Sun, 06 Mar 2005

From: AFP

Jamie Foxx: From comedy clubs to Oscars club

Marc Lavine, Agence France Presse, Hollywood, California

Former stand-up comic Jamie Foxx, who won the best actor Oscar Sunday for his sizzling role in Ray, plunged into the dark world of blind soul legend Ray Charles and emerged as a Hollywood heavyweight.

Foxx, who made his dramatic acting debut only six years ago, had been heavily favored to win for his portrayal of the American musician's rise from a tragic childhood to fame and fortune and a life of heroin addiction and womanizing.

The 37-year-old actor had also been nominated for his supporting role in the Tom Cruise thriller Collateral, but he lost out on the chance to become the first actor ever to win twin acting Oscars in a single year.

An emotional Foxx was greeted by a standing ovation on receiving his best actor award, as he sang a few notes in homage to Charles.

"Give it up for Ray Charles and his beautiful legacy. Thank you for living," he said.

Choking backing tears, Foxx thanked his late grandmother, who raised him.

"She was my first acting teacher," he said. "She said, 'Act like you got some sense. Act like you been somewhere.'

"She still talks to me; only now she talks to me in my dreams," he said. "And I can't wait to go to sleep tonight, because we've got a lot to talk about."

A classically trained pianist who has played since the age of three, Foxx jammed with Charles before the artist's death in June at the age of 73, winning his blessing to portray him.

The actor, who made a living seeking laughs in comedy clubs and on television before breaking into film, spent a year studying Charles's life and carefully mimicking every mannerism. In the film, Foxx also played Charles's famed music note for note on the piano.

He then lost 15 kilograms, had his eyes glued shut for hours each day and donned uncomfortable prosthetic eyelids, to simulate the dark world the "Genius of Soul" had inhabited from the age of seven.

After initial waves of panic, Foxx found that the blindness helped him enter Charles's universe.

"The first two weeks, I panicked like anything. I felt claustrophobic all the time," he said.

But after six hours of being blind, "you lose the sense of how a person is physically. It was amazing to hear the little buzzing voices all around you."

The result was a breathtaking performance that electrified audiences and critics alike.

Before his Oscar coronation, Foxx had captured best actor prizes at the Golden Globes, the U.S. Screen Actors Guild Awards and the British Academy of Film and Television Arts awards, or BAFTAs.

Born Eric Morlon Bishop on December 13, 1967 in Terrell, Texas, Foxx was encouraged by his grandmother to start playing piano early.

Later, he joined the Boy Scouts and sang in a church choir before going on to study piano at New York's prestigious Juilliard School.

He was also a jokester from a young age: His second-grade teacher would reward her class's good behavior with a joke- telling session from Foxx.

In the late 1980s, the multitalented performer moved to Los Angeles to become a musician, but was quickly sidetracked by comedy.

He became a fixture on the comedy club circuit and landed a job in the comedy sketch show In Living Color in the 1990s, before starring in his own television program, The Jamie Foxx Show.

He won his first movie role in Robin Williams's 1992 film Toys, and went on to be cast in several comedies, appearing in the boxing spoof The Great White Hype and starring in the slapstick dating comedy Booty Call.

A quarterback in high school, his first dramatic role was as a professional football player in Oliver Stone's 1999 drama Any Given Sunday, opposite Al Pacino, for which Foxx also recorded a song.

It was his turn in Any Given Sunday that inspired director Taylor Hackford to cast Foxx in Ray.

Foxx also played Muhammad Ali's cornerman, Drew "Bundini" Brown, in Ali (2001), which featured Will Smith as the boxing legend.

But while Foxx gave up his musical career, he did not completely forsake music, and in 1994 he released the rhythm and blues album Peep This.

He has no regrets, however.

"Hell, if I had stayed with music, I probably would have one hit -- if that -- and been broke and pissed off somewhere. It's funny how your plan changes," he said.