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Published: Tuesday, 12/18/2012 - Updated: 1 year ago

Oscar winner Jamie Foxx rides high in Quentin Tarantino's ‘Django Unchained'

NEW YORK TIMES SYNDICATE
Christoph Waltz as Schultz, left, and Jamie Foxx as Django in the film, "Django Unchained," directed by Quentin Tarantino. Christoph Waltz as Schultz, left, and Jamie Foxx as Django in the film, "Django Unchained," directed by Quentin Tarantino.
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"I was called names as a young kid by white people," says Jamie Foxx, who grew up in what he calls a "racially charged" environment in Terrell, Texas. "I just had to deal with it. Having that done to me, I was able to grasp what was going on in the script for Django Unchained."

That would be Quentin Tarantino's new film, Django Unchained, opening nationwide on Christmas. Set in the pre-Civil War South, it casts Foxx as Django, a freed slave who becomes a bounty hunter and, along with his mentor, Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), sets out on a quest to rescue his beloved wife (Kerry Washington) from a brutal Mississippi plantation owner (Leonardo DiCaprio).

"When a project becomes magic and special," the 45-year-old Oscar winner says, "it means that, at certain points in the script, it parallels your life story."

The movie is a remake of Django (1966), which starred Frances Nero, who also plays a small role in Tarantino's film.

"For him to give us his blessing was the ultimate," Foxx says, speaking by telephone from his California home. "I think he really felt we were true to it."

Even so, he expects Django Unchained to surprise many people.

"I think the pleasant surprise for people is the fact that it's a Western," he says. "It stays along the lines of a Western and happens to have the backdrop of slavery. Slavery almost becomes secondary at a certain point. At the beginning it's a traditional slave movie. Once he becomes a bounty hunter, that's the backdrop. Then it's all about revenge and getting his girl."

The toughest scenes, Foxx says, involved the brutal abuse of Django's wife, Broomhilda.

"The most courageous person in this movie is Kerry Washington," Foxx says. "We're all guys. If you do something bad to guys, that's to be expected. But when Kerry had to take lashes, well, that was a tough scene for everyone to watch. I couldn't take it."

Tarantino played music between setups to help his cast get through those harrowing moments, the actor adds.

"I asked if we could play this song by gospel singer Fred Hammond called ‘No Weapon,'" Foxx recalls. "The scene was in Shack Row, and they were about to give her lashes. Quentin had speakers set up throughout the whole place and suddenly that song began playing.

"There was one lady who was an extra from New Orleans," he continues, "and she had never been on a set before in her life, but she knew the song. All of a sudden her hands went up and she was rocking back and forth with the child she was holding in the scene."

Foxx glanced at Tarantino, and both men burst into tears.

"Water filled his eyepiece because he was so touched," the actor says. "I couldn't stop myself from shedding tears too."

Working with Tarantino is like being onstage in a concert, according to Foxx, a trained musician who has performed as a singer and pianist.

"Quentin Tarantino is a hip-hop artist," he insists. "I told him, ‘You're hip-hop!' A hip-hop artist will drop a single, leak something over here and drop something over there because he knows it's hot. That's Quentin. The way his dialogue is when you work with him, he doesn't just write words. It's a musical."

"Django Unchained" was the first time Foxx had worked with Washington since "Ray" (2004), which won him an Oscar as Best Actor for his performance as the legendary singer Ray Charles. Washington played Charles' wife, Della Bea Robinson.

"For ‘Django' we actually went back to New Orleans, where we shot ‘Ray,' to film this epic," Washington says in a separate interview. "I said, ‘Last time the combo won you an Oscar, Jamie. So this is what we'll do every 10 years: Go to New Orleans and you win an Oscar.'"

Born Eric Marlon Bishop, Foxx was raised by his grandparents, Mark and Estelle Talley, who adopted him after his parents divorced. To this day it's his grandmother whom he thinks of as his mother, and he credits her with much of his success.

"I remember that she made me play piano for 30 minutes a day when the other kids were out there playing football," Foxx says. "I said, ‘Grandma, this is crazy!' She said, ‘Think long range. Maybe you will develop into something if you think long range.'

"She was the one who was always there for me, but she was tough."

Discipline was the name of the game at the Talley house. Young Eric couldn't hang out in the streets, but instead logged time in the Boy Scouts and with the church choir.

"There was no running around," he recalls. "No sassing her, no disrespect. She didn't understand a lot of things, but she understood respect."

She was determined that her grandson would make a good impression, even at an early age.

"I'll never forget that my grandmother would tell me to stand up straight," Foxx continues. "'Put your shoulders back! Act like you got some sense!' We would go places and I would wild out, and she would say, ‘Act like you've been somewhere! Act like you got some sense!'"

A stint in his high-school band changed everything for the young man.

"I remember the first time, in school, when I blew into a trumpet and got a sound," he says. "Wow! Accomplishment! I knew, if I could do this, then I could accomplish much more."

He didn't necessarily see himself in Hollywood at that early age, but Foxx always knew that his future lay beyond Texas.

"When I was growing up in Terrell, I felt that it was not where I was supposed to be," he says. "I think that, the minute I was born, there was something inside telling me where I would go."

After playing quarterback for his high-school team, Foxx briefly thought about a career in sports. It was music that proved to be his way out of Texas, however. He attended United States International University, now Alliant International University, in San Diego on a music scholarship, and released his first album, "Peep This," in 1994.

By then, however, new roads had already opened before him. In 1989 his girlfriend dared him to get onstage at a local comedy club. He did, and discovered a previously untapped gift for standup comedy. It wasn't long before he was starring on "In Living Color" (1991-1994) and "Roc" (1992-1993).

Having made his film debut with a bit part in Barry Levinson's "Toys" (1992), Foxx went on to such comedies as "The Truth about Cats and Dogs" (1996), "The Great White Hype" (1996) and "Booty Call" (1997) before Oliver Stone, seeing previously untapped dramatic potential in the young comedian, cast him as a brash young quarterback in "Any Given Sunday" (1999). That opened the door to a series of dramatic roles in such films as "Ray," ‘'Jarhead" (2005), "Miami Vice" (2006), "Dreamgirls" (2006) and "The Soloist" (2009).

He was nominated for an Oscar as Best Supporting Actor for his work in "Collateral" (2004), the same year that he was voted Best Actor for "Ray," and will play the president of the United States in Roland Emmerich's upcoming "White House Down."

Offscreen Foxx, who turned 45 on Dec. 13, spends as much time as he can with his 18-year-old daughter, Corrine, who lives with her mother.

"Can you believe she's that age?," the actor says. "When did it happen? She's a beautiful girl."

He's tried his best, Foxx adds, to give her the same kind of guidance that his grandmother provided him.

"As a dad I deal with all the regular stuff," he says. "Ain't nothing changes with dads and daughters. Dads just have to teach their girls how to protect themselves at all times. I tell her, ‘Save a little love for yourself. Don't give all your love away.'

"Girls love too hard," Foxx says with a sigh. "You hear, ‘Daddy, I can't go on.' I say, ‘Save some love for yourself.'"

Occasionally, of course, it helps if Daddy is a movie star. The trick, he says, is to pick his moments.

"There are times when I have to drop the Jamie Foxx stuff," the actor says. "I have to put Jamie Foxx away, so he doesn't overshadow her and what she needs and wants to do.

"Of course, I do use the Jamie Foxx for good stuff, like getting her really good Justin Bieber tickets," he adds with a laugh. "Then Daddy being Jamie Fox is all good.

"Otherwise there are times when I've just got to back up and shut up."



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