PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved.
February 27, 2005.
With the incredible buzz about the Ray
Charles bio pic, Ray, comedian Jamie Foxx's work has been hailed as
a Best Actor Oscar shoo-in even though he's also nominated for his work in
Collateral). And that's no joke; this former Texan has made the
transition from TV funny man (In Living Color/The Jamie Foxx Show)
and comedy star (Booty Call) to a serious actor tackling hard
hitting, complex roles such as the taxi driver in Collateral or
Bundini Brown in Ali. Yet this thirty-something actor continues to defy
expectations as he talks about tour plans, future films and his own comedy
Has it been hard to convince
Hollywood that you have dramatic chops?
I never factor Hollywood into anything. I'm a black
actor, so I can't really worry about what Hollywood thinks. I got to go do
my thing. My jokes have got to be funny. Whatever I do has got to be
great. When I first got on In Living Color it was not like I
thought it was going to be. If you weren't on time — if you got there at
10:01 — you had to explain that in one minute. Keenan Ivory Wayans was
like, “The reason I'm on you so tough, Jamie, and it is because when
you're mediocre you're not going to make it as an African-American actor,
actress, comedian or singer. You've got to be top of the line all the
time.” I ran into Keenan at the Comedy Awards and he's still echoing the
same thing. He said, “You're doing what I told you to do. Try to stay at
the top of your game.” So I never worry [about convincing Hollywood of
anything]. You've got to blaze your own trail. It's like how hip-hop pulls
everything. Fortune 500 companies are calling Puffy? “What do we do? How
do we sell this project?” It's that mentality that we all have as young
cats out there in Hollywood. You're never going to convince anybody. The
only thing you can do is stay true to the art. I'll drop another name, a
white man's name, Lorne Michaels, from Saturday Night Live. I was
asking him, “How come people 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.”
What made you think you could handle
I had done Ray Charles impersonations before.
They'd never made it on TV or anything like that. So I knew that I could
get into that headspace. But it was still the challenge of can you really
make people believe it? When you look at a biopic, it's really tough to
do. When you look at other biopics it's like, “Wow, that person looks like
him, but…” So it's — can you go beyond that to where people, when they see
it, go, “Wow, I'm not seeing Jamie Foxx?” I had a little bit of training
in doing Redemption: The Tookie Williams Story in trying to
transform into another person. And then I did Bundini Brown [in Ali].
I call it under and over. With Bundini Brown it was the under bite. Just
that alone gives you Bundini. So there were all these different things you
would do to try to see if could take what you feel on the inside and have
people trip out on it, if that makes any sense.
[Ray director] Taylor Hackford said Charles was
tough on you before he gave his blessing.
When I met Ray he said, “Oh, let me check those
fingers out. You got strong fingers.” So we sat down at dual pianos. He
was playing one piano and I was playing the other, and we were singing the
blues. He said, “If you can do the blues, Jamie, you can do anything.”
He's singing, “All, right right,” and we're singing the blues back and
forth. Then he said, “Well, how about this?” And he goes into [jazz
pianist] Thelonious Monk. It's like the equivalent to riding a mechanical
bull when you've had too many drinks. You just fly all the way out to the
bar. And then I hit a wrong note and he said, “Now why the hell did you do
that?” He was very serious about it. He wasn't laughing. I said, “Well, I
don't know.” He said, “You didn't know what?” I said, “Well?” And he said,
“Notes are right underneath your fingers.” I started listening to him as
he was speaking and he was very serious. His music is his harmony. If it's
off his whole life is off. He said, “The notes are right underneath your
fingers, Jamie. You've just got to take time out to find them, young man.”
So I used that as a metaphor through the whole movie that our life is
notes underneath our fingers, and we've just got to figure out which notes
we want to play to make our music. So that's what we started doing right
there. I said, “OK, I'm going to play the right Ray Charles notes and then
I'm going to play this Ray Charles story.”
And did you get the notes right?
After I got the Monk riff, he said, “There it is!
That's what I'm talking about. Now come on.” When I finally got it, he
jumped up, slapped his thighs and said, “The kid's got it.” And he walked
out. That's when I knew we had it.
How did you stay on the right side of the thin line
between mimicry and acting?
It's called nuance. In order to get to Ray Charles,
you had to pray a little bit because everybody knows who Ray Charles is.
Young kids, hip-hops kids, I don't say old people, I say seasoned people.
Everybody knows who Ray Charles is. The first thing I did was lose 30
pounds. I'm around 190, so I was 157 pounds with the help of my trainer.
We had to change my metabolism. Eddie Murphy said, “You're going to do
good because you got that Ray Charles jaw.” That was one of the things
that worked in our favor. I said, “Eddie, I don't know what that means,
but I'm going to run with it.” Then, when I put the shades on, it all came
together and then it was a matter of finding the nuance. When we met each
other, I'd take things from him when he was just sitting there. It's how
he orders his food, how he talks to his kids, how he gets angry, and how
he internalizes it. When you're not on that's the realness of it. The best
Ray Charles thing that I liked in doing this movie was when he'd answer
the telephone, when they were calling to tell him that the charges were
dropped, because he opens his legs and he sits down. That's what I call a
“down-home” way of answering the phone. That's what you're feeling in the
movie. It's the nuance. Once you get that you're not watching Ray Charles
anymore. You're watching a blind man go through some things, a blind man
blessed with talent, that's on a journey, and how is he going to get
through that journey. Then it's like, at first. You're looking at Ray
Charles. But then you look past it, especially when he's going through the
drugs. It's like, “Man, this dude is really going through some things.” So
all the different things we did were the ingredients we needed to really
get that character.
Did you choose to be blinded in playing Ray?
Ray couldn't cheat. So there were certain things
when I played it blind that you couldn't get around. I couldn't get up and
move or look up and see what was going on. We had to stay singularly
focused in order to keep it true.
Ray's mother was a huge factor in his life. Your
grandmother was a huge factor in your life. Is that part of the
traditional southern upbringing?
Of course. For anybody brought up in the south, you
were brought up in the real world. When I come to New York I can't believe
how many buildings there are, how much concrete, how much steel, how many
people. I'm like, “My goodness!” When I'm in LA, it's too nice. It's
sunshine, palm trees. Everybody's happy. In the South, even right now when
we're dealing with the political situation. For the longest time, [racism]
had been in certain people that's just how it was. Ray Charles was the
first one to stick his hand out and try to stop that racial domino, that
ignorant domino, that “I'm better than you” domino. And that's what I
tried to do when I was coming up. If you think about the way Ray put
things in perspective, he said, “Oh, whites-only bathroom, coloreds-only
bathroom. I can't see that. I just need to use the bathroom.” Bill Cosby
told a story the other night when Ray Charles was playing the Playboy Jazz
Fest and the whole orchestra was white. Cosby walks up and says
(in Cosby's voice),
"Do you know that the whole orchestra is white?” Ray says, “Funny, they
don't sound white.” So, I would say that I [also] wanted to bridge that
gap that was boundary of the railroad track. In my city the railroad track
separated the black side from the white side. The only time I saw white
people was when someone was going to jail or when an insurance [man came
by]. That's how you learned your acting skills. That was my acting class.
When that insurance man came to the door, my mother said, “Go tell him I ain't here.” I'd say, “Well, I told him that last month.” And she'd say, “Well, you'd
better make something up.” So I'd say, “My mother?” And that was my first
acting job. “Granny says she ain't here.” [Ray Charles and I have] these
similarities that come from that Southern upbringing and that southern way
of talking to women. I consider myself a southern gentleman. [I have] that
certain way of being country-dumb. When I'm in LA, yeah, I do all the LA
things. I know it's the west coast. I said, “Oh man, I love it,” but I
know on the inside I've got something else working, too. So there were a
lot of different similarities with Ray.
What's the importance of Ray's wives in his life?
You know what? I think the one with [his wife]
Della Bea was the most significant relationship, because she was the one
that weathered all of the storms. I mean how strong is this woman to go
through this? On film, to us, it looks wild and sometimes we laugh or
giggle, and we say, “Oh, that's Ray being Ray” but that was a tough, tough
thing for a woman. Being married to a man who is so complex, who knows he
is a genius, who knows he is to be protected. But at the same time there
were a lot of things that she had to go through. Even now, to this day,
she still has her dignity. She wasn't like, “I want to be in the
limelight” or “I need to have my story told.” She still is, in a sense, in
the background being that strong woman. So that relationship for Ray
Charles was, to me, just incredible. Even when he passed he was still with
When was the last time you talked to Ray before his
It had to be at least three or four months before
his death, because during the last few months he was away and nobody could
Did you remain in character when the camera
No, no. [actress] CCH Pounder taught me one thing.
“Characters are like putting on a coat. You put the coat on while you
work, you take the coat off after it's over.” You need that freshness. I
know people who stay in character, and it's the worst thing in the world.
You can't go out. They're still in their character and the residue is too
much. I like to flip it on like a light switch and then flip it off. Then,
when we come back in the next morning, I flip it back on. And that's what
keeps things fresh for me.
Since you've moved into drama, how important is the
Hey man, I have to let them know every day, “Don't
sleep on me.” For all those comics out there that think I've gotten soft
doing the dramatic stuff, I had to go to the comedy awards and let them
know I still got that comedy sword. We were at the ESPYs not too long ago
and Cedric the Entertainer was there; I had to keep the heat up on him. So
it's a fair competition between all the comedians. We really have a great
community right now. We honored the whole Wayans family for all the comedy
they've given us. It's a great time right now for comedians, because we
are stepping into other roles, but we're still keeping our comedy side
fresh. I ran into Chris Tucker at the Ray Charles tribute recently and
he's coming down to Laughapalooza. That's where I'm getting sixty
comedians together and we're going to go all night. Every five minutes,
Will you go on road or do more big-screen comedy?
Yeah, one of the films is coming together. Even
with that, I will get out on the road soon.
Does it make you nervous that your future work will
probably be judged against what you've done here?
Oh yeah. What I'm telling everybody
[is] this is the
Cinderella time right now. Everybody's saying, “Oh, we love ya.” But it's
like flying out of Los Angeles. When you fly out of LA, it's pretty and
everything is nice and then the pilot comes on and says, “We're having a
little weather over...” So we're coming up to weather, I'm sure, as far as
the different projects we'll choose. But to be honest with you I've got a
couple of decent projects that, for now, I can sit back and say, “There
are still going to be some great things.” So it's great right now but it
does make you a little, not nervous, but... I go back to my man and ask
that question and Keenan said. “You just got to make sure it's top dog.”
Who would play you in your life story?
He's not born yet [spoken in an old man's
voice]. Hopefully, I've got a little living to do.