*Born Eric Marlon Bishop in Terrell, Texas on December 13, 1967, Jamie Foxx was raised by his grandparents from the age of 7 months, following the failure of his parents’ marriage. He sang in the church choir as a child, and quarterbacked his high school’s football team, before going on to major in classical music and composition in college.
Jamie’s showbiz career began after a dare in 1989 when he went on stage on open mic night to take a shot at doing standup. After paying his dues on the comedy circuit, he was invited to join the ensemble cast of the Wayans Brothers’ TV sketch series “In Living Color” alongside Jim Carrey and Jennifer Lopez.
He subsequently landed his own series, “The Jamie Foxx Show,” which went on to enjoy a five-year run.He not only starred on the series but was also its co-creator and executive producer, and directed several episodes. He made his big screen debut in Toys in 1992, followed by appearances in Booty Call and The Players Club. He received rave reviews for his riveting work in Any Given Sunday and as Bundini Brown in Ali, breakout roles which in turn led to a trio of critically-acclaimed performances in Ray, Collateral and Redemption in 2004.
He won an Academy Award for his portrayal of the legendary Ray Charles as well as an Oscar nomination in the category of Best Supporting Actor for his work in Collateral. Furthermore, he won an NAACP Image Award for his portrayal of reformed, Death Row inmate Tookie Williams in Redemption. Jamie has since appeared in The Soloist, Horrible Bosses, Due Date, Dreamgirls, Miami Vice, Jarhead, The Kingdom and Law Abiding Citizen.
Here, he talks about producing Thunder Soul, a reverential bio-pic which pays tribute to the late Conrad “Prof” Johnson (1915-2008), the founder and conductor of Houston’s Kashmere High’s legendary stage band.
Kam Williams: Hi Jamie, thanks for the interview.
Jamie Foxx: Hey, man, thank you, brother.
KW: It’s been awhile. The last time we spoke you were filming Law Abiding Citizen in Philly. In fact, we talked on the same day that you had to beat up that intruder who broke into your hotel room.
JF: Well, let’s hope that it doesn’t happen like that again.
KW: I have a lot of questions for you from fans, so why don’t I get right to them? Children’s book author Irene Smalls asks: What interested you in producing this film? Is your sponsorship of this type of documentary a direction you plan to continue in? Do you have other projects like this in development?
JF: What interested me was the fact that the story had a huge music component, since I have my own fond memories of playing in a stage band when I was a kid. And then I also liked the movie’s eloquent and touching storyline which flowed as if it had been scripted, even though it’s a documentary. You have the band getting back together for the first time in 30 years for a reunion concert, and then Prof’s ending up transitioning right after the event. It’s a beautiful film, and I just wanted to make sure that everybody was aware of it.
KW: This movie had my eyes welling up all through it, not just at the ending.
JF: Oh, yeah, I was dying, man. And when a story touches you like that, you gotta be a part of it.
KW: Irene also asks: What message do you hope audiences will take away from watching Thunder Soul?
JF: The message is let’s get back to some of that old-time good feeling. This whole world has become so mean and so hateful; and everybody’s hating each other. You know how they say, “No good deed goes unpunished.” Well, I think they’re punishing everything. Thunder Soul is the type of uplifting story you can take the kids to see, and enjoy it, and sort of float away for a minute. Also, in the back of your mind, it’ll have you thinking about what we can do to keep the focus on the arts in schools. Because any time there’s a little trouble in paradise, the first programs they cut are the arts.
KW: Felicia Haney wants to know whether this project struck a personal chord with you, being a musician and also from Texas. She asks: What impact did music education have on you in life, and what do you have to say to schools that cut music programs?
JF: Kam, you know I come from the gospel background, and that my grandmother later had me learn classical music, and that I went on to college on a classical piano scholarship. Then, as an actor, I did Ray and Dreamgirls, movies with musical components. So, I‘ve been heavily impacted by my music education. Music has always been a way in which I expressed myself and supported myself.
KW: Harriet Pakula Teweles says: When you do your musical gigs, you go front and center as Jamie Foxx and don’t get to hide behind a character with make-up and costume the way you would for a film role. How different is that?
JF: It’s a little different. When it’s just me, it’s sort of more of my expression. It’s what I have inside of me that I’ve been wanting to get out and am finally giving people a chance to hear. When you’re on stage, it’s right there. And every night is a different night. But when you’re making a movie, it’s a process which will have been edited by the time it comes out.
KW: Editor/legist Patricia Turnier asks: Did you ever get to meet Prof?
JF: No, I didn’t, unfortunately.
KW: Patricia also asks: what is your favorite song by the Kashmere Stage Band?
JF: I don’t necessarily have one particular favorite. As you watch the movie, you feel the band’s overall vibe more than you listen to any individual song. That was what made them hot.
KW: Lastly, Patricia says: You are multitalented already, but if you could wake up tomorrow having gained one new ability, what would you want that ability to be and why?
JF: To be multilingual, Patricia, because, think about it, you could communicate and hang out every time you went to a different country.
KW: Larry Greenberg asks: When do you think I’m going to hear a brass section in a hot, hip-hop single?
JF: You already heard it, Larry, if you listen Jay-Z or The Roots.
KW: Judyth Piazza asks: What career goal are you yet to accomplish?
JF: I have way too many ideas to list.
KW: Judy also asks: What key quality do you believe all successful people share?
JF: Hard work and discipline without needing anyone telling them.
KW: The Ling-Ju Yen question: What is your earliest childhood memory?
JF: Me sitting on a chair in my grandmother’s nursery school at the age of 3, watching my then pastor’s wife walk in with her kids on their first day there.
KW: Editor Mike Pittman asks: Who was your best friend as a child and are you still friends today?
JF: Wow! Gilbert Willie was my best friend as a child and, in fact, he’ll be coming to my house in a couple of days and we’re going to throw a huge birthday bash for him.
KW: Attorney Bernadette Beekman says: Since you believe so fervently in musical education, having started at the age of 5 due to your grandmother’s insistence, can you envision taking your advocacy of this issue a step further by joining a charity which promotes music education?
JF: Yeah, although I’m already committed to a lot of charities that do great work in the arts. Any chance we get to promote music, we do it.
KW: Bernadette would also like to know whether your daughter sings or plays an instrument.
JF: Not my older one, but my little one does. She plays the drums and the piano, and she’s only 2½.
KW: Erik Daniels asks: Will you use your radio show as a way of getting minorities out to register and to vote in the next presidential election?
JF: Oh, most definitely! We did it last time when Barack Obama was 30 points down and nobody knew who he was. We not only educated people about Obama, but about politics in general. And we plan to do it again.
KW: Dante Lee, author of “Black Business Secrets,” asks: What was the best business decision you ever made, and what was the worst?
JF: Oh man, I’m making a couple of big business decisions right now, so I have a feeling we’re going to find out soon.
KW: The Sanaa Lathan question: What excites you?
JF: Fun! Just fun, no matter what it is. A great concert… playing softball with the family… Fun!
KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
JF: I see a blessed man.
KW: Thanks again for the time, Jamie, and best of luck with Thunder Soul.
JF: Thank you, Kam.
To see the trailer for Thunder Soul, visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H-bSBqgJbTQ