The Art of Being a Confidence Man


    Actor Jamie Foxx

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    Three years later, having changed his name from Eric Bishop to the gender-neutral Jamie Foxx (comedy-club owners at the time were booking women sight unseen), he landed on In Living Color, the sketch-comedy show that launched the careers of Jim Carrey, Jennifer Lopez and several dozen Wayanses. Foxx soon made a name for himself playing characters like Ugly Wanda on In Living Color, Crazy George on Roc and Bunz in Booty Call, a movie about a quest for condoms. (He also released an R&B; album, Peep This, that he would like to forget.) But Foxx discovered that Ugly Wanda, Crazy George and Bunz are not names that scan well on the back of a head shot. Even though he had his own sitcom for five years on the WB, "when I started trying to do movies," he says, "people were like, 'We dig Jamie Foxx, but what's up with the choices?' They didn't understand; Booty Call was not a choice! It was what I did because I couldn't get work in anything better."

    Foxx attributes the lack of good roles to a Hollywood slot system for black comics. "Will Smith has a slot," he says. "Martin Lawrence has a slot. Chris Tucker, Chris Rock, they all have slots. I needed to get a slot." (Foxx says this with no rancor; he believes white actors have it tougher because "there's so damn many of them.") He read for the Rod Tidwell role in Jerry Maguire with Tom Cruise (for which Cuba Gooding Jr. won an Oscar), but even after Oliver Stone gave him a breakout part as a rookie quarterback in Any Given Sunday — reportedly because first choice Sean (P. Diddy) Combs threw like a girl — nothing changed. "After Any Given Sunday — I'm not kidding — I got a script called The Next Hot Negro. The. Next. Hot. Negro."

    Rather than smother a budding reputation, Foxx turned down every film role for a year. "I had something to fall back on," he says, referring to the lucrative stand-up tour he did in 2001. "But I believe that with acting, people will find you if you have talent. And I have talent." Sure enough, Michael Mann eventually saw Any Given Sunday and hired Foxx to play the worshipful corner man, Drew (Bundini) Brown, in Ali. He drew plaudits — and more bad scripts. Then Taylor Hackford called.

    Hackford owned the film rights to Ray Charles' life story. The two men discussed the possibility of Foxx's playing the lead role, with Foxx displaying his usual confidence. "There was never any campaigning," says the director, laughing. "Jamie's too cool a customer. He just said, 'Yeah, you need me to do it.'" Foxx had the advantage of looking a lot like the young Charles, and after a meeting with the singer in which Foxx revealed the extent of his impressive piano skills — and Charles revealed the extent of his adultery — Foxx was given the role. "Jamie shares with Ray that huge ambition," says Hackford. "He has a voice that is going to come out somehow. But I have to admit, there was nothing he'd done that showed me he actually could do the part. I just had to leap."

    The meeting between Foxx and Charles lasted for just one hour, but Hackford videotaped it, and Foxx began his preparation by watching the tape on an endless loop for six weeks. "What I saw was him not being Ray Charles," Foxx says. "I saw how he orders his food, how he talks to his assistant, how he talks to his woman." Foxx worked on Charles' stammer by listening to an audio cassette of an old talk show with Dinah Shore. "Dinah goes, 'Talk about the drugs, Ray.' And he stops for four or five seconds. Then he goes, 'Eh uh well uh ...' So every time in the movie someone confronts him with something--'Ray, I'm pregnant!'--it's 'Eh uh well uh.'"

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