Jamie Foxx is on the cover of the December issue of Men’s Health magazine. Check out the scans in our gallery and read the cover story below.
JAMIE FOXX IS CALM AMID THE SWIRL. In a buzzing Montreal studio, photographers crouch around a huge Macintosh screen. Publicists tap smartphones. A guy sweeps a video camera back and forth like a lawn sprinkler. A local woman banters in French-accented English while a bodyguard impassively scans the scene.
And in the middle of the blindingly white floor, Foxx is doing pushups. Nobody is taking his picture.
It’s midafternoon and Foxx hasn’t eaten all day. He was working late last night, filming the Roland Emmerich action thriller White House Down, in which he plays the president. But he’s not tired or cranky. Soon enough, he’s posing for photo after photo, all business. Whenever the photographers take a break, Foxx does more pushups. Or he’s out in the hallway, snapping off pullups on a bar that Jack Manson, his towering combat-boot-wearing trainer, has assembled for him. A nice pump never hurt a cover shoot.
An hour later, Foxx sits down to a plate of syrup-drowned pancakes. He’s back in casual, all-black street clothes: sneakers, loose slacks, a tight Polo shirt with an oversized logo. I ask him about all those pushups. “It goes back to when you’re a kid looking in the mirror,” he says, “and you want to be the guy in the magazine.”
Over the years, Foxx has been the guy in many magazines, for many reasons. He broke out as a gleefully profane stand-up comic before moving on to the great early-1990s sketch show In Living Color and then to The Jamie Foxx Show, the sitcom he headlined for five seasons. Next came dramatic film roles: He stole Oliver Stone’s Any Given Sunday as a cocky young quarterback, and he earned an Oscar channeling Ray Charles in Ray. He’s dabbled in music too. Foxx and Kanye West crooned with Twista on “Slow Jamz,” West’s first-ever appearance at the top of the charts, and then Foxx scored his own long-running No. 1 with “Blame It.”
Foxx, who turns 45 this month, is set to hit yet another peak with the title role inDjango Unchained, Quentin Tarantino’s new slave-revenge epic. For this role, Foxx had to pack on extra layers of muscle—hard, functional muscle rather than the showy beach muscles he’d already developed. And even more difficult, he had to dive headlong into centuries of American racism and explore the attendant mix of dehumanized numbness and boiling anger. After all that, a few onscreen fistfights were, he says, “actually a breath of fresh air, to get all that tension out.”
Tarantino auditioned a number of prominent actors for the part, but when he spoke with Foxx, he realized he’d found his leading man. And even though Foxx’s flashy club-king persona doesn’t exactly scream cowboy, that aspect of the role, as Foxx explains, was second nature to him—as it would’ve been to anyone his age who’d grown up in Texas: I watched Bonanza. I watched Hee Haw. I spun guns on my finger. Every kid, if you were in Texas, wanted to be a cowboy, whether you were black, white, Mexican, whatever.” In the movie, he rides his own horse.
From fearlessly raunchy stand-up comedian to stoically badass dramatic actor, Foxx has proved himself time and time again to be one of the most adaptable entertainers in the business. As a singer, he doesn’t come off as an actor filling time between movie roles; he’s a fully formed R&B loverman with at least half of a greatest-hits album already under his belt. As an actor, he disappears into his roles, often becoming nearly unrecognizable. And as a comic, he’s all snarling, ribald energy.
That kind of adaptability, in career and in life, is an essential quality for just about everyone these days. We’re no longer expected to work a single career for decades or to focus all our brainpower on one task at a time. In this fast-paced world, we need to keep work and family and our always-expanding RSS feeds in the forefront of our minds, and we need to move from one persona to the next with a fluidity that would have baffled previous generations. It’s a juggling act. Foxx is simply doing it on a bigger stage.
“You just have to live,” he says. “As a comedian, you have to do it in different rooms. You can do it in the hood; I did it in the hood for a long time. And I took that same muscle and did it uptown, where the audience is Robert De Niro and Al Pacino and all those guys. You still remain the same person, and you get your stamp. It’s like a passport.”
Foxx had plenty of stamps on his passport before he ever stepped onto a comedy club stage. As a kid he rode horses. In elementary school, he cracked so many jokes that his teachers ended up giving him a few minutes at the end of the day to repeat the comedy routines he’d heard on the Tonight Show. In high school, he played quarterback; when he left for college, he did so on a classical piano scholarship. He was a renaissance man before he even became a man.
That eclectic past helped his career. After telling jokes in front of class, he felt at home in a comedy club. His musical training let him weave song parodies into his act. And in Any Given Sunday, his football days gave him a certain authority even when he was working with much more experienced actors. “I got into the movie, and there’s Al Pacino, there’s Cameron Diaz, there’s James Woods, there’s all these incredible actors,” Foxx remembers. “But the one thing I had on my side: I played football. And I knew more about football than any of these guys. That’s what I relied on.”
It turns out that following your passions can lead to unexpected career opportunities. So can knowing what you don’t know. Changing with your environment and with the times: It’s the only way to evolve.
“One thing I’ve learned: You have to rely on someone to tell you what is hot and what’s not as you get older,” Foxx says. “That’s what I do; I ask. When Kanye was telling me about ‘Slow Jamz,’ I was trying to sing it all happy, and he was like, ‘Don’t do that. This is hip-hop. Trust me, the simpler it is, the more effective it is.’ Music is changing. If you don’t change with it, you’ll be at the casino performing: ‘How y’all feel out there tonight?’ I’m still learning how to stay relevant and current—and at the same time not lose who I am, not be too young.”
And that’s another thing that’s kept Foxx on top for so long: a willingness to unlearn. When he started landing serious movie roles, Foxx had to figure out how to stop delivering his lines like a TV actor. And when his music career took off, he was already well into his 30s, and he had to dial back the slick R&B moves he’d spent years perfecting. Now, he says, he has to teach himself not to be so flashy.
“Here’s what you’re going to unlearn now,” he says, more to himself than to anyone else. “Somehow you have to pull yourself away from media, not be so shiny in the next 10 years, because it hurts the art. When you go on talk shows, you have to be lighthearted, which helps and hurts. Now I’ve got to change the satellite a little bit. That’s the tricky part now. How do you navigate through the world you live in and still be an artist? Because that’s the only thing that’s going to survive.” And while most of us might not have to worry about what entertains Jimmy Kimmel’s studio audience, the struggle to age gracefully is pretty universal.
In Django Unchained—a movie even more concerned with substance than it is with style—Foxx has found a way. Playing the lead in a greatly anticipated movie by a celebrated director and taking on his country’s brutal legacy, Foxx could never be accused of letting his art suffer. He’s pushing himself forward yet again.
As the photo shoot carries on, he tells funny stories about how he’d embarrass his teenage daughter—showing up to high school functions driving a Bentley and wearing a too-tight leather jacket. (Apparently this is just as embarrassing as picking up the kids in an old beater. A parent can never win.) After a few stories, it slips out that he’s taken those experiences and written a half-hour sitcom pilot based on them. It’s classic Foxx: Live life and then figure out how to use your experiences. Even now, he’s adapting.
How Jamie Foxx developed functional strength
Preparing for Django Unchained, Jamie Foxx had to become ripped, and he had to look like a slave. “In the 1800s, there was no Bally Total Fitness,” Foxx says. “That was a challenge. So instead of hiring a standard Hollywood personal trainer, Foxx worked with Jack Manson, who’d spent 7 years as a strength and conditioning coach for the NBA’s New Orleans Hornets. “Everything the slaves did was functional,” Manson says. “Picking cotton or swinging a sickle for sugarcane, they were using their backs, using their shoulders.”
“I had been doing bench presses my whole life,” Foxx says. “The chest, the front. But I hadn’t been working on my back, so it made me hunch forward.”
Manson stressed back and core muscles rather than “show muscles.” Foxx played basketball to stay lean, and he quit emphasizing chest weights; this in turn improved his posture. Foxx also traded weights for resistance bands and stretches. Manson loves stretches and pullups, and he’s a big believer in the power of balance, especially as clients approach middle age. One simple move he recommends: Stand on one foot with your leg extended straight out in front of you, parallel to the floor, and hold the pose for 10 seconds. Then swing it out to the side for another 10, and to the back for another 10. Then switch legs. When you’re comfortable with that, try doing it on a balance beam, Bosu ball, or Airex pad.