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Raising children is a bit like driving a boat – at least that’s how Jamie Foxx thinks about it. ‘You see a wave coming, what’s the first thing you want to do? Throttle down, right? No. You can’t. You’ve got to throttle up,’ he says between sips of bourbon on the rocks. (Specifically, BSB-Brown Sugar Bourbon, a company he acquired in March). ‘Your kids are going to test you, so you’ve got to drive through that shit.’
Even when discussing something as un-Hollywood as modern-day parenting, Foxx’s anecdotes come punctuated with impersonations and timing so sharp and effortless that he has everyone in his immediate vicinity hanging on the edge of their seat, waiting for the next punchline.
And with Jamie Foxx, there’s almost always a punchline.
That’s what makes him so good at everything he brings to the screen, or to the stage, or to his music – or to here, as a bon vivant over plates of sushi and Wagyu in a West Hollywood scenester restaurant. Foxx entrances simply by throwing all of himself into whatever he’s doing.
He promptly moves on to recounting another dad tale – this one involving his pre-teen nephew, a wayward basketball and a window – that has me, two waiters, and several tables of strangers doubled over in laughter. ‘When the window broke, I’m sitting in my bungalow trying to enjoy my shit, and some of the glass hit me in the motherfucking head! I went crazy,’ he says, flailing his arms. ‘Like, goddamn, bro! Why’re y’all playing basketball inside the house? They’re dunking on each other and shit. I get it. I’m a kid, too, so I was like, “Did you at least dunk? Now, get out here and clean this shit the fuck up!”’
Parenting has been on Foxx’s mind a lot these days – and not just because it provides good comedic fodder. The 53-year-old father of two spent much of the past year working on his memoir, Act Like You Got Some Sense: And Other Things My Daughters Taught Me. ‘The toughest thing in the world is doing whatever you do, and maybe being successful at it, but not being sure-footed with your kids,’ Foxx says. ‘It’s a look at my life and how I grew up, what I went through, and how it prepared me, or didn’t prepare me, for when I had kids.’
Act Like You Got Some Sense – its title gleaned from a phrase his late grandmother Estelle told him often – hilariously and poignantly details his upbringing as well as his experiences raising daughters Corinne, 27, and Anelise, 13, while orbiting Hollywood as one of its biggest and hardest-working stars. Foxx does it all. There are the films (Soul, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Ray, Django Unchained, and Collateral, to name just a few), the TV projects (The Jamie Foxx Show, Beat Shazam), and a music career that’s handed him a Grammy and several platinum discs to go along with his Oscar, Golden Globe, and other awards. Though, of course, COVID-19 put a halt to all that.
‘Listen, the pandemic was terrible for a lot of people – including me – on the home front,’ he says. ‘I started out a little crazy. Like, “Get away from the windows, COVID is right outside!” I was that. And then we got hit bad with my sister passing away. That just took the life out of me.’ He chokes up as he talks about losing his 36-year-old sibling, DeOndra Dixon, last October. ‘I still can hear my sister’s voice, laugh, and stuff like that. But at the same time, it did allow me to lock down and get things done artistically that I may not have gotten an opportunity to do. I’m usually always go, go, go, go, go, go, go. COVID gave me a therapeutic opportunity.’
Now, if you’re black and in your thirties like me, Jamie Foxx has been a part of your life since you can remember. But I didn’t realise how little I knew about him until I read Act Like You Got Some Sense. Foxx had always wanted to write about his life, he says, but it was the pandemic that forced him to sit still and look inward. He lived as we all did: navigating grief, finding ways to keep busy at home (he gushes about his new passion, pickleball – Google it), and mapping out projects for a reopened world. And it’s that ability to change – in this case, becoming an author – while staying true to himself that has helped him sustain his position in an industry where so many fizzle out.
Look Back to Move On
To understand Jamie Foxx, and to appreciate why writing this memoir was so important for his own journey, you have to go back to his childhood. Everything he first learned about life came from Estelle Marie Talley and Mark Talley, the couple who adopted him at seven months old and raised him in tiny Terrell, Texas. His upbringing was pretty complicated. When he was five, he learned that the person he believed to be his sister was actually his mother, and the person he thought was his mother was his adoptive grandmother/aunt by marriage.
‘I was writing that shit like, yeah, yeah, yeah. But then when I read it back, I was in tears,’ he says. ‘And there were certain things that I didn’t want to say, but maybe I’ll say later. Shit was really fucked up.’
Foxx’s grandmother is his greatest inspiration and his rock. He’s shared that in nearly every interview he’s ever given, and she plays a major role in the storytelling in his book. It was Estelle who persuaded a five-year-old Foxx, then known by his birth name, Eric Marlon Bishop, to take up classical piano, which paved the way for a music scholarship to United States International University. And it was Estelle who let him watch The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson and then try out jokes on her, which turned into full stand-up routines when Foxx was in the third grade. ‘There were eighth and ninth-graders coming to my show. In the third grade! And by the time I got to be seventh, eighth grade, the whole city was there,’ he recalls. ‘But that was my grandmother’s tutelage. My grandmother was funny as fuck. My mom was, too. They always knew I had some shit. My grandmother would be like, “I don’t know where you’re going with this, but you’re going somewhere.”’
We first met Foxx in 1991 when, after years of working the stand-up comedy scene in Los Angeles, he landed on In Living Color, the groundbreaking sketch-comedy show that shot the Wayans family, Jim Carrey, David Alan Grier, Tommy Davidson, Rosie Perez and Jennifer Lopez to stardom, and ushered in an era of black culture that would define the 1990s. It was Foxx’s portrayal of Wanda, a bawdy woman with overly exaggerated features and a stream of quotable lines that helped make him a standout on a series thick with comedic talent.
Foxx has been at this long enough that there’s an entire generation not privy to his growth from sitcom star on The Jamie Foxx Show to big-screen presence in the black cult classics Booty Call and The Players Club – and that was before he got the chance to show his range in blockbuster films like Any Given Sunday, Ali and, of course, Ray, for which he won the Academy Award in 2005. Instead, they probably know him best as the guy behind R&B hits like the Grammy-winning Blame It and collaborations with Drake and Kanye West. Or as the host of the game show Beat Shazam, or as the Spider-Man villain Electro.
Dipping into different mediums has allowed Foxx to occupy a rarefied space in Hollywood. But it’s his ability to do so successfully without alienating the core black fanbase he rose up with that’s a real superpower. Throughout his career, he’s managed to accomplish so much without getting pigeonholed.
In Act Like You Got Some Sense, he recounts how hard it was to be taken seriously as an actor in Hollywood. Though he had made the leap from TV to film, he hadn’t been in anything that gave him the cachet of peers like Martin Lawrence, Eddie Murphy or Chris Rock. When he got his shot to audition for Oliver Stone’s American football drama Any Given Sunday, he was rattled when the director told him plainly, ‘You’re no good.’ Foxx eventually scored the lead role of quarterback Willie Beamen (after Puff Daddy didn’t work out), but that moment of doubt from Stone made me think about how often white directors may have overlooked black talent simply because they had trouble looking beyond the culturally specific roles of the actors’ past. I ask Foxx how he’s been able to dabble in all these worlds while staying so firmly connected to his community.
‘The one thing I know I need, I need black people. I don’t give a fuck about nothing else,’ he says. ‘I once went and did a movie [1999’s Held Up] and it wasn’t no black people on the set. Every time I did a joke, it was “Oh my goodness, Jamie! What you’re doing right now!” And I was like, “Word?” And I start believing everything they was saying, right? So when we got to that premiere, [other black people] were like, “Yo, money, what the fuck is this shit?” Cause I didn’t have [anybody] to be like, “Yo, that ain’t funny. That’s goofy.” And the thing is this: it wasn’t their fault. They don’t know what our funny is. When you watch the BET [Black Entertainment Television] Awards, that is the pinnacle of you made it, because black folks be like, “Motherfucker, none of that shit hot.” So with me, I know that if I make that motherfucker in the ’hood laugh, I got you. If I don’t, I’m in trouble. All the time, every aspect.’
Roll With the Punches
Maybe that’s the answer, I suggest, to how he’s managed to avoid career stumbles, which isn’t something many of his peers can say. ‘I’ve had it, though. I’ve had it in every situation,’ he demurs. ‘We tried to do a television show, and we tried to do it in the pandemic and thinking shit was funny, but it really wasn’t.’ He’s referring to the Netflix sitcom Dad Stop Embarrassing Me! which he produced with Corinne. ‘Sometimes it’s a trick bag. Sometimes you miss. But I know if I miss and they give me the pass to come back and do it again, good. If they turn their back, then you feel a certain kind of way. I don’t know, I just feel good when black folks laugh. I feel good when black folks feel good about it. ’Cause they built me; they sustained me.’
A few weeks before we met for dinner, Netflix cancelled Dad Stop Embarrassing Me! after just one season. The idea for the series, like the one for his new book, was pulled from his own relationship with his daughters, and while no actor-producer wants to see their show cancelled, Foxx is the kind of guy to admit when he can’t just throttle up and drive through the shit. ‘You can’t have The Jamie Foxx Show and then come with this… You want that hot shit. You want that hot motherfucking movie. But once you do it, they want it again,’ he says. ‘I’m a realist, though. And I’m also thick-skinned. We missed. Let’s move on. The great thing about doing Dad Stop Embarrassing Me! was that my daughter was my executive producer. My daughter was fighting those battles and figuring things out. So that was the bright spot: to see my daughter handling [the show] in a pandemic. We couldn’t even be on the same set. We didn’t even have a live audience. But what was great about the situation was that Ted [Sarandos, co-CEO of Netflix] and everybody else at Netflix were just so supportive. Even though it didn’t line up, they were still so supportive. We got three or four more movies with them, and we’ll come back with something else.’
While Corinne is following in her father’s footsteps by acting and producing, it’s Anelise who has inherited his musical passion. When she joined us for dinner with her mother, Kristin, she was so focused on the songs pouring into her earbuds that she didn’t hear any of the pride being spoken of her by her parents. Foxx’s own music career has been largely dormant since releasing his fifth album, 2015’s Hollywood: A Story of a Dozen Roses, with the exception of a cameo on the late rapper Pop Smoke’s 2020 album. But that’s changing soon, too, Foxx says, because jam sessions at home have led to new recordings.
Having been in the public eye for so long, with a breadth of success that has made him a star who transcends generations, it’s easy to feel like you know Jamie Foxx. But he’s never been the type to overshare personal matters and says he’d prefer not to discuss his dating life. However, in Act Like You Got Some Sense, he reveals a little about long-term relationships, which opens the door to a question concerning marriage. ‘Some people can want to be married their whole lives, and then some people can not want to be,’ he says. ‘I don’t think that puts us in any different air. I just never thought marriage was for me. I used to tell some of my friends, “You belong to the universe.”’ Some of us would say you belong to the streets, I joke. ‘When I’m with my upscale friends, I say “universe.” When I’m with the homies, I say “I belong to the streets,”’ he says with a laugh. ‘When I felt heartbreak for the first time, I was like, “Oh, what’s this shit? What’s this in my chest?” You know that motherfucker right there will make you lose your fucking appetite. It’s too much. And maybe I’m a Sag – committed to being not committed. But, weirdly, though, if I’m in a relationship that I really dig, I’m good.’
After spending the past year inside, Foxx is ecstatic to get rolling on the many projects he dreamed up during lockdown. His slate was already full pre-COVID. Last year, he signed an overall deal with Sony Pictures to develop and produce feature films alongside producing partner Datari Turner, and this past March the duo signed a production deal with MTV Entertainment Group that will be focused on BIPOC creators and diverse storytelling.
Throughout quarantine, he wrote an hour-long stand-up show (the first full set he’s worked on in some 15 years) and he’s been building muscle in preparation for his portrayal of Mike Tyson for a biopic (though he’s tight-lipped about the project). He’s got two Netflix films in the can: Day Shift, in which he plays a blue-collar dad whose pool-cleaning job is a front for his vampire- killing business, and They Cloned Tyrone, a sci-fi mystery pegged as Friday meets Get Out. And, of course, there’s the highly anticipated Spider-Man: No Way Home, for which Foxx will reprise his role as Electro. ‘Those motherfuckers are good,’ is all he will say about his forthcoming slate.
When I ask Foxx what keeps him up at night and jolts him awake in the morning, the answer is the same for both: the opportunity to dream, and the opportunity to realise those dreams because of his talent. ‘Opportunity gets me moving. Great idea, then I went to sleep, and I woke up and that shit was in my dream. Now, I wrote the black Ocean’s Eleven, or I just rewrote Misery,’ he says, before telling me that his flip on Stephen King’s psychological horror novel is an over-the-top take on an encounter he once had with a couple who won an evening with him in a charity auction. ‘You know what an actor loves more than money? Compliments. I was supposed to be there for 30 minutes. I ended up staying there for two hours – doing shit from Ray. But then it got weird. So I built upon that.’
Before another round of Foxx’s bourbon arrives at the table, I ask him about legacy. It’s a weighty question, especially considering part of his legacy is seated right next to him – oblivious to her parents telling me about the progress she’s been making with her music. Foxx reaches his hand out to his daughter and asks her to tap out the rhythm of whatever song is streaming into her buds. He wants to show her mother how Anelise is able to identify beat movements, and his face widens with a smile when she begins to tap her finger across his hand.
The answer was clear, but I still needed to know: what does Jamie Foxx want his legacy to be?
‘I can only say that you hope with everything that your kids can really be successful, really have their own thing, their own identity,’ he says. ‘I think that’s what we call a legacy. Everybody that you see who’s a parent, you look to the kids to see how things turn out – especially in my business. You can see somebody so successful and then see everything around them that might not be. So I think, if we’re able to have them have their own, I think that’s what you would consider legacy.’
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