Jamie Foxx's fun persona belies an earnest man

by Evelyn McDonnell

McClatchy Newspapers

31 January 2007


MIAMI—Jamie Foxx is known as an Oscar-winning, hit-making party animal with an ego as big as his accomplishments and lust for life. Singing “Gold Digger” with Kanye West at the MTV Video Music Awards, making acceptance speeches for his star turn in “Ray,” he entered middle America’s consciousness a few years ago like champagne busting loose from a bottle.

But that’s not the guy on the other end of the phone line. This Foxx is modest, straightforward and industrious. Even though he admits he checked out a Sundance Festival party the night before, he’s been up since 5:30 a.m. doing press, plugging “Life Support,” the HBO Queen Latifah vehicle he co-produced that’s closing the festival, and his upcoming music and comedy shows, including his appearance in Sunrise, Fla., on Friday. This is the former Boy Scout known for taking care of his family members.

Which is not to say he’s boring: It’s just that his candor is unexpected and, frankly, makes him more appealing than the guy with a tendency to bounce off walls.

He’s brutally honest: “It was a bad movie,” he says about ‘06’s “Miami Vice,” in which he costarred.

He’s earnestly concerned about artistic integrity, not box-office bang: “We’re going at it small budget, the type of movies that can be art films, where you get to let the actor or actress do their thing,” he says of his production company, Foxx King. “We try to find the best material we can. A great script is the most important thing.”

And he’s even humble: “My best asset for me is going back to basics, acting like nothing ever happened ... Hopefully, you will kind of go under the radar a little bit: Let somebody else take on the pressures and things. And you just go back to being yourself and trying to find the type of material that you always want to get the wows from peers.”

Born Eric Marlon Bishop 39 years ago, Foxx was raised by his grandparents in Texas. He moved to Los Angeles and pursued his triumvirate career: comedy (landing a role on “In Living Color” in 1991), music (a ‘94 album “Peep This”) and film (‘99’s “Any Given Sunday”).

In 2005, he emerged as the multipronged toast of Hollywood. His star turns in “Ray,” “Redemption” and “Collateral” earned him a record three Golden Globe nominations; he won a Globe and an Oscar for his portrayal of blind singer and pianist Ray Charles. Playing a musician encouraged Foxx’s own pop-star fantasies. That summer, he had a hit singing the tag line of West’s hit “Gold Digger,” which he followed up with the CD “Unpredictable.”

But Foxx says that the accolades did not necessarily translate into better scripts and deals. “‘Ray’ wasn’t necessarily box office. I’ve never done a box-office film. They’ve all been critically acclaimed.”

“Miami Vice” was supposed to be his blockbuster breakthrough. Instead, it was a bomb: With production costs of $135 million, it grossed just $163.8 million worldwide, according to boxofficemojo.com. “That’s like five, six steps backwards. Now you’ve got to start all over.”

Foxx earned a bit of a reputation for partying in Miami. At one VMAs party, he wildly encouraged attendees to indulge in hedonistic activities, some of which were illegal, others unsafe. During his Globe acceptance speeches, he acknowledged that his handlers had told him to take it easy in South Florida, lest the former Boy Scout besmirch his growing cred. “Don’t blow it down there, because everybody’s looking at you,” he says they told him.

That’s not going to keep him from partying this weekend, when he’s expected to turn out for some of the approximately two billion Super Bowl events in South Florida.

“We’re going to be out there,” he says, explaining his love for Miami. “It’s just the best climate. It’s like being in a different country. It’s so free. The culture, the music” and he bursts into the sound of a jazz solo: “bah da bah da bah bah. Everything!”

Foxx live show mixes stand-up comedy and music, much of it new material. “It’s a beast of a show, especially for the fans. When the fans come and they get the chance to see you go back to what you do: Go back to the silliness and goofiness and say that’s where I started. I don’t want to lose that.

“It’s a different storytelling now. When I first started doing stand-up, it was my routine; now it’s my life. I look at the pitfalls of being a celebrity: how you don’t want to be this type of celebrity, you want to be that type, and at the end of the day, just laugh at it all.”

Foxx shows a similar DIY seriousness of purpose about Foxx King. The movie roles are still coming: he starred in “Dreamgirls”; his next release, “Kingdom,” is with Jennifer Garner. But he’s trying to create an outlet for quality film and TV. “You look for those projects that take the integrity you have and spin it into some financial revenue, because you want to stay in the movie biz.”

Topics: jamie foxx
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