(AP photo/Matt Sayles; Poster image courtesy of DreamWorks Pictures)
|In “The Soloist,” Jamie Foxx plays Nathaniel Ayers, a Julliard-trained prodigy who wound up on the streets as a result of his schizophrenia. The film tells the story of how he developed a relationship with Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez, played by Robert Downey Jr. (Photo courtesy of DreamWorks Picture|
Academy Award-winning actor, comedian and singer Jamie Foxx was born Eric Marlon Bishop on Dec. 13, 1967, and raised by his grandparents from the age of 7 months old after the failure of his parents’ marriage. Although he was a star athlete on both the football and basketball teams at Terrell High School in Terrell, Texas, he majored in classical music and composition in at the U.S. International University in California.
The versatile performer got his showbiz start in 1989, when he accepted a dare to go on-stage at an open mic night and try his hand at stand-up comedy. 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. He’d later launch his own sitcom, “The Jamie Foxx Show,” showcasing his skills both in front of the camera and behind it as the series’ co-creator, executive producer and even director.
After some lower-tier big-screen appearances in films like “Toys,” “Booty Call” and “The Players Club,” Foxx earned critical acclaim for his work as a brash quarterback in “Any Given Sunday” and as Drew Bundini Brown in “Ali.” The breakout roles led to a monster 2004, which saw Foxx deliver a trio of powerful performances.
In that year, Foxx won an Oscar and a Golden Globe, as well as Screen Actors Guild (SAG), BAFTA and NAACP Image Awards for his portrayal of the legendary Ray Charles in “Ray,” while also garnering multiple best supporting actor nominations for his work in the Michael Mann-directed thriller “Collateral.”
He also landed Golden Globe and SAG Award nominations, and won an Image Award, for his portrayal of gang member-turned-Nobel Peace Prize nominee Stan “Tookie” Williams in “Redemption.” Foxx became the first actor ever to receive three Golden Globe nominations and four SAG nominations in the same year, propelling him to starring roles in films like “Dreamgirls,” “Miami Vice,” “Jarhead” and “The Kingdom.”
As his film career has flourished, Foxx has also enjoyed success in the recording studio. His eagerly anticipated debut, 2005’s “Unpredictable,” was nominated for a slew of Grammy, Billboard, Soul Train and American Music Awards, and his second album, “Intuition,” was released last December to rave reviews.
Foxx recently took a few moments to talk with the Banner about his new movie, “The Soloist.” The film is based on the true story of Nathaniel Ayers, a Juilliard-trained child prodigy who ended up homeless after developing schizophrenia, and his relationship with Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez, played by Robert Downey Jr.
Did you get to meet Nathaniel Ayers on the streets in preparing to portray him?
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 on 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.
How did you prepare for the role after that?
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.
What made you afraid of that?
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? …
So at one point while preparing for this movie, I woke my manager at like 3 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!”
How did your manager respond?
He goes, “Foxx, I’m on my 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.
[Director] Joe [Wright] told me that you filmed on location on Skid Row and hired a lot of the homeless as extras. What was that like?
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.
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 becoming homeless. And she had been an attorney and a best-selling author.
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.
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 a cappella in his dress uniform. Were you really impressed with Kalu?
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. 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!
Is there any question no one has ever asked you, that you wish someone would?
Yes, there’s a question. How come they don’t ask me about how great I play ping-pong?
OK. How great do you play ping-pong?
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.
When was the last time you had a good belly laugh?
Every day, man. (chuckles) If you hang out with me, you’d see. I hang out with all comedians.
What has been the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome?
Ooh … The biggest obstacle? The mental obstacle of thinking that just because I was African American that I couldn’t have it all.
Who’s at the top of your hero list?
If someone produces a movie about the life of President Obama, would you consider playing him?
(launches into a solid Obama impression) If there’s any indication, that America is not the most incredible country in the world … (chuckles) Yes, I would.
And who would you like to see cast in the role of Michelle Obama?
Hmm, who would it be? Halle Berry.
Grandmothers have played an exceptional role in the black experience. In your song, “I Wish You Were Here,” you pay tribute to and share about your grandmother. What role did your grandmother play in your life and how did she influence your spirituality?
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.
Do you still get royalties from “Booty Call?”
(laughs) Yes, but they’re very small checks.
The Web site of the film, starring Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey Jr., includes photos, behind-the-scenes information, downloads, background information on the story of Nathaniel Ayers and much more. More »
The multitalented star's Web site includes more information about his various projects, including his work on television and in movies, his music career, his satellite radio channel, and much more. More »
Jamie Foxx may never get a chance to star in a remake of “My Fair
Lady,” but at least he can say that he played a modern-day Henry
Higgins. The comedian-turned-actor, who took home an Oscar for his portrayal
of Ray Charles in the 2004 biopic “Ray,” is now putting a group of
thugged-out Eliza Doolittles through their paces on the MTV reality
series “From G’s to Gents.” More »
Jamie Foxx may never get a chance to star in a remake of “My Fair Lady,” but at least he can say that he played a modern-day Henry Higgins. The comedian-turned-actor, who took home an Oscar for his portrayal of Ray Charles in the 2004 biopic “Ray,” is now putting a group of thugged-out Eliza Doolittles through their paces on the MTV reality series “From G’s to Gents.” More »