Django Unchained star Jamie Foxx talks Tarantino, westerns and courage.
As an actor, Jamie Foxx made his debut in 1992’s comedy TOYS and took his first dramatic role in 1999’s ANY GIVEN SUNDAY, directed by Oliver Stone. It would precede a much-praised performance alongside Tom Cruise in Michael Mann’s COLLATERAL, for which he received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Foxx achieved the distinction of being only the second actor – after Al Pacino – to earn two acting nominations in the same year. In addition to his nomination for COLLATERAL, Foxx was nominated for – and won – the Best Actor prize for his performance as rhythm and blues musician Ray Charles in Taylor Hackford’s biopic RAY. Following these successes, Foxx was cast in JARHEAD and MIAMI VICE and was able to put his musical talents to work with roles in DREAMGIRLS and THE SOLOIST. Taking on the title role of Django in Quentin Tarantino’s latest epic DJANGO UNCHAINED, Foxx plays a freed slave desperate to reunite with his beloved wife, still in the grasps of a amoral slaver.
How does it feel to be Quentin Tarantino’s cowboy? Jamie Foxx: It’s amazing. It’s one of the most courageous scripts I’ve ever read, and to be able to take the role of a slave, like GLADIATOR, where the slave actually gets to take revenge, and get his girl… you’ve never seen a Western that acknowledges slavery. It’s a Western with slavery, it’s a love story, it’s so many different things. Only Quentin can make it happen. It’s iconic. And we got a chance to meet the real Django – Franco Nero – and we do a scene together. Maybe I shouldn’t say that!
Where does Quentin’s courage come from? JF: To have courage, to have art, and then to be successful: you need all of those things. I’m sure there’s a lot of courageous people that don’t have the ability to make the art, and the ability to be hip-hop. Quentin Tarantino is hip-hop. If you look at movie ratings on the internet, and who’s the most searched, Quentin Tarantino is ahead of all your big actors. He, in a sense, has blown the doors open and takes the rights to be able to do this subject matter. This is going to be a tough film to do, but the way he’s shooting it is amazing. That’s why he’s Quentin Tarantino. I’ve been lucky; I’ve been able to work with Oliver Stone, Michael Mann, Taylor Hackford, Sam Mendes, Bill Condon, Antoine Fuqua… I’ve been with some of the best guys and Quentin is the up there with them.
What’s different about Quentin? JF: He’s hip-hop. He’s young, man. He’s out there. You’re finished shooting, you’ll go hang out and come back tomorrow. It’s that youthful way of thinking; he’s a rock-and-roll star. It goes beyond just being a good director. When he gets out of the car at the restaurant, the cameras are on him and he knows it, and he uses it to fuel him. When he gets behind the camera, he’s a genius. He doesn’t let that rock-and-roll stuff get in the way. He really cares about it. The way he’s really cared about all these guys, this tough subject matter, everybody had chains on, he’d make sure you’re OK in between each take. You don’t see that a lot. He’s one of those dudes.
Isn’t it every boy’s dream to be a cowboy? JF: Oh yeah – everyone wants to do that, man. [Draws his gun] You know what I mean? As a kid I grew up in Texas and I had toy guns. I got a horse for my birthday four or five years ago, so I’m riding my own horse in the movie. His name’s Cheetah. In lots of movies I do there’s a parallel. I was growing up in Texas watching BONANZA and all these great shows, playing with toy guns, and now it’s second nature. I don’t need anyone to teach me. And now I got my own horse.
Did you have anything left to learn to be a cowboy? JF: There were definitely some things, like how to work with the horse; that you had to take on board. You had to grow into your cowboy. You can’t make any mistakes. And it takes getting used to sitting on these old saddles. My new saddle has got velvet, fur… you can sit on it real comfortable, but this thing right here is awful. You’re gonna get the cowboy walk afterwards!
Are you taking the outfit home with you? JF: Oh yeah, man, come on – you know who else’s? Christoph’s outfit. I don’t know if you’ve seen his outfit, but it’s great.
How has he been to work with? JF: It’s like Butch and Sundance, in different packaging. He’s courageous too. Everybody; you look at the players, you’ve got Samuel L. Jackson, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kurt Russell, Don Johnson, Kerry Washington. Splendid. It’s another big ride, man.
Is it empowering to play a character with this strength? JF: It’s amazing. He doesn’t understand what he’s doing for everybody, but especially for that older black person that works 9 to 5 for a chance to come and see the movie, because they’ve known about slavery and to see a slave not say, “I’m going to solve slavery,” but to say, “I’m going to get my girl.” And I don’t know how much you know about slavery, but every African American person in America came from forced marriages, or forced copulation. The biggest buck would mate with the strongest woman to bring about stronger slaves. When a slave decided to marry someone he loved, he had to creep and sneak around, and if he was caught she could lose her life, and they would kill the kids. For Django to fall in love with his woman, that’s a huge thing. When women see this, I think they’ll say, “Wow, I wish a man would ride through hell with a gun and a green jacket to save me.”
Q: Do you think it’ll be enlightening for people? JF: It’ll be enlightening and at the same time entertaining. It’s got both. There are some things that Quentin wrote lately about phrenology and the study of skulls and how the religious component came to light – God saying there should be slaves and they should be black – and the science of skulls. There are some very interesting things. You think you’ve got a lot of interviews to do now; when it comes out it’s going to be people all over it.