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Interview: Jamie Foxx

Jamie Foxx on acting, singing, comedy, and controversy
By BEN WESTHOFF  |  August 11, 2009


Jamie Foxx gained fame as a comedian (and a master impressionist) on In Living Colour before parlaying his serious-acting chops into a Best Actor Oscar for the 2004 Ray Charles bio-pic Ray. He went on to sell millions of records as an R&B artist, most recently with last year's Intuition (J Records), which spawned the monster hit "Blame It." But it hasn't all been smooth sailing. In 2003, Foxx was arrested after a scuffle with police officers at a New Orleans casino. And this past April, he was roundly condemned for the raunchy tirade he delivered against Miley Cyrus on his satellite radio show. (He advised her to "make a sex tape and grow up.") We spoke about these issues, the Henry Louis Gates kerfuffle, and the star power of Ron Howard.

As someone who grew up in the racially segregated town of Terrell, Texas, what's your take on the Henry Louis Gates incident?
I completely understand both sides. He grew up in a time where there were black bathrooms and white bathrooms, blatant racism, and now he's being confronted with some of the images he's seen in his life, and so his knee-jerk reaction is, "It's because I'm black." I'm being very careful with my words with this, because I don't want to escalate anything. I think it's great that Barack Obama invited both of those guys to come to the White House, but I also think that we need more dialogue. When I was working in Philly for a movie [Law Abiding Citizen], I was asked if I would do something for the police officers there, because they were having a tough time with some issues. My suggestion was, "You should get the whitest police officer on your force and go into the blackest neighborhood and throw a picnic for the kids, so that the young African-American male can see that white police officer in a different light."

Do you see any similarities to the time you were thrown out of that New Orleans casino?
I don't think it's the same thing. [Laughs] I had my own issues at that time, because New Orleans will make you drink a little bit. Blame it on the alcohol.

Your show is a mixture of music and comedy. How do you combine those two in front of a big crowd?
I've been doing this for about 20 years, and finally the music is just as powerful as my jokes. Two years ago, when I went out, it was more joke-driven, about 35 to 40 minutes of comedy and then the music, because the music was just so-so. But now that we have songs like "Blame It" and "Just like Me," we come out and start hitting with the music, and then we sprinkle in comedy. We have guest stars, like [does Ray Charles impression], "Ay, yo, tell everybody, Ray Charles in town!", and the president of the United States [does a perfect Obama impression], "If there's any doubt that America is not the most incredible country in the world . . . " It's really like a variety show.

You're one of just a few people with a #1 album and an Oscar, another being Frank Sinatra. Is this tour partly to show you're a serious singer?
Definitely. I did so many comedic things that people saw me as a comedic actor. Until you get a chance to define another side of your career, people will always say, "You're doing it as a hobby."

Did the Miley Cyrus flap hit you by surprise?
Yeah, it hit me by surprise. I think people understood that I'm a comedian, but when I make a mistake, I wholeheartedly take responsibility for it. I apologized to her and her father. But I could never lay my comedic license down. I thought it was great that David Letterman apologized to Sarah Palin but then went back on the pathway of jokes.

Your tour features a tribute to Michael Jackson, and your name has been tossed around for his bio-pic. How would you portray him?
I think the Michael Jackson movie should happen 20 to 25 years from now. Whoever would play it, I would want to see more of Jackson's life from his eyes, how he saw it. Like, not being able to have a childhood, being the biggest entertainer in the world as a young child, but still being able to come up with all that wonderful music.

You say that, like acting, each song you perform has a character, and you even switch outfits. For "Blame It," you wear a sparkly suit. What kind of a guy is the "Blame It" character?
The "Blame It" character is Gatsby. He's throwing the party. The song is saying one thing, but for the feel and the atmosphere [of the video] we wanted to portray something different. So we have Ron Howard, Samuel Jackson, Forest Whitaker, and Jake Gyllenhaal, and we just wanted to make it a party.

You've said that Ron Howard's appearance in the video turned it from an urban hit into a pop hit.
It did! Because, when people like Ryan Seacrest saw that video, they were like, "Wait, what's Ron Howard doing in this video?", and they gave it a completely different look.

Related: Review: The Soloist, The Thriller is gone, Heaven and Hell, More more >
  Topics: Music Features , Barack Obama, Celebrity News, Jamie Foxx,  More more >
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