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Role Recall: Jamie Foxx on living the high life for 'Any Given Sunday,' earning Ray Charles's respect, and landing his 'badass' 'Spawn' reboot

Jamie Foxx arrives for the 2018 BET Awards in Los Angeles on June 24, 2018. (Photo: Reuters/Danny Moloshok)

There are few stars as popular — and versatile — as Jamie Foxx, who has thrived on TV (In Living Color, The Jamie Foxx Show), won an Oscar (for 2004’s Ray), and been awarded a Grammy (for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group for 2009’s “Blame It”). He has continued to show his range in his new interview series Off Script (presented on Yahoo Entertainment), in which he talks to some of his favorite actors about their craft. It’s a role that reveals yet another side to the 50-year-old multihyphenate — and one that, he says, is a natural extension of his own life.

Off Script is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time,” Foxx confessed during a recent interview with Yahoo Entertainment in New York. “I get a chance to do this at my house a lot. I’ve actually had Denzel at my house where he spoke to all the young actors and actresses, where I said, ‘Denzel, would you come over and just give knowledge and stories that they can use to be inspired by?’ It’s just like how I had Quincy Jones come to my house on Christmas, and he sat and talked to all the young musicians. [Doing a Quincy Jones impersonation] ‘Yeah man, shoot man, Barbra Streisand, we’d have to vamp for 20 minutes.’ So it’s been this sort of thing I’ve already been doing — interviewing, and hanging out with some of my people who I think are heroes. Even with my radio show a few years back, The Foxx Hole, we’d always have people come through. So with Grey Goose [which produces the series], we thought it was a fantastic marriage to do something really dope.”

While Foxx has shown that he’s adept at getting other artists to candidly open up about their creative process, he’s also forthright when discussing his own illustrious career. That’s proven by our latest Role Recall, in which we sat down with the actor-singer-musician-producer for an extended chat about six of his most acclaimed performances — and, also, about his next eagerly anticipated big-screen project, Spawn.

Any Given Sunday (1999) “Steamin” Willie Beamen

Any Given Sunday was an opportunity for me to stretch. I was on TV, on The Jamie Foxx Show, and I went in to read and I met with [writer-director] Oliver Stone, and Oliver Stone literally hated my audition. I remember him writing down as I was walking out, “Jamie Foxx — slave to television.” Because I was so loud. Everything I said was loud. “ALRIGHT NOW AND THE FOOTBALL THIS AND THAT” and whatever. He was like, it’s too much. But things fell a certain way, and it ended up where he needed someone to play the lead part, who is a quarterback. Now, I didn’t lean on my acting skills; I leaned on my quarterback skills — I was a quarterback in high school, passed for over 1,000 yards. What I told him was, “I may not know all of the intricacies of what you’re talking about with the acting. But when it comes to the football, I know exactly what that is.” So as opposed to auditioning and reading, I made a VHS tape of me as the character, Willy Beaman. I turned that into him, and he dug it. He turned it into Warner Bros., and we started our journey.

Then, it was a matter of meeting some of the most incredible football heroes that I’ve ever seen, in Lawrence Taylor, Terrell Owens, Warren Moon, Johnny Unitas, Dick Butkus, which for me — as a football player wanting to be a Dallas Cowboy — was surreal and amazing. On the acting side, Cameron Diaz, and LL Cool J. When LL Cool J was performing at the House of Blues, he threw his jacket out, and I happened to catch it — that’s how big of a fan I was of his, and still am. And then of course, to be able to watch Jimmy Woods and the great Al Pacino go head-to-head was amazing.

But the one thing I kept relying on at that time was the football knowledge, even when Al Pacino was going over his speech. I don’t know if he remembers this or not, but when he was going over his speech, he really wanted to get it right. I said listen, the main thing about the coach is that, to these kids, he’s the father. They’re the father to these kids; they’re not the coach. If you put your mindset in the fact that these kids come from the inner city, and may not know their family or whatever like that, you’re their father. To watch that speech, which is now played in probably every locker room for any boys’ sports in the world — it was a great opportunity.

And it was fun. We were in Miami, man. I didn’t even get paid. I spent all my money on mesh shirts and rented Lamborghinis and Hummers — I was just ridiculous! I had a Mercedes coupe, a Ferrari, and a Hummer, and we would all drive down South Beach, and if somebody noticed the Hummer, I’d jump out of the Ferrari and jump into the Hummer — “Hey, how are you, how you doing?” Somebody would notice the Ferrari, I’d jump out of the Hummer. … So it was just a great time. And I remember Atlanta was in the Super Bowl at the time, in Miami, so all the football guys and the acting guys sort of came together.”

Ali (2001) — Drew “Bundini” Brown

At that time, to be honest, I had to take my hat off to Will Smith. He wanted me for the character, because he felt a certain way. Just like Ali felt a certain way about Bundini. Bundini wasn’t necessarily the best guy for Ali, but he was the luck charm, the feel-good. In doing that film, [director] Michael Mann was like, “Listen, I don’t want to have to think about you and Will. It’s already enough for me to try to help him land Ali. You gotta nail this.” So shaving my head, and then I started doing the imitation of Bundini. [Impersonating Brown] “Muhammad Ali is a prophet, how you gonna beat God’s son?” It was an impersonation at first, and then finally, when you’re playing a person, sometimes you ask the spirit of that person to sit down in you, and come visit you. He visited, and it was great.

It was a learning thing for everyone, especially myself. I had never worked with Michael Mann, so I wasn’t aware of the presence, and I had to learn some things. But he learned some things as well. Like, when it came to me walking in as Bundini talking to Ali the first time, he said you should be scared of him. I asked why. He said, “Because he’s the champ.” And I said, “So?” He said, “Why are you saying, ‘So?’’’ I said it was because black people don’t do it like that. He said, “What do you mean?” I told him, “Black people, our culture is different. If I see someone who’s a star, and I say hello to them, I feel like I’m a part of them.” So we shot it the nervous way, and I didn’t think it was the right thing, but I had to respect the director.

Then a few days later, I was standing on the street, and we’re shooting something in Miami, and this little white couple comes up and quietly says, “Mr. Foxx, is it OK if I get a picture?” and I said, “Sure,” and we took the picture. As soon we get through with the picture, I hear a brother across the street — “FOXX! What about it, baby? What’s up?” He comes across the street, got a little bag of something he’s eating, “What’s good, baby? Holler at me Foxx, what we doing tonight?” Mann says, “Do you know him?” I say, “Never met him in my life. That’s just the way we are. If I’d have shined on him, and told him I couldn’t holler at him, he would have told everybody Jamie Foxx is an a**hole.”

So Michael Mann, being the brilliant director that he is, went back and reshot it so Bundini wasn’t afraid of Ali, but was like, “I see you, and I see a way for me to help you.” Because the thing Bundin gave him was extreme confidence; even at Ali’s worse, Bundini was always telling him the glass was not only half full, it was spilling over. It was all those sorts of things — sometimes it has to play into your advantage, knowing a character like that. Knowing the Bundinis of the world, that’s what allowed that character to flourish.”

Ray (2004) — Ray Charles

I guess you would say we wanted his blessing. So when I went to meet Ray Charles, he walks down the hallway at his office in his studio, almost as if he could see. We sat down, and I said, “Mr. Charles, I’m just trying to do the best I can to portray you,’ and he says [impersonating Charles], “Look, if you can play the blues, baby, anything is possible. Can you play the blues, man?”

We sat down and we started playing the blues on the piano and then he moved to some Thelonious Monk, which is very intricate, for all you piano enthusiasts out there. And I hit a wrong note. He immediately stopped playing and said ‘Why the hell would you do that?’ I said, ‘I’m sorry, I was trying to keep up.’ He said, “Don’t hit the wrong notes … life is about finding the wrong notes, and taking your time to find the right notes.” I played it, we got it right, and he got up and said, “The kid’s got it,” and he walked out. After that, we were off to the races, beautiful journey, and we got a chance to show him the movie — he viewed it in his own way, just before he passed. It was a blessed experience.

The piano thing came in a weird way. [Director] Taylor Hackford says, “I think you’re going to be great as the character; I just need to find someone who can mirror you on the piano.” I said, “You happen to be in luck, because I went to college on a classical piano scholarship.” He was like, ‘What?!’ That meant he can just hold me in the frame and not have to cut away to someone else’s hands. It was a blessing and curse, because the curse was that Mr. Charles had re-recorded some of his songs, but he played freely without singing, and then he sung on top of that. So I had to learn all of the fingering of the piano, in order for it to look authentic. That was hours and hours and hours of not leaving the hotel with the piano, to make sure it was right. But I think that’s what gives it an edge. When you watch autobiographies, or when you watch someone playing the piano, I know what I do — I look, and a lot of times, people are playing in the wrong register, and so that means they’re not really playing. We were lucky enough to be able to play all of the songs.

Collateral (2004) — Max Durocher

It was a blessing to be able to work with that cast and director, because that was a moment of tightness. And to be able to sink into the character. It was tough, because you wanted to do your best. So I’m in the cab, ACTING. And Michael [Mann] says, “What are you doing?” And I said, “I gotta do my thing. You know who’s in the backseat [Tom Cruise], and I gotta do my thing!” He says, “How about you not do your thing?” I said, “What do you mean?” He says, “When was the last time you got into a cab and some cab driver was doing that thing? Or were they tired of driving that cab, trying to get home, so the last thing they gave a s**t about is who’s in the backseat? Do it that way.”

He was completely right. That was a moment of learning. He was telling me, in other words, to shed whatever I’d obtained up to that point. Celebrity, this and that — you gotta shed it, in order for you to get to it. Otherwise, you’re in trouble. I learned that and, even today, use that as a tool, or a discipline, to get to the characters.

Django Unchained (2012) — Django Freeman

Working with [writer-director] Quentin Tarantino is the best. Because he’s like a jazz musician. He just plays. And he has incredible disciplines. He says, I only shoot with one camera. I’m a director, not a video selector — so everything he shoots is one camera, it’s lean. The process at the beginning was, his words are the most important. And what’s interesting is, he goes on vibes. I would see Quentin Tarantino at clubs, dinners, things like that, and just be like, “You the baddest motherf***er on the planet. If I ever get the chance, I’m really ready.”

Then when Django came around, I understood the text. The N-word was said 100 times, but I understood the text — that’s the way it was back in that time. Of course, there were other people who I thought would have been incredible [in the role]. Will Smith would have been fantastic. I know at one point, Idris Elba — I said “Idris, are you Django?,” and he said [impersonating Elba], “Quentin Tarantino is talking about this movie called Django Unchained,” and I was like, “Boy, your pretty black ass playing Django — it’ll be crazy!” But luckily, I got a chance to meet with Quentin, and we hit it off. And I had my own horse, which I actually rode in the movie. “I’m so prepared, I’ll bring my own horse.”

The one thing about it is, everyone should be able to go to that school, because he loves cinema. He loves everything about it. And if you’re lucky enough to become part of that family, it’s a wonderful time. Because with the way movies are going now, with the reboots and the superheroes and what we do now, it’s rare when you get to work with someone that original.”

Baby Driver (2017) – Bats

[Writer-director] Edgar Wright is sort of like the English version of Quentin Tarantino. Very, very, very smart. He and Quentin are very good friends, and it was a wonderful original script. And when we talk about Bats, I wanted to be relentless.

This is always weird because, when you do press — and everything in the press is so f***ed up — if you talk about the real integrity of the character, they take the one word that you want to say and make it f***ed up and goofy. But I wanted to play the black guy. And what I meant by that when I was talking to Edgar was, I wanted to play everything that is scary to people about a black man. The legend of it. I wanted to feel that in the space. I wanted to be that guy that you’re scared of. I wanted to be that guy that you clutch your purse when you’re around. That person.

Now of course in the press, trying to explain that, they’ll say, ‘Jamie Foxx wants to scare all white people.’ Because all the press are f***ed up. But that was the character choice — not to be anything like Jamie Foxx. At one point, I wanted to augment my face a bit, and they were like, ‘No, for what we’re trying to sell, we want to be able to see your face’ — which was cool. I remember sitting with Calvin Harris, who’s a very straight-shooter, and he’s like [impersonating Harris], “So, I go into Baby Driver, and I see Jamie Foxx is playing the bad guy. Wait a minute. Jamie smiling, the music — this is not gonna work for me. And bro, I gotta tell you — you scared the s**t out of me.” So for a person like that, it really worked. Even when my daughter was watching it in the theater at the premiere, she was like “Oh my god.”

Again, it’s going back to Quentin Tarantino, Michael Mann — using the discipline of don’t do your thing, really be who the character is.”

Spawn (2019/2020) — Al Simmons/Spawn

I’ve been a huge fan of Spawn since it first came out. When you talked about the first black superhero — it was like, “Wow, that’s something else.’ We love all superheroes, but that really stood out — and then the movie, and when it ran on HBO [as an animated TV series].

Six years ago, I flew to Phoenix and just walked in on [Spawn creator] Todd McFarlane and said, “I want to tell you that you’re a badass and if you ever decide to do the movie, I want to throw my hat in the ring.” And I had something that I wrote up. He was like, “What?!” I was like, “Man, I don’t think you understand.” Spawn is one of the most interesting characters. Because he’s blessed by God but he’s raised by the Devil, in a sense. I said, “If you can convey that — that the superhero is blessed by God but raised by the Devil — that’s something we haven’t seen in a while. And it doesn’t take a lot of money to get it off.”

Once it started getting kicked around, I always checked back in. And that’s the thing about it — for some people, [the news of my casting] came out of nowhere, but for me, this was years and years of honing in and wanting to disappear in that character, and be true to it. It’s been dope.

And Jeremy RennerI interviewed him on Off Script, and every time I’d see Jeremy Renner, I’d go, “You’re not just an actor, you’re a bad motherf***er. You’re different — really different.” So doing Spawn is like doing a three-man trio; there isn’t a lot of instrumentation, but everybody that’s playing has to be a badass. So I’m practicing. Todd McFarlane is already a badass. But then you see Jeremy Renner, and you go, wow. Because the script revolves around the character Twitch, and you can look at Jeremy Renner’s face for an hour and a half and be moved. That’s a wonderful partner, and it makes you feel good about the project.

There’s going to be a lot that we’ll have to tackle. But for me, and what Spawn means to me, it’s one of those things where you get super-excited. We’ve been in the business so long, sometimes things become a little, you know…But when you get something like this, it’s exciting.

Read more from Yahoo Entertainment:

Watch: Jamie Foxx interview Dwayne Johnson on Off Script: