Jamie Foxx “The Soloist” Interview with Kam Williams Headline: Kam Goes Solo with Jamie Texas native Jamie Foxx was born Eric Marlon Bishop on December 13, 1967 and raised by his grandparents from the age of seven months following the failure of his parents’ marriage. Although he was a star athlete at Terrell High on both the school’s football and basketball teams, he majored in classical music and composition in at the U.S. International University in California.
The versatile actor/comedian/singer/musician/writer/producer/director got his start in showbiz in 1989 when he went on stage on a dare on open mic night and tried his hand at standup. After spending time on the comedy circuit, he joined Keenan Ivory Wayans, Jim Carrey, Damon Wayans and Tommy Davidson in the landmark Fox sketch comedy series “In Living Color,” creating some of the show’s funniest and most memorable moments.
In 1996, he launched his own series, “The Jamie Foxx Show,” which was one of the top-rated programs on the WB Network during its five-year run. Jamie not only starred on the series but also was the co-creator and executive producer, and directed several episodes. He made his big screen in Toys in 1992, followed by appearances in Booty Call and The Players Club. He received critical acclaim for his riveting work and in Any Given Sunday and as Bundini Brown in Ali, breakout roles which inexorably led to 2004, the Year of the Foxx, when he delivered a trio of powerful performances in Ray, Collateral and Redemption.
He won an Academy Award for his portrayal of the legendary Ray Charlesas well as the Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild (SAG), BAFTA and NAACP Image Awards. Jamie simultaneously garnered Oscar, Golden Globe, SAG Award, BAFTA Award, and Image Award nominations in the category of Best Supporting Actor for his work in Collateral. And he landed Golden Globe and SAG Award nominations and won an Image Award for his portrayal of condemned gang member-turned-Nobel Peace Prize nominee Stan “Tookie” Williams in Redemption.
That amazing feat marked the first time that a single actor has received three Golden Globe nominations and four SAG Award nominations in the same year. Foxx has since appeared in Dreamgirls, Miami Vice, Jarhead and The Kingdom, and will next star in the drama Law Abiding Citizen directed by F. Gary Gray. Besides his outstanding work in front of the camera, Jamie has also achieved a thriving career in music. His eagerly-anticipated J Records debut, “Unpredictable,” was nominated for eight Billboard Music Awards, three Grammy Awards, one Soul Train Music Award and two American Music Awards, for which he won Favorite Male Artist. And his second album, “Intuition,” was just released last December to rave reviews.
Here, he talks about his new movie, The Soloist, a true story in which he plays Nathaniel Ayers, a Juilliard-trained child prodigy, who ended up homeless after developing schizophrenia. In the film, Ayers is befriended by Steve Lopez (Robert Downey, Jr.), an L.A. Times reporter who hears him playing the violin in the park.
KW: Jamie, I loved The Soloist and I’m so honored to get this time with you.
JF: Thank you, bro.
KW: My first question is, did you get to meet Nathaniel Ayers on the streets in preparing to portray him?
JF: Yes I did. As a matter of fact, I snuck downtown with a little bit of a disguise and a security cat, and I just hung out right next to Nathaniel. He had no idea that I was watching him. I got a chance to see him speak to the world, and get excited, and be happy, and sad, and play his music. And I saw him preach. Watching that I was able to gather a lot of great information about who this guy was that I was about to play, without hearing anybody’s opinion of him, but just from my firsthand look at him. Later, I was formally introduced to him, and he was on his best behavior. He smiled because he gets it that they were going to do a movie about his life. And then you see him not get it, and wondering, “What’s going n here?” And then he’d swing back around and get it again. So, it was very interesting. And while all that was happening, I had a video camera on my phone that I used to record him the whole time. So, I came home, watched that footage, the footage I filmed when he wasn’t watching, and the footage I filmed when he was aware.
KW: How did you prepare for the role after that?
JF: It was a matter of putting him together. Losing the weight… getting the hair right… getting the makeup right… and going to that place that I have feared going to for a long time, that is, losing your mind.
KW: What made you afraid of that?
JF: As a child I always feared losing my mind. There was a guy in my neighborhood who always walked up and down the street talking to himself. I won’t say his name, but I would always go, “Ooh, that’s scary.” And then, when I was 18, I had a horrible experience when somebody slipped something into my drink. It was a college prank that really went bad, and I hallucinated for 11 months. The doctors said that sometimes people go and they never come back. I was lucky enough to get back, but the way I recovered was by playing music all the time, because I was in a music school. Isn’t it interesting that Nathaniel Anthony Ayers had a similar situation?
JF: So, at one point while preparing for this movie I woke my manager at like three in the morning, saying, “I got it, I’m him, I know exactly what’s going on. Nathaniel says this, that and the other, because he feels this way and that way. I used to do the same thing when I was in college. I played music, and the reason we play music is so we can soothe ourselves. I’m him!”
KW: How did your manger respond?
JF: He goes, “Foxx, I’m on way over to your house, because this is a little strange.” And when he gets there, I’m telling him all these different things which to him sounded like I was losing my mind. But to me, it made perfect sense, and that’s who Nathaniel Anthony Ayers is. Everything that he’s doing makes perfect sense to him. That’s why when Steve Lopez says, “You need help,” Nathaniel responds, “No, you don’t get it. This is what it is. This is what makes me feel comfortable. This is not your mind. This is my mind.” So, there were a lot of different parallels going on.
KW: After seeing The Soloist, I spoke to the film’s director, Joe Wright, because I was upset that it hadn’t been released last fall during Oscar season like originally planned. It struck me as a cross of A Beautiful Mind and One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest. But I think you did a better job at conveying the feeling of insanity than either of those other pictures, which were both excellent, too.
KW: Joe told me that you filmed on location on Skid Row and hired a lot of the homeless as extras. What was that like?
JF: It was interesting. I learned to have a different outlook on Skid Row. I arrived with my bravado, being an urban kid from the country, and thinking that there were people there out to get you. There’s gangbanging going on on Skid Row… people selling drugs… people on the come up… So, I went down there with an attitude like, “Yo, I’m going down here, but I’m watching my back.” But I quickly learned that that wasn’t what it was all about. They were mostly people who were really just trying to survive and to hold onto the little bit of human dignity they had left. I met actors down there, lawyers, and people who had been released too early from mental institutions that had turned their backs on them. People who had been living a couple of paychecks from being homeless, and then something bad happened, they lost everything, and now they don’t know how to get back. I learned a lot of lessons, so when I look at them now, I don’t think of them in the same way that I used to. I have to thank Joe Wright for that.
KW: It reminds me of how when I was watching the State of the Black Union recently, I saw former TV talk show host Iyanla Vanzant talking about recently becoming homeless. And she had been an attorney and a best-selling author.
JF: Yeah, it blows your mind, man, because you never know where you might be. That was another thing I said to my manager that night, “And this is what’s going to happen: I’m going to lose all my money. I’m going to lose this house, and I’m going to end up homeless.” And to me, it really felt like that could happen. And sometimes, in those situations, it really can.
KW: When you mentioned videotaping Nathaniel, it reminded me of a video I saw of you on the internet at the presidential inauguration where you were using your phone to tape a student from the Naval Academy, Chidiebere Kalu, singing acappella in his dress uniform.
He actually happens to be a friend of my son, who’s producing some tracks with him. Were you really impressed with Kalu?
JF: Yes, he just text-messaged me. I let him know to have some patience. I’m trying to get it all together, so when I come to him it’s real legit. [Jamie starts singing the same song Kalu sings on youtube]. Whatever that song was, I called him on his answering machine, and said, “Young man, I’ve got some great ideas for you, I’m just trying to put it all together.” I think we could really do something special with him. When I listened to his music, I just didn’t think that was the way he should go. I think that he could stay clean. He could be a real beacon coming from the military, doing some great inspirational music that would also sell. I don’t want him to feel like he’s corny, because I know he’s got his thing going. But with some of the music I heard, I was like, “That’s cool,” but we need to find the right music for him and then capitalize on where he’s coming from. This video footage I have of him is just amazing!
KW: Is there any question no one has ever asked you, that you wish someone would?
JF: Yes, there’s a question. How come they don’t ask me about how great I play ping-pong?
KW: Okay, how great do you play ping-pong?
JF: I’m bad! I will challenge anybody. Don’t even think about it. Unless you’re left-handed and from China, you don’t have a chance.
KW: The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?
JF: All the time.
KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?
KW: The Teri Emerson question: When was the last time you had a good belly laugh?
JF: Every day, man. [Chuckles] If you hang out with me, you’d see. I hang out with all comedians.
KW: The “Realtor to the Stars” Jimmy Bayan question: Where in L.A. do you live?
JF: I live on a farm outside of L.A., about an hour away. On a 40-acre avocado farm.
KW: Jimmy also wants to know, when did you think that an Oscar was attainable? When you left Texas? When you were on In Living Color?
JF: When we attained it. K
KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?
JF: To be honest, Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham.
KW: The music maven Heather Covington question: What music are you listening to?
KW: What has been the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome?
JF: Ooh… The biggest obstacle? The mental obstacle of thinking that just because I was African-American that I couldn’t have it all.
KW: The Rudy Lewis question: Who’s at the top of your hero list?
JF: Barack Obama.
KW: The Laz Alonso question: Is there anything your fans can do to help you?
JF: By always telling me if it’s good, bad, or all right.
KW: Reverend Florine Thompson asks, if someone produces is a movie about the life of President Obama would you consider playing him?
JF: [Answers doing an impressive Obama impersonation that sounds just like the President] If there’s any indication, that America is not the most incredible country in the world… [Chuckles] Yes I would.
KW: And the good Reverend had a follow-up, who would you like to see cast in the role of Michelle Obama?
JF: Hmm, who would it be? Halle Berry.
KW: Reverend Thompson also says grandmothers have played an exceptional role in the black experience, and that in your song, “I Wish You Were Here,” you pay tribute to and share about your grandmother. She asks what role did your grandmother play in your life and how did she influence your spirituality?
JF: She gave me everything. She gave me the tools to be who I am, from music to athletics to knowing how to be a gentleman. She did it all.
KW: Attorney Bernadette Beekman wants to know whether you still get royalties from Booty Call?
JF: [LOL] Yes, but they’re very small checks.
KW: Marianne Ilaw was wondering whether you would consider recording an old school R&B album updating hits from the Seventies.
JF: [Pauses to think about it] Umm…. No.
KW: Keith Kremer asks if you’re Ugly Girl character from In Living Color going to make a cameo appearance in one of your future movies?
KW: Finally, aspiring scriptwriter Chris Carden says he’s got a great screenplay he wants you to read.
JF: That’s okay.
KW: Well, thanks again for a great interview, Jamie and good luck with the film.
JF: Thanks, bro. To see a trailer for The Soloist, visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vrrLJT4YS9I To see the video of Navy Midshipman Chidiebere Kalu singing for Jamie Foxx at the Presidential inauguration, visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J5CgQgDwL_k&feature=player_embedded