Jamie Foxx has ambition, talent and acres of self-esteem. All that and the movie Ray may snag him an Oscar nod

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IF JAMIE FOXX WERE ONE OF THE MANY ACTORS WHO NEED constant approval, he probably would not have told his Collateral co-star Tom Cruise that they were destined to meet so that he could make Cruise hipper. Foxx also would not have advised Eddie Murphy to stop doing children's movies and "get back to being dangerous." Foxx certainly wouldn't have insisted that Ray Charles reveal the details of his infidelities when he met the singer shortly after being cast in the movie version of Charles' life. Like anyone else who makes his living in front of an audience, Foxx has an insecure side, but it wages a pitched battle for control of his personality with a confidence that borders on the absurd. "Five hundred years ago," says Foxx, "slaves got a message to a kid named Eric Bishop saying that he's going to change his name to Jamie Foxx and do great things with great people and inspire a generation." Sometimes that pitched battle is very one-sided.

The "great things with great people" part, though, is hard to deny. In addition to nailing his performance as Charles in Ray--not only proving he can carry a movie but making him the surest thing for an Oscar nomination this side of Julia Roberts playing the ugly girl--Foxx, 36, remains one of the top-grossing stand-up comedians on the planet, and earlier this year he collaborated with Twista and Kanye West on a No. 1 hit, Slow Jamz. Foxx signed a record deal last week with Clive Davis' J Records, which hopes to release a Jamie Foxx solo album by the spring of 2005, just around Oscar time. "I will never do this much publicity ever again in my life," says Foxx. "But this is kind of my moment here."

To attribute Foxx's moment solely to destiny obscures a more interesting struggle. When Foxx was 7 months old, his mother gave him up to her adoptive parents, who then adopted him and raised him as their son. That makes Foxx's biological mother his sister and his grandmother his mother. (Jack Nicholson and Eric Clapton grew up under similar arrangements.) "My grandmother was 60 years old when she adopted me," says Foxx. "She ran a nursery school and had a library in the house. She saw me reading early, saw I was smart and believed I was born to achieve truly special things."

Foxx blossomed into a superkid, leading the church choir at 15 and starring as a high school quarterback in Terrell, Texas. At the same time, he was acutely aware of being unwanted. His biological parents, he says, were 28 miles away in Dallas but rarely visited or noted his achievements. "I passed for more than 1,000 yards, the first quarterback at my high school to do that," says Foxx. "I was making the Dallas Morning News, and my father never came down. That's weird. Even to this day--nothing. I don't know if it's his religion--he's a Muslim--or ... I don't know. But that absence made me angry. It made me want to be something. I said, I'm going to make you look up one day and say, 'That's my son.'"

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