie's acquisition of character has to do with doing stand-up comedy. Nothing to do with Stanislavsky, it comes from In Living Color. So he uses mimicry as a means to get to a very truthful place." Co-star Jada Pinkett Smith concurs. "Jamie can watch how you walk or how you speak for five minutes, and then he'll do exactly what I watched you do five minutes ago. That is really part of having that actor's eye, of being able to observe people."

 

In The Village Voice, Michael Atkinson thought that Collateral was "better than its central idea," but whether or not critics and audiences appreciated the contrivances in the plot, the verdict on Foxx's performance was unanimous.

 

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"Jamie Foxx's work is a revelation," Roger Ebert wrote in The Chicago Sun-Times. "I've thought of him in terms of comedy, but here he steps into a dramatic lead and is always convincing and involving. Now I'm looking forward to his playing Ray Charles; before,  I wasn't so sure."

 

To play the legendary musician, Foxx lost 30 pounds and had his eyes glued shut to feign the blindness that Ray endured since losing his sight at age six. "Once I got down to that weight, and we got the hair together, and I put those shades on, and I listened to that music, I said 'Watch out. Something is about to happen.'"
 
One thing that happened was an audition for the man himself. "We sat down at dual pianos. He was playing one piano and I was playing the other, and we were singing the blues." When Foxx hit a wrong note, Charles tore into him. "Now why the hell did you do that?" Charles asked him. "He was very serious about it," Foxx recalls. "He wasn't laughing." Once Foxx hit the note correctly, Charles "jumped up, slapped his thighs and said 'The kid's got it.' And he walked out. That's when I knew we had it."
 
But Foxx still had a lot of research to do. "When I met Ray Charles," he said, "he was about 72, and I had to play him from age 17 until he was in his 30s." It was through a videotape of an appearance Charles made on The Dinah Shore Show in the ‘50s that Foxx was able to study "his facial expressions, the way he placed his hands on the piano, the way he walked, the pace at which he spoke and his voice pitch."
 
Roger Ebert was not disappointed. "Jamie Foxx suggests the complexities of Ray Charles in a great, exuberant performance... Foxx correctly interprets the musician's body language as a kind of choreography, in which he was conducting his music with himself, instead of with a baton."
 
No one else was disappointed either. 
 
"Jamie Foxx gets so far inside the man and his music that he and Ray Charles seem to breathe as one," Peter Travers gushed in Rolling Stone.  In The New York Times, A.O. Scott wrote, "You get the sense that he is not just pretending to be Ray Charles, but that he understands him completely and knows how to communicate this understanding through every word and gesture, without explaining a thing."
 
Foxx entered awards season like a tornado, winning best actor accolades at the Golden Globes, the Screen Actors Guild awards, BAFTA, and finally at the Oscars where his Collateral performance was also nominated for best supporting actor.
 
"I know that it's never going to be this hot again in this way," he said following his triumphant year. "Sooner or later, it's going to be somebody else's time."
 
But that somebody else would have to be patient since Foxx's star only continued to rise after his Oscar victory. His performance in Ray helped kick start his own music career. Foxx made an album a decade earlier, but he remembered, "the timing wasn't right and it wasn't a good situation. The situation is perfect now. The movie set everything up and people are more accepting now."
 
In 2006, he released Unpredictable, featuring an all-star lineup that included Kanye West, Snoop Dogg, Mary J. Blige, and Ludacris. Foxx played keyboards and co-wrote several of the songs, including "Wish U Were Here" in honor of his beloved grandmother. The album would debut on the Billboard Hot 200 album chart at number two, then rise to number one the following week, eventually selling more than two million copies and earning double platinum status from the RIAA. The album would earn four Grammy nominations, including one for best R&B album. It was the success of Unpredictable that put him in the same heady company as Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and Barbra Streisand, the only other performers to have won Oscars for acting, then recorded a number one album.
 
A year earlier, Foxx went to war, on screen that is, appearing in both Jarhead and Stealth. Directed by Sam Mendes, the Oscar winning director of American Beauty and The Road to Perdition, the former was the more prestigious credit. As for Stealth, Roger Ebert called it "an offense against taste, intelligence and the noise pollution code," but nonetheless felt it deserved a mention in Foxx's Oscar acceptance speech earlier in the year. Foxx "should have thanked God this movie wasn't released while the voters were marking their ballots."
 
He was better served by Dreamgirls, Bill Condon's film adaptation of the Broadway production about a singing trio loosely based on the Supremes. While film versions of such contemporary musicals as The Phantom of the Opera and Rent failed to duplicate their stage success, Dreamgirls worked because, as Variety noted, "It stays true to the source material while standing on its own as a fully reimagined movie."  Although Jennifer Hudson and Eddie Murphy won the majority of kudos from the critics, as well as Oscar nods, "Foxx is magnetic," Peter Travers wrote in Rolling Stone, as the ruthless manager.
 
He reunited for a third time with Michael Mann for 2006's big-screen translation of the director's stylish 1984-1989 TV series, Miami Vice. Despite its nostalgic roots, the film had little in common with the trendy show known for its pop music soundtrack, pastel shades, and Don Johnson's stubble. "This somber action picture bravely defies expectations and gives us something wholly new," observed Stephanie Zacharek at Salon.com, but in his typically curmudgeonly fashion, the New York Observer's Rex Reed dismissed the film and its stars: "Colin Farrell, as Sonny, is scruffy, ratty and barely able to speak above the lull of a hangover. Jamie Foxx as his sidekick Rico is just slumming. Never mind the fact that they lack chemistry: This duo never seems to be even remotely acquainted."
 
Michael Mann was also involved as a producer of the Peter Berg directed The Kingdom, but Variety described it as "a Jamie Foxx vehicle." It was more accurately an action film that appalled the showbiz bible for attempting to make a serious point about terrorism while "pandering to the worst instincts of its audience." To Foxx, the film was not "this whole political thing. It's just a suspenseful film."
 
If there is such a thing as a "Jamie Foxx vehicle," The Soloist certainly comes closer to that label than The Kingdom. Based on a true story, itcast Foxx as Nathaniel Ayers, a musical prodigy whose battle with schizophrenia leads to homelessness and a friendship with a newspaper columnist played by Robert Downey Jr.
 
"He is the most interesting person," Foxx said. "You know that voice in your head which says, ‘I've got to wake up in the morning and do this.' Imagine having 15 of those and maybe one is Mozart, one is Martin Luther King, one is Beethoven and one is screaming. When he plays his violin and his cello he suppresses the voices. If we're able to capture that, I think it will be a nice piece."
 
The Soloist was greeted with a mixed reception from both filmgoers and critics. Roger Ebert felt it "had all the elements of an uplifting drama, except for the uplift," while Claudia Puig in USA Today found it "poignant" and "unabashedly emotional without veering into mawkish territory." Both agreed that Foxx was superb. "We can almost smell his terror," Ebert wrote, and Puig thought him "wonderful."
 
When hosting Saturday Night Live, Foxx asked producer Lorne Michaels why some performers "'fall off.' He said, ‘Jamie, they don't fall off. It's the projects that you choose. If you choose the right projects you don't have to worry about anything as long as you do that.'"
 
So far, it doesn't seem likely that Foxx will "fall off" anytime soon. Whether as a comedian, Oscar winning actor, or recording artist, Foxx continues to stay true to that advice he received from Keenan Ivory Wayans:  "You've got to be top of the line all the time."
 
 

To find out more and get tour dates in your area, visit Jamie's website!



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