"We got a black President now ... We can have 'Tropic Thunder' all day."

Jamie Foxx may be the funniest serious actor in Hollywood. The Oscar-winning actor-musician-comedian got his start on the early-'90s sketch comedy show 'In Living Color' (most notably, for his cross-dressing stint as the hilariously skanky Wanda) and went on to star in comedies like 'Booty Call' before Hollywood discovered his dramatic flair.

The actor's shift to serious fare began with 1999's 'Any Given Sunday,' continued two years later with 'Ali' and hit a crescendo with his Oscar-conquering portrayal of Ray Charles in the '04 biopic 'Ray.' Foxx now takes on another challenging-musician tale, 'The Soloist.' He's Nathaniel Ayers, a real-life cello wunderkind whose worsening schizophrenia sinks him into a life of homelessness. L.A. Times journalist Steve Lopez (Robert Downey Jr.) develops a close kinship with the troubled instrumentalist while reporting on his story.

Foxx isn't all serious these days, though -- sometimes he's Sirius, as in his satellite radio show (from which he recently spouted a highly publicized rant on Miley Cyrus). He's also enjoying success with his music career: He's got a single that's currently heating up the charts and boasts a video starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Samuel L. Jackson. Foxx told us about working with Downey Jr., how he rates President Obama so far, where he keeps his Oscar ... and why he may be taking his skankiest character to the big screen.


Jamie Foxx may be the funniest serious actor in Hollywood. The Oscar-winning actor-musician-comedian got his start on the early-'90s sketch comedy show 'In Living Color' (most notably, for his cross-dressing stint as the hilariously skanky Wanda) and went on to star in comedies like 'Booty Call' before Hollywood discovered his dramatic flair.

The actor's shift to serious fare began with 1999's 'Any Given Sunday,' continued two years later with 'Ali' and hit a crescendo with his Oscar-conquering portrayal of Ray Charles in the '04 biopic 'Ray.' Foxx now takes on another challenging-musician tale, 'The Soloist.' He's Nathaniel Ayers, a real-life cello wunderkind whose worsening schizophrenia sinks him into a life of homelessness. L.A. Times journalist Steve Lopez (Robert Downey Jr.) develops a close kinship with the troubled instrumentalist while reporting on his story.

Foxx isn't all serious these days, though -- sometimes he's Sirius, as in his satellite radio show (from which he recently spouted a highly publicized rant on Miley Cyrus). He's also enjoying success with his music career: He's got a single that's currently heating up the charts and boasts a video starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Samuel L. Jackson. Foxx told us about working with Downey Jr., how he rates President Obama so far, where he keeps his Oscar ... and why he may be taking his skankiest character to the big screen.


You actually studied classical piano in school, was that experience a big part of choosing this project?
Well, it definitely helps out because you sort of understand that world. A lot of people may not know how competitive it is to play classical music, because when you think about it, the music that you're playing is music that's been here for years. And all you're trying to do is improve upon it when you play. So imagine everyone who's ever picked up an instrument all over the world who's tried to improve upon Mozart or Chopin or Beethoven, and then someone like Nathaniel Ayers, a young African-American back in the day who is able to play well enough to get into Julliard. So that was a dynamic fact in itself, that this guy was able to reach that level of expertise.

Word is you've gotten pretty great on the strings. Does Yo-Yo Ma have to watch his back?
Uh, he should [laughs]. But in all actuality Ben Hong, who plays for the LA Symphony, did a great job [as featured cellist]. Hours and hours. I was never able to sit down and play a concerto, but I was able to make sure I could get my notes and my fingering completely right, like absolutely. So that when people from that world would watch it [they could] say, "He really knows what he's doing."

After 'Ray,' and the success you had with that, was there any hesitation to do another musical drama? Or was that more of a reason to?
I think it's more of the reason, because that's sort of a niche. Music always helps move a movie along, and having that music background intrigues me. And it's two different animals. I mean you look at 'Ray' and the success of 'Ray,' 'Ray' was like Americana. ['The Soloist'] is more about this guy with a beautiful story who happened to be a musician, he happened to be an African-American in Julliard, and he happened to have schizophrenia. So those were all the things that make up the guy. And then when you put it around music, that sort of brings everybody together.




Was there any method acting to playing a homeless man? Did you refrain from showering or anything like that?
No, but it was definitely an experience. We got a chance to sit around with all the other homeless people that were suffering from schizophrenia. We hung out with those folks. And also [director] Joe Wright put them in the actual production. And when you hang out with them, you really got a sense of what it is. And it was interesting [to see] how their community was, they had an actual camaraderie with each other. People on the street knew other people that were on the street and they had a sort of respect level, so that was interesting to find. Not everybody was unhappy.

What's happening with Nathaniel's hair? Did you have to keep your hair like that while shooting?
[Laughs] I did. My sister did my hair. You ever see those people that have those hairstyles that didn't change, like you see a mullet and you go, "why didn't they change?" Because at some point somebody told them, "Yo, that's hot on you!" Then they say, "I'm never going to change that." And now they just commute back and forth from the '80s to 2008, 2009, so that's what Nathaniel was doing.

What did you find most surprising about your co-star Robert Downey Jr.?
I wouldn't say I was surprised, but just how great he is as an actor. Like every frame, every moment, there was not an untrue moment. He was vulnerable; he was waiting with anticipation for 'Iron Man' to come out, like a kid at Christmas, like a 10-year-old going downstairs not knowing what the gifts are gonna be. When we would talk about it I would say, "Dude, this is about to be stratospheric for you." And he was welcoming it too. It was like a breath of fresh air for him, a person not looking for a break but somebody that may need something good to happen in their life after all of these great, good, bad, terrible, exciting things that have happened in his life. Then something like that comes along and it was great to be around him when that stuff was happening to him.

What was your review on his performance in 'Tropic Thunder'?
Oh man, hysterical. [Mimicking Downey Jr.] "Huh? What? What'd you say? You people?" It was hilarious. I saw it a thousand times over. Watching him and watching Tom Cruise, it was just hilarious. I'm a huge Ben Stiller fan. But when [Downey Jr.] played the black dude, that was hilarious.

He was a little nervous about that role, too, with the risk involved in putting on blackface.

Well, we got a black President now, so we'll take that. We can have 'Tropic Thunder' all day now.

You were a big supporter of Obama going in. How do you think he's doing so far?
I think he's doing great. I think what's amazing is that, I was watching TV the other day, I think it was CNN. [Mocking] "Is Obama overexposed?" [Laughs] It was hilarious. We had a president for eight years, you never saw him any time, never saw him do anything. And then here's a guy who's actually trying to -- well, he has to -- make things right. I think he's smart by staying out in the public and staying outside of Washington, because people need to at least see that. To at least see that someone is concerned and caring about what's going on. I think it would really hurt him if he stayed behind those closed doors and stayed in the White House. It would be detrimental to him.


Jamie Foxx Photos

    FILE - In this April 5, 2009 file photo, Jamie Foxx appears backstage at the 44th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, file)

    AP

    Jamie Foxx performs "You Look So Good in Love" at the ACM Artist of the Decade All Star Concert in honor of George Strait on Monday, April 6, 2009, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

    AP

    Jamie Foxx, left, acknowledges George Strait at the ACM Artist of the Decade All Star Concert on Monday, April 6, 2009, in Las Vegas. George Strait is the recipient of the Artist of the Decade award. Second from right is Norma Voss. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

    AP

    Jamie Foxx performs "You Look So Good in Love" at the ACM Artist of the Decade All Star Concert in honor of George Strait on Monday, April 6, 2009, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

    AP

    Jamie Foxx performs "You Look So Good in Love" at the ACM Artist of the Decade All Star Concert in honor of George Strait on Monday, April 6, 2009, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

    AP

    Jamie Foxx performs "You ok So Good in Love" at the ACM Artist of the Decade All Star Concert in honor of George Strait on Monday, April 6, 2009, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

    AP

    Jamie Foxx performs "You ok So Good in Love" at the ACM Artist of the Decade All Star Concert in honor of George Strait on Monday, April 6, 2009, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

    AP

    Jamie Foxx performs "You ok So Good in Love" at the ACM Artist of the Decade All Star Concert in honor of George Strait on Monday, April 6, 2009, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

    AP

    NO TABLOIDS, NO US SALES FOR 90 DAYS, NO TABLOIDS; NO US SALES FOR 90 DAYS Jamie Foxx at the "The Sololist" press conference at the Four Seasons Hotel on April 3. 2009 in Beverly Hills, California. "The Soloist" Press Conference Four Seasons Hotel Beverly Hills, CA United States April 6, 2009 Photo by Vera Anderson/WireImage.com To license this image (16647956), contact WireImage.com

    Vera Anderson/WireImage.com

    Singer/actor Jamie Foxx poses in the press room at the 44th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards at the MGM Grand Arena on April 5, 2009 in Las Vegas, Nevada. 44th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards - Press Room MGM Grand Arena Las Vegas, NV United States April 5, 2009 Photo by Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic.com To license this image (16648113), contact FilmMagic.com

    Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic.com



Where do you keep your Oscar?
Oh, my manager keeps it in his house. I got too many people coming to my house. I don't want it to walk off. [Laughs] People stealing it and leaving me with an Oscar Mayer instead. Like, what's this doing here?

Do you ever stop by and visit it?
Yeah. But you know, I like to keep it on the back burner. Sometimes people get sort of into that and think that it was the end-all of the end-all, but it's not. It was a great time in your life, but you got to keep moving.

You're such a funny dude, why haven't you done a comedy in so long?
You gotta be careful now. It's like if you do the ones that don't make sense, or are too corny you sort of unravel the [career] that you built on the movie side. You know, because a lot of people don't know me on the movie side as far as comedy, so that's why I do my radio show. I have my radio show the Foxxhole, on Sirius 106, XM 149, so I do the comedy there. If I do do a movie comedy, I want it to be one of those where they reinvent something. And I've tried, I've tried a couple of ideas, but it seemed like Martin [Lawrence], or it seemed like Eddie Murphy, it seemed like Chris Tucker, or it seemed like Chris Rock, so it's very tricky, because if you do one and it stinks, you're done. But if you can find one that's innovative and people are like, "That's something new," then you're cool.

Would you ever revisit any of your 'In Living Color' characters? Wanda possibly?
I sure would. In a minute! I would do that in a minute! That would be smart, that would be like the archive. That would be great. We're actually looking into something like that ... With that character specifically.

You've had success across all these mediums -- comedy, TV, music, movies. What's next for you to conquer?
I'll put it to you this way, right now the music is where we are right now, that's what I'm trying to conquer. We've had the no. 1 song in the country for seven weeks now with 'Blame It,' so we're just trying to see how far we can go with that. That is what I originally wanted to do for my whole life, and now to see it happen and to actually be selling records on our way to platinum and the people I've had a chance to work with ... Then I use the movie side to help me, like in the video for 'Blame It,' I have Ron Howard, Forest Whitaker, Jake Gyllenhaal, Samuel Jackson, Quincy Jones. All of those guys that are like my movie colleagues lent me a hand by being in the music video, which took the song to another level. So that's what I'm trying to conquer. [Watch the video for 'Blame It' on AOL Music]

So Ron Howard's down?
Ron Howard is ultimate cool, man. When you look at his life, we grew up with Ron Howard, and for him to say, "Hey Jamie, sure" and then he talks to his daughter and he says, "Yeah, my daughter said this would be a cool thing to do." So he makes it different. When people saw Ron Howard they said, "Whoa, this is big."