During downtime on the set, however, Foxx was mercurial, as always. Downey recalls that on some days Foxx could be found “in this kind of recital room in Disney Hall, probably with 20 or 30 extras, improvising on the piano. If Jamie Foxx feels like it’s time to hold court, boy, he can give people what they want. Other times he might not say a word all damn day. Somewhere in his overall makeup,” Downey adds, “there’s someone who’s always taking the temperature of the room, like mentally licking his finger and holding it up.”
Foxx grew up in Terrell, Texas, a tiny town near Dallas. He was raised by his grandmother, who adopted him and made sure he went to church and practiced the piano every day. The musical training would eventually earn him a scholarship to the U.S. International University in San Diego, where Foxx first gave stand-up comedy a go. He attracted a following with his impressions of celebrities like Mike Tyson, Bill Cosby and Prince, and in 1991 he landed a part on In Living Color. The fame he found on the show opened more doors: He released his first R&B album in 1994, and in 1996 he got his own sitcom, The Jamie Foxx Show. After a string of forgettable comedy films, he turned to dramatic acting, first as a football player in Oliver Stone’s Any Given Sunday and then alongside Will Smith in Ali and Tom Cruise in Collateral, both directed by Michael Mann. Lately he’s also become a reality-television producer, with the current MTV series From G’s to Gents, in which thugs are trained in fine living by Sean Combs’s former personal assistant, Fonzworth Bentley. And he recently formulated his own Sirius satellite radio channel, The Foxxhole, which broadcasts comedy and talk shows 24 hours a day.
But for all his ability to shape-shift, Foxx has remained something of a Hollywood outsider—ever the observer perched on the fringes. The role of arrogant party boy is certainly in his repertoire, but on the night he won his Oscar, he skipped the obligatory Vanity Fair bash to attend a celebration his friends and family threw for him. And when Foxx talks about costars and movie industry colleagues, he takes the tone of an ordinary civilian recounting fleeting encounters with celebrities at restaurants or airports, laying them out like souvenirs in an otherwise quotidian life.
There was the time Keenen Ivory Wayans told him, “As an African-American in this business, if you’re not a hundred percent hot, you’re nothing.” And the time Smith, after Foxx became successful, pulled him aside to say, “Go home. Quit partying so much. Go focus on your work.” He recalls when Oprah Winfrey took him to meet Sidney Poitier, who said (Foxx relays the story in a dead-on impersonation of the venerable actor), “I’m going to give you something: responsibility.” More recently there was Clint Eastwood, whom Foxx found himself sitting next to at a function; Eastwood admitted that he still gets nervous when he makes a movie. And there was Paul Anka, the music legend, who said Foxx’s goal should be to work only when he wants to: “Jamie, you want to live life on your own terms.”