Texas native Jamie Foxx was born Eric Marlon Bishop on Dec. 13, 1967 and raised by his grandparents from the age of seven months following the failure of his parents' marriage. Although he was a star athlete at Terrell High on both the school's football and basketball teams, he majored in classical music and composition in at the U.S. International University in California.
The versatile actor/comedian/singer/ musician/writer/producer/director got his start in showbiz in 1989 when he went on stage on a dare on open mic night and tried his hand at standup. 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 has won an Academy Award for his portrayal of the legendary Ray Charles, as well as the Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild (SAG), BAFTA and NAACP Image Awards. Jamie simultaneously garnered Oscar, Golden Globe, SAG Award, BAFTA Award, and Image Award nominations in the category of Best Supporting Actor for his work in "Collateral." And he landed Golden Globe and SAG Award nominations and won an Image Award for his portrayal of condemned gang member-turned-Nobel Peace Prize nominee Stan "Tookie" Williams in "Redemption."
That amazing feat marked the first time that a single actor has received three Golden Globe nominations and four SAG Award nominations in the same year.
Foxx has since appeared in "Dreamgirls," "Miami Vice," "Jarhead" and "The Kingdom," and will next star in the drama "Law Abiding Citizen," directed by F. Gary Gray. Besides his outstanding work in front of the camera, Jamie has also achieved a thriving career in music. His eagerly-anticipated J Records debut, "Unpredictable," was nominated for eight Billboard Music Awards, three Grammy Awards, one Soul Train Music Award and two American Music Awards, for which he won Favorite Male Artist. And his second album, "Intuition," was just released last December to rave reviews.
Here, he talks about his new movie, "The Soloist," a true story in which he plays Nathaniel Ayers, a Juilliard-trained child prodigy, who ended up homeless after developing schizophrenia. In the film, Ayers is befriended by Steve Lopez (Robert Downey, Jr.), an L.A. Times reporter who hears him playing the violin in the park.
KW: Did you get to meet Nathaniel Ayers on the streets in preparing to portray him?
JF: 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 n 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.
KW: How did you prepare for the role after that?
JF: 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.
KW: What made you afraid of that?
JF: 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?
KW: Joe told me that you filmed on location on Skid Row and hired a lot of the homeless as extras. What was that like?
JF: 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.
KW: 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 recently becoming homeless. And she had been an attorney and a best-selling author.
JF: 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.
Jamie Foxx's Performance Best Since 'Ray'
By Kam Williams
Special To The Skanner
Despite being raised in the 'hood by a single-mom, child prodigy Nathaniel Ayers (Jamie Foxx) exhibited such promise on the cello that by the time he graduated from high school in 1970 he had earned a scholarship to Juilliard. But unlike other classmates such as Yo-Yo Ma, Nathaniel would never get a chance to realize his full potential, because during his sophomore year he began exhibiting symptoms of the schizophrenia which would derail his dream of a career in classical music.
Soon, he had to drop out of school and return home to Cleveland, where he was cared for by his mother until she passed away in 2000. At that juncture, he headed west, prompted by a delusion that his long-lost father resided in Los Angeles. Instead, Nathaniel only ended up on the infamous Skid Row, leading a hand-to-mouth existence in obscurity alongside thousands of the equally destitute and less-fortunate.
There, the only hint of his musical past was revealed when he periodically played the violin in the park while standing beneath a statue of Ludwig Van Beethoven. Nonetheless, Nathaniel generally went unnoticed by passersby until the fateful day, Steve Lopez (Robert Downey, Jr.), a writer for the L.A. Times, was struck by the virtuosity being exhibited by this homeless man on a battered, old instrument with only two strings.
The intrigued reporter introduced himself, and was shocked to hear semi-lucid Nathaniel, during rare moments of clarity, assert that he had once studied at Juilliard. After confirming that rarified pedigree with the school's administration office in New York, Lopez decided to write a series of feature stories about how someone so talented could end up a street musician begging for tips. However, he gradually found himself crossing the line from dispassionate journalist to friend and benefactor as he became increasingly involved with rehabilitating his subject, not only finding him an apartment, but arranging for violin lessons and mental health treatment as well.
Thus, "Can this lost soul be saved?" is the burning question posed by "The Soloist," a bittersweet bio-pic based on Mr. Lopez's best-seller of the same name. Directed by Joe Wright ("Atonement"), the film features Jamie Foxx, who does a magnificent job in his most challenging outing since Ray. Here, he convincingly conveys the tragic plight of a man still capable of flashes of brilliance who is more often than not betrayed by his own brain. Narrator Robert Downey, Jr. is just as effective playing the would-be Good Samaritan forced by his estranged wife (Catherine Keener) to question his own motivations when his every overture is ostensibly thwarted by the very person he's hoping to help.
Was Lopez truly altruistic, or just motivated by the potential book and movie deals that Nathaniel's sensational tale might enable him to land? And was it fair of him to presume to know what was best for a schizophrenic without walking a mile in the man's moccasins or medulla oblongata? Judge for yourself. There are no easy answers here, so don't expect a Hollywood ending, even though the picture was shot on location right on Skid Row (and employed hundreds of homeless as extras), virtually in the shadow of Tinseltown.
A compelling cross of Academy Award-winning Best Pictures, "A Beautiful Mind" and "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," capable of holding its own up against those screen classics.
Excellent (4 stars) P
Rated PG-13 for mature themes, drug use and profanity.
Running time: 109 minutes
Studio: Dreamworks Pictures