Jamie Foxx for “Bait”

He’s the hip Black comic of TV’s Jamie Foxx Show, and has since won recognition as a serious actor from Any Given Sunday. Now, in his new film Bait, Foxx gets to show both his funny and dramatic side, and is relishing the challenge. Paul Fischer reports from New York.

Jamie Foxx is part of a new breed of American Black performer. It would seem on the surface that the stand up comedian is following hard in the footsteps of Black performers who preceded him, but young Jamie, whose own TV show has made him a huge star here, is happy to divide himself between sketch format television and his new found movie career. “You always want work to be an option”, the cool Foxx responds. “But for me, I think TV is the best thing in the world, because you get more cracks at being funny, while with movies, unless you’re able to make $20m, it’s more limited.” His self-titles series, which began as a homage to Britain’s classic Fawlty Towers, has now been shifted to the plum Sunday night 7 pm slot, an indication of the faith that the WB Network has in the comic. And he’s loving it. “The great thing about doing TV, for ME, is that I direct the show as well as get a chance to create something from scratch.”

He was born Eric Bishop in the small town of Terrell, Texas, on December 13, 1967, and raised by his grandparents after his parents separated. He enjoyed a happy upbringing, “going to church every day with my grandparents” and excelling at everything from academics to music to football. During his teen years he had his first taste of the entertainment business as his church’s choir director and music director, and also started his own R&B band.

Foxx studied music while a student at the U.S. International University in San Diego; it was during his college days that he got his start as a stand-up comedian. Attending a comedy club one night with some friends, he was encouraged to take the stage and perform some impersonations, which proved incredibly popular with the audience. It was also during that time that this gifted all-rounder went from Eric Bishop to the more him Jamie Foxx. “I found out that these clubs were short of women, you see, and so I used to put women’s names on the lists, so that I’d be called up more often. They never really knew who you were. One of those names was Jamie, and it kinda stuck, and being foxy, well, I figured that ‘Jamie Foxx’ would be perfect for me.”

Foxx’s enthusiastic reception at the comedy club circuit led to his decision to move to L.A. and pursue a comedy career. At the age of 22 he was hired for Charles Dutton’s sitcom Roc, and he subsequently landed a recurring role on In Living Colour, the same show that launched the career of Jim Carrey and the Wayans brothers.

Foxx was ultimately given his OWN show in 1996; that same year, he appeared in a supporting role in The Truth About Cats and Dogs, which cast him as a friend of Ben Chaplin. He was also featured in the boxing satire The Great White Hype, and the following year he got star billing opposite fellow comedian Tommy Davidson in the poorly received comedy Booty Call. After playing a DJ in Ice Cube’s The Players Club (1998), Foxx earned some of his best reviews to date for his role in Any Given Sunday (1999), the film that altered audiences and critics’ perceptions of him. It was his most important career move to date, but one that he had to fight for.

“What happened was, Puffy Coombs was supposed to do it but he bowed out of it to do something else. So the role became vacant and at a time when Oliver Stone needed to make a decision right then. I told Oliver: Here’s where I beat everybody else. I played football before, my father’s a coach and so I know everything there is to know about the game.’ ” Foxx won Stone over but had to [persuade the studio brass that this TV comedian could occupy the same frame as Al Pacino. “What I did was, I made a tape of myself throwing the ball, and also talked to the camera as if I was the guy, no scripted dialogue. Oliver handed that to Warner Brothers and seeing that, they got it.”

The film won Foxx kudos, but he subsequently returned to straight comedy, both on the small screen and now starring in Antoine Fuqua’s crime comedy/thriller Bait. In this action comedy, Foxx plays an ex-con finds used as bait by the Feds. When a master criminal (Doug Hutchison) pulls a heist that nets $40 million in gold but leaves behind several dead policemen, a tough FBI cop (David Morse) pulls out all the stops to catch the thief. The police recruit our unwilling hero, an ex-con trying to go straight, to lure the culprit into a sting, but the human decoy turns out not to be as reliable as they might have hoped. “What I loved about doing this, was that it gave me the opportunity to do both comedy and a bit of drama. I liked the challenge of doing an action movie, with not too much action.” For Foxx, Bait afforded him the opportunity “to be sassy and serious.” He even gets to do some heavy petting with co-star Kimberly Elise. “That was tough, because she’s married, and I had t apologize to her husband for being hot and heavy on his woman”, he says laughingly.”

With Bait due to please both his core TV audience and a wider net of would-be fans, Foxx is on a role, not only with his TV show back for a new season, Foxx’s movie career is in full swing to boot. He is more happy to confirm that he is next set to star in another movie version of A Star is Born. “Yeah, it’s definitely going ahead, and will be a more urban, younger version of the story. I’ll be the guy whose career is nearing its end, but those around him won’t admit it to him. I think it’ll be a good.” Foxx may have missed out on starring opposite Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire (“I was really a nobody when I auditioned for that), but the hip comic is making up for lost time.