Jamie Foxx on how new Pixar movie spoke to his Soul
He feels he shares DNA with character of band teacher Joe Gardner, talks about upcoming new projects
Jamie Foxx is not just making Pixar history as the first black lead in one of the studio's animated movies.
The 53-year-old Oscar-winning US actor is ready with his answer in our Zoom interview on why he took the voice role of school band teacher Joe Gardner in Soul, which features a predominantly black cast including Angela Bassett, Questlove, Daveed Diggs and Phylicia Rashad.
Foxx said: "I feel I am right for this part because of my DNA, because of what I've studied, because of what is inside me. So when Joe was presented to me, I said, 'Wow, I know this guy, I know this cat.'"
Directed by Pete Docter (Inside Out, Up, Monsters Inc) and opening here on Dec 25, Soul follows how Joe gets the chance of a lifetime to play piano at the best jazz club in town, but one small misstep takes him from the streets of New York City to the Great Beyond - a fantastical place where new souls get their personalities, quirks and interests before they go to Earth.
Determined to return to his life and achieve his lifelong dream, Joe teams up with precocious soul 22 (Tina Fey), who has never understood the appeal of the human experience.
Foxx goes on to explain that he went to college on a classical piano scholarship but grew up listening to jazz greats such as Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis and Wynton Marsalis.
He even got a chance to play with Ray Charles - whom he portrayed in the 2004 biopic Ray - and Stevie Wonder.
He also made his daughter Annalise proud because he was in a Pixar film.
"My youngest is like, dad, you finally made it! Because she didn't get a chance to see all (my) early work, she is only 12," he said.
Foxx has hunkered down at home in Los Angeles with his family during the pandemic, a difficult and "heartfelt" time as his younger sister DeOndra, 36, died in October.
He said: "I lost her during Covid-19. She was such a light. Although she had Down syndrome, she would turn the world out. It wouldn't be a party till she would be the life of the party.
"When something like that happens, you just go, wow, not her, that is the first thing you say. We grieve but when we think about the joyous times that she left us, you do see it differently. She is somewhere in a beautiful place doing exactly what she did here, having people laughing and feeling good about themselves."
Besides Annalise, Foxx also has 26-year-old daughter Corinne at home with him, and he talks with both of them about their perspectives on life and learns a lot from his girls.
He said: "Old people are worried about what church you go to, what colour you are, what gender you are. They tell me that the old people are just ruining the world because they are so opinionated about things.
"And they constantly tell me, if we are on earth, that means we are supposed to treat everyone with kindness. And so that is what I love about my little ones. They don't just listen to me going 'when I was young'. They say no, we are young and we have a different take on it. So I appreciate them."
The lockdown has also been a productive time for Foxx, who said he sold two movies that he wrote.
He is producing and set to star in sci-fi film They Cloned Tyrone alongside John Boyega and is executive producing and starring in Netflix's father-daughter comedy series Dad Stop Embarrassing Me, which is based on his relationship with Corinne.
Foxx also has an overall deal with Sony Pictures Entertainment to develop and produce feature films.
Although most of his upcoming projects are on hold, like playing boxer Mike Tyson in a new biopic, he is still working away.
He said: "We have an adventure film, which is sort of like a black Ocean's Eleven, which you've never seen before. We plan to get that going and then Mike Tyson on the horizon.
"Never would have thought at this point in my career I would feel like a schoolkid just getting started out, so I am just really excited about all of it."
He added: "The quarantine was about reflecting and resetting (too), rebooting the human computer if you will. We got a lot of work to do, got a lot of healing to do, we are being challenged as humans."
Foxx said it is important to be kind in such trying times.
"I came up with, 'I am not going to look for the worst in somebody, I am going to look for the best in somebody.' We're so busy looking at what we don't like about a person, we must find out what we like about people."
As for taking care of his own soul, Foxx - who had said he was born with a "similar spark" as his on-screen character - has a ready answer too and is aware of what adds true meaning to his life.
"How can I, throughout my day, make people smile and make them feel good and say, after they've had an experience with me, I grew, I laughed, I enjoyed the music? And so every day I wake up, I am conscious of that, of leaving a trail of good feelings and good vibes.
"I had to do a career day for my daughter (at school). I introduced myself as the Deliverer of Sunshine. I create the smiles and give the joy."