No one steals Jamie Foxx’s thunder, except for maybe his late grandmother.
He’s backing a new documentary about a great teacher called “Thunder Soul,” but still insists that his best educational moments came from his mentor and granny Estelle Marie Talley.
“Oh man, my grandmother was my first teacher and the best one,” he says. “She had her own nursery school at our house for 30 years. That’s why I was able to read as a fifth-grader by the time I went to kindergarten.
“She was the one who was always there for me, but she was tough. There was no running around. No sassing her. No disrespect. She didn’t understand a lot of things, but she understood respect. I remember she made me play piano for 30 minutes a day when the other kids were out there playing football. I said, ‘Grandma, this is crazy.’ She said, ‘Think long range. Maybe you will develop.’ ”
Of course, Foxx went on to play piano legend Ray Charles. “How great that I win an Oscar because of my teacher,” he says.
He is executive producer of “Thunder Soul”, set at Houston’s Kashmere High School, where in the ’70s charismatic band teacher Conrad “Prof” Johnson took a lackluster band of jazz musicians and turned them into a funk powerhouse. Some 35 years later, they pull a “Mr. Holland” on him, get out their dusty old instruments and stage a tribute to the 92-year-old Prof who defined their lives.
“This film made me want to get out there, do better and make a difference,” Foxx says. “What more do you want?”
Were you involved in high school bands and music programs?
I was involved in the high school band, but it was a different time when I was coming up. Back then, we were lucky because there was an emphasis on music and the arts in education. It’s sad for me to see how now there are kids who don’t even get one music class a week. Sure, not every kid is going to turn out to be Mozart or Miles Davis. But a music program in a school gives kids hope. Maybe it gives another kid a spark. It gives kids new friends, pride and discipline. I remember the first time in school when I blew into a trumpet and got a sound. Wow! Accomplishment! I’m not Chuck Mangione, but I knew if I could do this then I could accomplish much more.
You’re about to film the new Quentin Tarantino movie, “Django Unchained” where you play a freed slave turned bounty hunter who goes to rescue his wife from a Mississippi plantation owner (Leonardo DiCaprio).
I’m really excited. This is a movie that’s a bit of a revenge tale, but it’s justified because there have been a lot of atrocities. It’s one of the most provocative scripts I’ve ever read in my life.
Do you have any music projects on the horizon?
Working on things, but right now I’m really excited about a new record label I have. I signed these young kids who are very talented, and we’re doing a compilation CD due out later this year.”
How is your daughter these days? It’s been a few years since we saw her as your Oscar date.
She’s actually 17 now.
Can you believe it? When did that happen? She’s a beautiful little girl who is growing up. As a dad, I deal with all the regular stuff. Ain’t nothing changes. Dads just have to teach their girls how to protect themselves at all times. I tell her, ‘Save a little love for yourself. Don’t give all your love away.’ Girls love too hard and you hear, ‘Daddy, I can’t go on…’ I say, ‘Save some love for yourself.’ ”
Are you a cool father?
There are times when I have to drop the Jamie Foxx stuff. I have to put Jamie Foxx away so he doesn’t overshadow her and what she needs and wants to do. Of course, I do use Jamie Foxx for good stuff like getting her Justin Bieber tickets. Then Daddy being Jamie Foxx is all good. Otherwise, there are times when I gotta back up and shut up.