First discovered by audiences as a confident, fresh faced comic who was incredibly proficient at playing outrageous characters and sending up famous celebrities on the small screen after joining the TV sketch comedy “In Living Color” in 1991, and over time developed into one of the big screen’s most admired performers after earning an Oscar for his uncanny and unforgettable performance as the iconic musician Ray Charles in the 2005 biopic “Ray.”
Born Eric Bishop in Terrell, Texas, Foxx’s young mother was had difficulty supporting him when her marriage dissolved early on, but his maternal grandparents stepped in and raised him as their own, and the actor would later credit his grandmother for the lion’s share of his successes in life. A piano student—at his grandmother’s insistence—since the age of three, he ultimately attended United States International University in San Diego on a music scholarship and later studied music at Julliard before embarking on a career in acting and comedy. Foxx, who altered his name into the more feminine-sounding Jamie Foxx in order to get preferential placement on stand-up open mic stages, began performing in comedy clubs soon after reaching Los Angeles in 1989. Within the next few years, he appeared on stage at The Comedy Store and The Improv, and at the famed Apollo Theater in Harlem. He won the 1991 Oakland (California) Comedy Competition. That same year, Foxx joined the cast of Fox’s variety show “In Living Color” as one of the sketch players, creating Wanda, one of the ugliest women in the world. In 1992, Foxx won his first feature role, a supporting part to Robin Williams, in “Toys.” In 1996, he had supporting roles in two features, the uneven comedy “The Great White Hype,” as a boxer’s manager, and “The Truth About Cats and Dogs” (1996), as Ben Chaplin’s friend trying to make sense of the confusion.
Foxx has continued to perform comedy on TV. He was a guest on “Paul Rodriguez: Crossing Gang Lines,” a 1991 Fox special, and has appeared on HBO’s “Def Comedy Jam.” In 1993, he starred in the one-man concert special, “Jamie Foxx: Straight From the Foxxhole” (HBO) and three years later was back in his own sitcom, “The Jamie Foxx Show” (The WB, 1996-2001). In the latter, he played an ambitious actor who goes to work for relatives at a somewhat run-down hotel. Although never a ratings smash or even a cult hit, the series allowed Foxx to build an audience and hone his talents, leading to big screen roles, first cast obviously in comedies pitched to urban audiences such as “Booty Call” (1997) opposite Tommy Davidson as two buddies who get in over their heads pursuing women; “The Players Club” (1998), a strip-club comedy from writer-director Ice Cube; and “Held Up” (1999), playing a hapless man caught in an outrageous hostage situation.
Foxx first ventured into more dramatic territory when Oliver Stone cast him as a nervous third-string quarterback turned overnight sensation in “Any Given Sunday” (1999), and the actor equated himself well with an impressive performance. He then balanced action and comedy in the middling thriller “Bait” (2000) from director Antwone Fuqua, playing an ex-con used by federal agents to lure a killer out of hiding before turning in his most complex performance to date when he played Muhammad Ali’s troubled ring man Drew ‘Bundini’ Brown in director Michael Mann’s biopic “Ali” (2001).
Foxx had a major breakthrough year in 2004: first he starred in the f/x telepic “Redemption: The Stan ‘Tookie’ Williams Story,” giving a widely praised performance as the founder of the L.A. street gang The Crips, a man who went from Death Row to being nominated for a Nobel Peace Price—Foxx, who took an active hand in trying to prevent Williams’ execution, was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actor in a Mini-Series or a Motion Picture Made for Television, as well as an Independent Spirit Award for Best Actor; next, the actor was praised for his turn in the otherwise forgettable comedy “Breakin’ All the Rules” as a dumped boyfriend-turned-breakup expert author; Foxx then surprised audiences with his engrossing and sophisticated portrayal of an L.A. cabbie who finds himself at the mercy of a fare who revealed to be a mercenary hit man (Tom Cruise), and the strong performance rocketed Foxx into Hollywood’s leading man A-list, earning him nominations for a Golden Globe and an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. He followed up with an extraordinary turn as legendary R&B; singer Ray Charles in the big-screen biopic “Ray,” an explosive performance that transcended a mere impersonation of the musician and firmly established Foxx as one of the most talented and versatile actors of his generation. The resultant raves culminated in a series of professional accolades and nominations, and he took home the choicest of the three Golden Globe awards he was nominated for that year, winning for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy. His subsequent wins at the BAFTA Awards, SAG Awards and a multitude of critics’ awards preceded his Best Actor victory at the Academy Awards.
The actor’s first follow-up to hit theaters, in progress since before his “Ray” breakout, was decidedly less impressive: the action film “Stealth” (2005), next effort was “Stealth” (2005), a stupefyingly lowbrow cross between “Top Gun” and “2001,” cast him as a hotshot pilot of high-tech military planes, was a forgettable side trip before the juicier post-Oscar offers rolled in. He was working on one of the them when he won his trophy: “Jarhead” (2005), director Sam Mendes’ insightful, psychological adaptation of former U.S. Marine Anthony Swofford’s bestselling recounting his experience during the 1990 Gulf War in Iraq. Foxx was cast in a potentially familiar role as a hard-driving Marine training sergeant (a composite character), but the script, direction and Foxx’s performance served up enough subtle curves and quirks to establish the character as a counterpoint to Swofford (played in the film by Jake Gyllenhaal) by his grounded, centered desire and satisfaction to be serving in the military. At the same time, Foxx began pushing his musical career (the former music student’s debut album Peep This was released in 1994) forward: he appeared on Kanye West’s song “Gold Digger,” which held the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100 for several weeks straight in 2005, and in December of that year he released the R&B; album Unpredictable, which despite a tepid critical reception emerged as a chart-topper.
Refocusing his attention on what he has done best—act—Foxx was next cast by director Michael Mann to play Detective Ricardo “Rico” Tubbs in the remake of the hit 1980s police procedural, “Miami Vice” (2006). Shooting began in April 2005 and from the start the production experienced on disaster after another, including Foxx’s near-miss during a joyride in a convertible Ferrari with costar Coli Farrell, who played partner Sonny Crockett—a strong wind blew out the windows on a skyscraper and sent large shards of glass onto the street where the actors were cruising. Both barely escaped unscathed. After a 105-day shoot that saw a local Dominican shot by Mann’s security after he brandished a gun near set, among many other calamities, Foxx was glad to be finished with what many—cast and crew—considered to be an excessively grueling shoot. Foxx then found himself in the Oscar mix again with a strong performance in the much-hyped “Dreamgirls” (2006), a big screen version of late director Michael Bennett’s Broadway musical about a the rise and potential fall of a black female singing trio (Beyonce Knowles, Jennifer Hudson and Anika Noni Rose) in the 1960s and 1970s. Foxx played Curtis Taylor, Jr., a ruthlessly ambitious talent manager from Detroit who turns the singing group into stars, but only on his own terms.