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ACTOR SPOTLIGHT: Jamie Foxx

As a new comedian, Eric Marlon Bishop was making a name for himself in L.A. at open mic nights. His impressions and physical comedy would frequently draw standing ovations. However, his success was undercut by the comedians who controlled the set list; they weren’t interested in being upstaged by a newbie, so they’d keep an eye out for his name and keep him off the list. Bishop’s solution was to sign up with different stage names every time he performed, using gender-neutral names because he noticed that there were far fewer female comedians at open mic and they were more likely to get called up [1]. One of these aliases would become his identity in the entertainment world as he rose to A-list status not only in comedy but also in music and film. Now, everybody knows him as Jamie Foxx.

Bishop/Foxx was an eminently talented kid; not only was he a great student and the first quarterback at his high school to pass for over 1,000 yards, but at 15 he became the musical director for his Baptist church choir [2]. He attributes much of this to his grandparents, who raised him in a strict Christian household in Terrell, TX. Foxx credits his grandmother as being his first acting coach because she taught him to “act like you got some sense” and “act like you’ve been somewhere” [3]. But from a young age, Foxx was a class clown. His antics would get him in trouble, until a third-grade teacher decided to use his talents to her advantage. As a reward for good behavior, she would let Foxx tell jokes to the class on Fridays, mostly bits he picked up from watching Johnny Carson [4]. Even though he got a university scholarship for piano performance, Foxx left higher education to pursue comedy in L.A. and marked that departure with a new name.

Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles in the 2004 film, Ray. His performance won Foxx an Academy Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role.

His gift for hilarity eventually enabled him to join the cast of In Living Color (1990-1994), a sketch comedy series that launched the careers of Jim Carrey and Jennifer Lopez. Foxx’s first movie role was soon to follow, making his debut alongside comedy legend Robin Williams in the movie Toys (1992). For his first few years, it seemed that comedy would define him; he was passed up for the role that won Cuba Gooding Jr. an Oscar in Jerry Maguire (1997) [5] and instead went on to play a character named Bunz in the much-maligned movie Booty Call (1997). His first dramatic role came as a struggling quarterback alongside Al Pacino in the sports drama Any Given Sunday (1999). Later he portrayed Drew Bundini Brown, trainer and cornerman in Ali (2001) with fellow comedian-turned-actor Will Smith in the titular role. He was critically praised for his performance as a day-dreaming taxi driver whose life derails when he picks up a hitman (played by Tom Cruise) in the thriller Collateral (2004). These, together with his talent for music and impersonations, laid the foundation for his critically-acclaimed role as Ray Charles in the biopic Ray (2004). His work won him the Oscar for Best Actor, not to mention the SAG, Critic’s Choice, BAFTA, and Golden Globe awards for the same category. Recently, he began work on a biopic for his friend Mike Tyson, with himself playing the much-debated boxer. The project is years in the making, but Foxx is already bulking up for the role, sharing his progress on Instagram.

From left to right: Ansel Elgort, Jamie Foxx, Eiza González, and Jon Hamm in a scene of Baby Driver (2017) | Sony Pictures Releasing.

Despite his accolades, his detractors often claim that Jamie Foxx plays himself in every movie he stars in. While I wouldn’t call him chameleonic, I will defend the depth he brings to his characters. While still maintaining aspects of his signature charm, Foxx manages to pull off a menacing criminal in Baby Driver (2017), a cynical sports reporter in Valentine’s Day (2010), a U.S. President in White House Down (2013), a homeless musician with schizophrenia in The Soloist (2009), an all-in Marine staff sergeant in Jarhead (2005), and an freed slave bent on revenge in Django Unchained (2012), among his aforementioned projects. When he plays a record executive in the movie Dreamgirls (2006), he flawlessly transitions from likeable chum to sleazy dirt-bag. Even if his persona never fully disappears, I feel that his storytelling abilities are undeniable. Despite his talent for impersonations, I can’t think of an actor/comedian/musician to compare him to; he is simply his own category.

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I’ve chosen to focus on Foxx’s film career, but his career in music is no less impressive, and he has a Grammy to prove it. But if you feel like a laugh, then I recommend you watch “Wheel of Musical Impressions with Jamie Foxx” [6]. I’m pretty sure Jimmy Fallon created the game with Foxx in mind, and I can almost guarantee it will make you laugh at least once. If you’re in the mood for more dramatic performances, Foxx recently starred in Just Mercy (2019) as the wrongfully-convicted Walter McMillian and Project Power (2020), which is now streaming on Netflix. Though I wonder if there’s anything he can’t do, I believe Foxx’s x-factor is not his talent, but his personality. His free time is spent throwing wild parties, playing celebrity basketball, and shooting the bull with those in the biz [7]. In almost every interview, whether he is a guest or the host, Foxx begins by complimenting the person sitting across from him on their recent work. Though he may not be doing stand-up, his comedic timing enables him to make memorable connection with both viewers and his peers. The day he wants to take over late-night television, all he has to do is say the word. For now, I’ll just look forward to his vocal talents in the upcoming Pixar film Soul (2020).

Citations:

  1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h63FotmAN_c
  2. https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/foxx-jamie-1967/
  3. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y2a1nzAciMc
  4. https://therake.com/stories/icons/jamie-foxx-goes-off-script/
  5. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tWxB-T-KgFk
  6. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dGidYBqBHVw
  7. https://theundefeated.com/features/jamie-foxx-baby-driver/

About the Author
Although I consider myself equally Californian, Oregonian, Nevadan, and Mexican, I currently reside in Reno, “The Biggest Little City in the World!" I love watching and playing most sports (I played rugby in college) but since I’m an adult with bills to pay, I also work in surgery at a local hospital. I come from a big family; if you speak Spanish I’ll force you to be my friend to help me practice. Most importantly, I’m super excited to be a part of Backseat Directors!

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