At the Hall H panel for Django Unchained on Saturday, Jamie Foxx said that writer-director Quentin Tarantino challenged him to really inhabit his role as the title character. But later that afternoon, Foxx revealed that Tarantino follows in the footsteps of several filmmakers who pulled no punches in motivating the TV star-turned-Oscar winner to become a better actor.
“I worked with Oliver Stone, who said, ‘you’re just not good at all, are you?” Foxx said in a roundtable interview at San Diego’s Hilton Bayfront Hotel. “I was coming from TV – this was Any Given Sunday – and everything I said was really loud, because TV was loud. ‘SO YOU’RE GOING TO THE STORE? GOOD! I’LL SEE YOU WHEN YOU GET BACK.’
“Movies was much more about [quiet],” he observed. “And he was like, ‘you suck when you do that,’ and he literally was like ‘you’ve got to get better before I hire you’.”
Prior to Django, Foxx worked with Taylor Hackford on Ray, which netted him an Academy Award, albeit perhaps because the director threatened him into giving an Oscar-caliber performance. “Taylor Hackford, at one point on Ray he says, ‘Listen. If you eff this movie up, I’m going to eff you up’.” Soon after that, he collaborated with Michael Mann on Collateral, and he admitted that he was already getting a little big for his britches – until Mann humbled him a little bit.
“I said, ‘you know, Mike, I’m doing my thing – I’m kind of moving on up. How about in the cab I do my thing?’ He says, ‘How about you don’t do your thing?’ I said, what do you mean? He says, ‘When have you ever seen a cab driver doing their thing? Why don’t you just drive the cab?’”
Foxx said that Mann reminded him that he wasn’t Jamie Foxx when he was in front of the camera. “‘The person that’s in the back is not Tom Cruise, he’s just another fare. It’s just another Wednesday. If you do that, then you can be this character. If you do the other thing, now you’re Jamie Foxx’.”
Although those high-profile roles garnered Foxx enormous critical and commercial success, he said that he recognized how they led to other opportunities that undermined his ability to disappear into a character. “Now, things get even better,” he said. “We win Oscars, we did songs that were Number One. And I think that when we do things outside of acting, it hurts us, because people start to identify with you, the brand.”
Foxx said that Tarantino’s authority in dealing with him was initially intimidating, but the filmmaker wasn’t trying to antagonize him, but get him to make the character’s journey as meaningful as possible. “It was welcome when he pulled me in the room; it made me nervous. And he says, ‘I’ve got to say something. I was worried that you can’t get to this character because you’re Jamie Foxx’. So it made me reboot my computer and help for me to let go and be the character.
“He says, ‘I guarantee, if you let go and be the character, the pendulum-swing will be sweeter. Because if you play this guy genuine here, when he evolves and becomes this guy, it will be a breath of fresh air. It will be like, wow, he really had a journey’.
“That’s all welcome,” Foxx insisted. “You want to work with directors like that. You want to work with tough directors.”