Jamie Foxx, Cameron Diaz and Quvenzhané Wallis are gracing the cover of this week’s Parade Magazine. You can read the article below.
The iconic little orphan gets a contemporary update in a star-packed new movie musical, but her heart-tugging themes are timeless.
One of pop culture’s most iconic characters is more than 90 years old — but she doesn’t look a day over 11.
That’s because Little Orphan Annie will always be eternally young, an ever-optimistic, sun-will-come-up-tomorrow kind of gal, dancing, singing and spreading sunshine wherever she goes. And on Dec. 19 she’ll be going into movie theaters everywhere, as a new star-packed Annie movie based on the hit Broadway musical opens on the big screen.
“I think it’s just one of those stories that reaches people,” says Cameron Diaz, who plays Miss Hannigan, one of the new Annie’s central characters. “People are drawn to it because you want to have Annie find someplace where she doesn’t have to take care of herself, where she doesn’t have to fight, that she gets to find somebody who wants to love her, and who will give her a home and take care of her.”
Annie was born a comic-strip character in the New York Daily News in 1924, with a series of evolving plots following the spunky little orphan, her loyal dog Sandy and her wealthy benefactor “Daddy” Warbucks. Widely popular throughout the ’20s and ’30s, Little Orphan Annie was later adapted for radio and movies. Decades later, in the 1980s, it became a Tony-sweeping Broadway smash, which spun out into numerous national and international touring versions and is still staged in thousands of high school and community theater productions today.
Broadway launched Annie to vibrant life in a magnificent way, through grandly popular signature songs—like “Tomorrow” and “It’s the Hard-Knock Life” — and star-spangled performances by a long list of stars in its leading and supporting roles, including Glee’s Jane Lynch, British actor Tim Curry, Sarah Jessica Parker, ’80s pop star Debbie Gibson, Molly Ringwald and Catherine Zeta-Jones. The show has been translated into 28 languages and staged in 34 countries. “Tomorrow,” one of the most-performed songs in Broadway history, has been a concert staple for dozens of singers, including Barbra Streisand, Johnny Mathis, Grace Jones and Idina Menzel.
A big-budget Hollywood adaptation first brought singing, dancing Broadway Annie to the screen in 1982. Now the brand-new movie, starring Diaz, Jamie Foxx and Quvenzhané Wallis as the little orphan, gives it a 21st century spin.
The new movie updates the Broadway plot but keeps the Annie essentials: Annie, deserted by her parents, ends up in foster care with mean Miss Hannigan, who has taken in several girls as a way of paying the bills. Daddy Warbucks has morphed into Will Stacks (Foxx), a hard-nosed, self-made billionaire businessman running for mayor of New York. When Stacks pulls Annie from the path of a vehicle on a busy New York street and a photo of his “heroism” goes viral, his poll numbers spike—and Annie suddenly becomes an even bigger part of his campaign, and his life.
Raised in a segregated sector of the small Texas town of Terrell, Foxx, 47, who was officially adopted by his maternal grandparents when he was 7 months old, understands a man like Stacks, who has had to make his own way in the world—because Foxx did, too. And while Stacks thinks he’s on the road to happiness with his wealth and his political prowess, he soon learns that what really matters is something else entirely.
Foxx, whose movie résumé includes Django Unchained, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and White House Down, remembers one “hard-knock” Christmas in particular. “The best gift I ever received was from my grandparents,” he says. “It was a Free Spirit, 10-speed, 24-inch bicycle when I was like 10 years old. We didn’t have a whole lot of money, so I thought about the sacrifice they made. The thing about it was, I had to ride that 10-speed until I was out of high school and in college.”
Annie could have been a hard-knock story of another kind if the perfect young actress to play the title role hadn’t been found. A casting call went out for a girl who could portray Annie’s sunny outlook on life, but at the same time convey Big Apple street smarts. It’s a tall order for a 10-year-old, but Wallis, the youngest person ever nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for last year’s Beasts of the Southern Wild, managed to do both.
Now 11, the Houma, La., native sees several similarities between herself and Annie. “We both go for it, we both keep doing what we want to do, and we both are very strong,” she says. And like Annie, Wallis appreciates the blessings in her life, including “my family, my toys, being able to live in a house, and all the stuff that I am able to do now, like go to a nice school.”
With her long list of hit film credits, from bit parts to major roles in Gangs of New York, Bad Teacher, The Green Hornet and Something About Mary, Diaz, 42, drew on her own experiences with the up-and-down roller-coaster of fame to relate to her character’s show business struggles.
“I am just so grateful for every single breath, to tell you the truth,” says the Long Beach, Calif., native. “I feel nothing should be taken for granted, nothing. I just have gratitude for everything. So my motto is ‘Gratitude is the only attitude.’ I try to give gratitude every day for every little bit of everything in my life.”
For Foxx, who won an Academy Award for his portrayal of Ray Charles in Ray, another musical role was not a daunting task. But stepping into a role in such a beloved story did give him pause. Familiar with the 1982 version of Annie, starring Aileen Quinn and Carol Burnett (which he calls “dope”), he says, “It was surreal growing up and getting to play Daddy Warbucks.”
Diaz, however, says making a musical was a challenge. “I’m terrified of singing in front of people,” she admits. “It’s one of my big fears. Singing in front of people and heights are the two things that really terrify me. So I’ve jumped out of airplanes and scaled sides of mountains to get over my fear of heights. With singing, I decided to do a musical and put myself out to the entire world.”
The vibe during the production of Annie wasn’t that far from the theme of the movie: It was all about family. Foxx’s 5-year-old daughter, Annalise, was a recurring visitor to the set; director Will Gluck often brought his wife and young daughters to work to ask them what they thought about how the movie was going; and Wallis’ mother was in regular attendance during filming.
Despite Gluck’s modernization of this story, Annie’s themes of family and the desire to be loved are univer-sal. That’s something that Foxx picked up on when he watched rapper and music mogul Jay-Z, one of the film’s producers, perform a version of one of the movie’s songs earlier this year at a star-packed Super Bowl party.
“When he started doing ‘Hard-Knock Life,’ people of all ages and all colors went crazy,” Foxx says.
When people go crazy this Christmas for Annie, it’s because the story resonates in a way that’s deeper than the music, or the characters, or the actors who play them. “To be able to have family together, to be happy and healthy—it’s the simple things in life that we have to hold on to,” Foxx says. “Because at the end of the day if everyone can be happy and healthy, that’s more than enough.”