Even before Ray premiered, Jamie Foxx was hearing the O word: Oscar. That’s some serious praise for a comedian turned actor who got his big break on the ’90s sketch show In Living Color. Foxx, 36, who also starred in Collateral this year and took home a Golden Globe, recently talked about taking on the Ray Charles biopic, getting sized up by the late musician himself and enjoying his “Cinderella time.”
What was it like to actually meet Ray?
He was like, “Oh, let me check your fingers out. Oh, you got strong fingers. Oh yeah.” So he was playing one piano and I’m playing the other. He said, “If you can sing the blues, Jamie, you can do anything.” And we’d be singing the blues back and forth. Then he said, “How about this?” And he goes into Thelonius Monk, and it’s like the equivalent to riding a mechanical bull if you’ve had something to drink and you just fly all the way out to the bar.
That must’ve been pressure.
I hit a wrong note and he said, “Now why the hell would you do that?” He was very serious, he wasn’t laughing. I was just like, “I just didn’t know.” And he said, “The notes are right underneath your fingers and you just have to take time out to find them, young man.” So I used that as a metaphor through the whole movie. It’s that our life is notes underneath our fingers and we just have to figure out which notes we want to play to leave our music.
Was that a light-bulb moment, a time when everything clicked?
Oh yeah, it was after I got the Thelonius Monk riff, and he was like, “There it is. That’s what I’m talking about.”
You’ve mainly been known for comedy. How’d you convince Hollywood to give you this role?
You know what, I’ve never really factored Hollywood into anything. I’m a black actor, and so I can’t really worry about what Hollywood thinks. … You’ve got to blaze, in a sense, your own trail and then pull it toward you. It’s like hip-hop. It’s like how hip-hop pulled everything. It’s like, man, Fortune 500 companies are calling Puffy going, “What do we do? How do we sell this product?” [IMAGE “2” “left” “std” ]You and Ray also had a bond in that you both grew up in the South.
Of course, because anyone who’s been brought up in the South knows that you’ve been brought up in the real world. When I’m in L.A., it’s too nice. The sun is shining and there’s palm trees and everyone is happy there, but in the South there’s a real dose.
What about the history of racism there, especially in Ray’s day?
Ray Charles was the first one to stick his hand out and try to stop that domino, that racial domino, that ignorant domino, that I’m-better-than-you-domino, in a sense. That’s what I tried to do when I was coming up, because if you think about it, the way that Ray Charles put things into perspective, he said, “Whites only bathroom, colored only bathroom? I can’t see that. I just need to use the bathroom.”
Are you nervous at all about always having to live up to this performance in Ray?
Oh yeah. See, this is the Cinderella time right now. This is when everyone is like, “Oh, we love you.” I said it’s like flying out of Los Angeles. When you fly out of Los Angeles it’s pretty and everything is nice, and then the pilot comes on and says, “Uh, we’re going to have a little weather over Detroit.” So we’re coming up to weather, I’m sure.
So who would you thank first for an Oscar.
Hey, I’m going to thank my grandmother. Boy, that’d be crazy. I don’t know what I would do. I’d thank everyone. I’d thank Ray Charles, and I mean, everyone.
Who would you want to play your life story?
Maybe he isn’t even born yet. Hopefully I’ve got a little living to do.