Editor’s Note: In honor of Jamie Foxx’s 50th birthday, we’ve reprinted our November 2013 magazine feature with Foxx in its entirety. Enjoy!
“Rihanna will sing the hook, Slash will play the guitar, and Travis Barker will play the drums.”
That’s the vision, anyway. “Fingers crossed,” he says.
Jamie Foxx is on a roll, hurtling from one idea to the next while his words accelerate to keep pace with his thoughts. The song he’s just described—one of several projects Foxx is excited to talk about—is just a concept at this stage, but he knows what he wants, and he’s confident. “My creativity is flowing right now,” he says. The Oscar-winning actor, singer, and comedian is, at this very moment, occupying none of those particular roles; he is simply a creative force, free of constraints. Over the course of our conversation, Foxx has gone from sitting at my right to crouching at my left to standing in front of me. From talking to eating to acting to beatboxing. And now he’s singing. By any definition, this is an interview; but as much as I’d like to think I’m participating, I feel like I’m witnessing…something. I’m not quite sure what. But it’s electrifying.
We’re sitting in a sparse but nicely decorated apartment nestled into the side of a hill in Malibu. It’s the kind of place where you’re not exactly sure who lives there, so you kind of just go with it. Going with it, it turns out, is also a theme when talking to Foxx, who, as I am learning fast, has a way of taking conversations to interesting places.
It’s become impossible, it seems, for Jamie Foxx to merely star in a movie these days. No. Now he must also create a trailer. And he must sing and produce the song for said trailer. To Foxx, it’s all connected. The idea for the track in question came to him on the set of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, where he’s been cast as the villain Electro. “People were texting me, like, ‘Yo, where you at, Foxx?’ And I would text them dressed as Electro, ‘Listen, I can’t talk right now. I’m chasing spiders,’” he says. “So then, I would go back to my studio with my boy Brains and we built a song called ‘Chasing Spiders,’ sort of like a rock-’n’-roll thing.” I ask for Brains’ real name. Access Denied. “If I said his real name he would pass out,” Foxx jokes, but clearly he’s not shy about giving me details. In addition to Rihanna, Slash, and Barker, Foxx envisions the track being supported by a 60-piece orchestra. “Thirty of them are villains, 30 of them are superheroes,” he explains. “Then, when it really ramps up, when the orchestra comes in, that’s when you see the big fight. Imagine the orchestra playing and then, in slow motion, breaking their instruments and running from everything. Since I did the movie, I know what the shots are—so that’s how I know how to craft the music.”
This could be a problem. For directors, that is. Jamie Foxx knows the shots so well, he could probably direct the movie himself. Keep in mind, we’re talking about one of only two men on the planet to have received Academy Award nominations for two films in the same year. And the other is Al Pacino. The man won an Oscar for Ray. We’re talking about Django here, people. The guy’s entitled to an opinion. And if the directors in his future are smart enough, hearing him out might just result in a better movie.
“When Spider-Man came along I jumped at the chance because it is an acting piece,” Foxx tells me. “A lot of people think it’s just a superhero thing.” When Foxx explains the background of Electro’s character, or Max Dillon as the embattled electrician is known by day, he speaks with the familiarity of an old friend. “Max was married,” he says. “His wife left him, his father left when he was young. He’s a broken spirit.” Foxx wanted to communicate this complexity in the movie. He found an opportunity in a scene where Dillon, on the morning of his birthday, comes down to the kitchen for breakfast and finds his mother sitting at the table. “When he asks his mom, ‘Mom, don’t you want to say something to me today?’ he thinks she is going to say Happy Birthday. But she says, ‘Yeah, like I tell you every day, you’re a dummy.’”
At this moment Foxx transforms into Max Dillon before my eyes. Sitting in his chair, he squares off to me and looks me dead in the eye. His voice, facial expression, and posture simultaneously shift in unison like a car seat returning its incline, height, and position to its owner’s preprogrammed preference. Poised to perform, Foxx acts out the scene before me as though the cameras are rolling:
“ ‘Yeah, but other than that, Mom. Forty-three years ago; Presbyterian Hospital; seven pounds, three ounces…’
‘Is this a riddle?’
‘Maybe this rings a bell: [Sings ‘Happy Birthday’ melody] Da Da Da Da Da Da…’
“And she says, ‘The only thing ringing is my ears from your voice.’ And then, I asked the director, Can we play with reality right here? Can I say what is really on my mind and then go back? So when she says the only thing ringing is my voice, I say…”
Foxx takes a breath and then blasts out the next few lines with rapid intensity: “ ‘My voice is amazing! I should be singing hooks for famous rappers! What’s going on in my head? You have no idea! Women think I’m cute, I have an electrifying personality, and Spiderman thinks I’m special!’ ” He allows the oxygen to flow back into his lungs, then exhales slowly, and Jamie Foxx is back in the building.
“That scene, without putting a costume on, it grabs you,” he says.
“We took it a step further.”
Acting isn’t the only thing that Foxx is taking a step further—that would be too linear. Foxx tells me he’s just as interested in advancing behind the camera as he is in front of it, specifically in the director’s chair. (Quadruple threat much?) “I don’t want to die and not have all of the ideas that I want to do out,” he says.
Foxx’s chance to yell out “Action” came last year when he was approached by director Ron Howard to direct a short film for Canon’s Project Imaginat10n. Howard challenged Foxx, along with actress Eva Longoria, Twitter co-founder Biz Stone, fashion designer Georgina Chapman, and LCD Soundsystem frontman James Murphy to each create a short film inspired by 10 photographs of their choosing. Foxx’s film, which at press time was scheduled to premiere at the Canon Project Imaginat10n Film Festival on Oct. 24 (all the films to be made available the day after on Yahoo!, Oct. 25), is titled …And She Was My Eve and tells the story of a man, scarred early in life by unrequited love, who works to attain the perfect mate and in the end gets more than he bargained for. “This is a new frontier,” Foxx says. “It’s a proving ground, and I think that’s what makes us work better—when we’ve got to prove ourselves.” Howard calls the film “unconventional and creative.” Talk to Foxx about directing for more than five seconds and you’ll get a pretty good idea where the “unconventional” part comes from.
“I learned with Quentin Tarantino,” Foxx tells me. “He taught me how to shoot, how to take my time shooting with one camera, how to make it lean. I learned a lot.” One of the best lessons Foxx has learned behind the camera is one that could be applied to almost any line of work. “Sometimes you’ve got to let [actors] go, and not try to micromanage every little thing, because you miss stuff,” he tells me. “A couple of times I missed a few things in a take and I was like, ‘I should have let that play out.’”
Foxx is quick to praise the people in his life who have helped him become successful. He credits Will Smith with putting him on the map; Smith insisted that director Michael Mann cast Foxx as Bundini Brown, Muhammad Ali’s trainer, in Ali. Foxx practically dedicates his Oscar for Ray to Tom Cruise, who allowed him to release Collateral before Ray, instead of after, in order to start building buzz for Foxx’s subsequent award-winning portrayal of Ray Charles. And now he’s added Tarantino to that mantle, for launching his career into outer space with Django Unchained and helping him become a better director. “Thank God for people like Quentin Tarantino,” he says. “Not a lot of people reach back and do things like that, those guys are bigger than life.”
Ironically, Foxx is becoming one of those guys himself. For the lead role in …And She Was My Eve, he made a very deliberate decision, choosing Tyrin Turner, a longtime friend whose last (and first) big break came no less than two decades ago as the character Caine in 1993’s Menace II Society. “This dude did a movie that changed my life,” Foxx says. “The last thing people saw him in was one of the greatest movies ever done in cinematic history. And he was like, ‘I want to get back out there.’”
Foxx and Turner have an interesting dynamic. When Menace II Society came out, Turner was a bigger star than Foxx, who was still making his name on In Living Color. Then, as Foxx’s career took off, Turner’s stalled. After coming to the realization that one movie’s success doesn’t automatically translate to offers lining up out the door, Turner spent the next two decades picking up whatever roles he could get, even writing some stand-up material for Foxx along the way, pining for a second chance. Today, that second chance has arrived, and lucky for Turner, he hasn’t been forgotten. “When my sister first saw him she started crying, ‘Oh, Caine, Oh, my God!’ ” Foxx tells me. “Then, the other night we were in this club, and here comes Leonardo DiCaprio. He shakes my hand, looks and sees [Turner], and says, “Oh, shit!” and runs up to him and recites the movie to him. So I knew that I was on the right track. I know that this guy has a lot in his tank.”
Foxx is taking it upon himself to ensure that Turner gets to where he’s supposed to be, that he doesn’t succumb to the comfortable entitlement that almost killed his career 20 years ago. “I said, ‘Hey, nobody owes you shit. Nobody owes this to you. You don’t deserve it. You have to go out and you have to get it,’ ” Foxx tells me. “He did an interview today, and I didn’t dig it. He stepped out there and he was like, ‘Yeah, I’m the shit.’ And I’m like, ‘That is not how you stay rewarded, and he understood it.’ I had that happen to me where I was like, ‘Yeah, yeah, I’m the dude,’ and next thing you know you fall flat on your face. You don’t need to dance in the end zone.”
“What I’ve picked up from him is you’ve just got to work every day,” Turner tells me. The actor has been hanging out with us all day. He’s quiet, but always on. More than anything, he’s humble, and you get the sense that he’s genuinely interested in learning from his friend. “This man works harder than anybody I know,” Turner says. “He gets up, he goes to meetings, to interviews, he sings, he produces, he writes—he’s everywhere—and he makes it look like nothing.” Of course, it’s not as easy as it looks, and Foxx is making sure to send the right message to his protégé. “When we shot the Canon film, I pushed him on everything,” Foxx tells me. “I pushed him to turn his hands differently. I pushed him to dress differently. I pushed him like how I would be pushed by some of the directors I’ve worked with.”
In the gym, however, it’s a whole different ball game, with Foxx and Turner one-upping each other at every turn. “I shouldn’t say this, but Jamie couldn’t do pullups at first,” Turner says, baiting his workout partner. “You know what it is?” Foxx retorts. “It’s a pissing contest. I go to the bench, because that’s my strength, and then he goes to the pullups.” When he’s not hanging out with Turner, Foxx works out with his trainer, Jack Manson, the former New Orleans Hornets strength and conditioning coach who trained Foxx for Django. It’s a perfect match for the actor, who grew up playing every sport under the sun. “We’ll do about 45 minutes of weight training, and then we’ll go straight to basketball drills,” Manson says. “He’s a lot more responsive than typical pro athletes. Pro athletes—at least the basketball players—a lot of them rely on their skill” For Foxx, the basketball part is key; it’s what keeps him coming back and, ultimately, what keeps him in shape. “With traditional cardio you dread running on a treadmill,” he says. “But when we play basketball, especially if it’s pretty physical, you’re working your muscles and at same time you’re dropping weight.”
“Dropping weight” is of course about more than just exercise, and Foxx’s success in altering his body composition for his various roles over the years is due in no small part to his diet; he eats very clean, limiting carbs at every meal and keeping fiber and protein numbers high. A typical day will start with toast, jelly, two pieces of turkey bacon, and orange juice. If it’s a training day, he’ll mix up a protein shake a few hours later, followed by a sandwich on pita bread, and then another shake 45 minutes before his workout. Immediately after training he’ll down an amino-acid supplement (Foxx likes the brand dotFIT) and then a protein shake 45 minutes later. He’ll follow that up with a snack and then a simple dinner like fish with vegetables. “It’s about caloric intake and output,” he says. “I’ll cheat a little bit, but then I just have to bust ass on the other side.”
While Foxx’s workouts and diet are necessary tools for excelling in his industry, the benefits he feels from adhering to a healthy lifestyle are about more than physical appearance. “I wouldn’t have this type of energy otherwise,” he tells me. “I feel refreshed, I feel young.” Above all the people and things Foxx credits for his success, this one is the most important, he says, because it allows him to continue focusing on doing what he loves. “What I’ve learned—and there is no way I could have known this 15 years ago,” he tells me, “is that if you stay true to your craft, you will always work. As long as you stay poised on your talent, there will always be a place for you.” And that means never losing sight of what made you successful in the first place, Foxx says. “After Ray, offers were coming in, and the people who were working for me were getting a little arrogant, like, ‘We can’t do that now. There is a certain level…’ I’m like, ‘Fuck the level—I just want to go back to work!’”