Everybody has a Jamie Foxx story. Some grown-man advice here, a perfectly placed punchline there, casual beatboxing to break the ice and a tight five for a tense set. Call it Foxx fairy dust. The 55-year-old Oscar winner consistently manages to leave folks better than he found them. Which makes the actor’s public absence following a medical complication in April all the more aching. Something is missing, right?
“Jamie, if you can hear me, I love you. I think you were amazing in ‘In Living Color,’” yells a shirtless man as he walked by the currently empty red carpet at the recent Miami premiere of ‘They Cloned Tyrone’, a trippy sci-fi tale from the hood starring Foxx, John Boyega and Teyonah Parris. The film doesn’t land on Netflix until July 21, and who knows how this fan knew Foxx could’ve been at the steamy Miami premiere during the American Black Film Festival (the movie poster isn’t up yet), but perhaps it’s just the fact that Jamie Foxx should be everywhere?
One third of the film’s starting line-up, Foxx is on fire as Slick Charles, stepping into the role as if it’s a pair of snakeskin boots. With nearly 90 credits, the actor has played roles including a musical genius, a singing canary, a vampire hunter and a super villain. But Slick Charles is a character apart, combining Foxx’s foolproof comic timing, liquid physicality and dramatic relatability. Because the actor’s talent spans genres and mediums, it can be easy to forget how good he is. But in ‘They Cloned Tyrone’ you just can’t.
“What you guys didn’t see was me tapping my fingers below the close-up shots,” said Boyega from the red carpet after his third outfit change (the movie is about clones, after all). He plays Fontaine, the boy who discovers he has dozens of doppelgangers after teaming up ‘Three Musketeers’-style with characters Slick and Yo-Yo (Parris). Stone-faced throughout much of the film, Fontaine is the straight man. Foxx and Parris cut up and cut loose. To get through one hilarious scene where Foxx and Parris ad-lib a version of Rose Royce’s ‘I’m Going Down’ using their handguns as microphones, Boyega had to ball his hands into fists.
“A lot of it was about me trying to keep control, especially being on the elevator with Teyonah and Jamie. When they get together it’s stupid. And then I’m supposed to be the serious guy,” said Boyega.
For Foxx, Boyega, like everyone, had nothing except praise. But none of that “He’s just so great to work with” stuff. The adoration is specific, pinned to a moment in time when that Foxx fairy dust was sprinkled over their lives.
Actress and social media star Tabitha Brown and her husband, Chance, who were among the glittering crowd of famous faces at the premiere, called themselves “diehard fans.” The couple walked down the aisle two decades ago to the ‘Wedding Vows’ song Foxx sang on his namesake WB show. Chance Brown revealed another connection for the first time.
“I’ve never shared it with anybody, but I used to do security for Jamie before I retired,” the former Los Angeles police officer said. “A lot of people know him through his work, but I was fortunate enough to see him behind the camera. On a personal level, he’s an outstanding human being.”
Shaking off his image
A common thread was how readily Foxx shucked his movie star image.
“Jamie’s always going to uplift your spirits when he’s around on set. And to be that way, there’s a leadership quality as well. Watching him interact with the crew and see how much he was giving to the part even though he’s at this level was a teaching moment. Regardless of where you are keep it cool,” added Boyega. Foxx did more showing than telling.
For Parris it was all about the words. Most of the actress’s scenes with a head for news are with Foxx, Yo-Yo’s constant verbal sparring partner. She was nervous from the get-go. “Everyone knows how talented Jamie is ...” a reporter begins.
“Do you?” said Parris, dressed in a skin-skimming lavender dress. “I don’t think you understand.”
Parris’s first scene on set was a pages-long battle of the dozens between her and Foxx, a man who got his start in Los Angeles’ comedy club scene and has three stand-up specials under his belt.
“I’m nervous just being around him,” recalled Parris, but Foxx’s first order of business was to help, ad-libbing with the actress before the cameras started rolling. “He was improvising things for me to play off of. He’s just such a kind creative.”
As filming progressed and the punchlines ratcheted up, Foxx made himself even more available.
“Our characters are a duo. Yo-Yo can definitely go toe-to-toe with Slick Charles. But Teyonah?” said Parris, who despite feeling confident in her clowning skills was doing mental marathons to keep up. “There were certain moments when I couldn’t compete.” So the actress went to the Oscar winner for help. “He gave me jokes, cracking on himself so that Yo-Yo could crack on him. I used some. Who does that? Gives you space to shine and do your thing and go up against his character?”
Jamie Foxx does that, apparently.
'Pie in the sky' actor
Director Juel Taylor never imagined that Foxx would be on his set, embodying a role that seemed specially made for an actor with his gift of the gab and lyrical dexterity.
“Jamie was like a pie in the sky. You don’t actually believe that Jamie Foxx would say yes to a first-time director who, like, no one knows who you are, who’s, like, a complete nobody,” Taylor said during a rare quiet moment at the five-day festival the afternoon after his film’s first large screening.
Taylor and his writing partner, Tony Rettenmaier, were just hoping “to get a couple of dollars.” Maybe take the film to Sundance. Foxx was so far out of the picture. But, strangely enough, after seeing the script and hearing their elevator pitch, “people kept saying yes,” Taylor said. Foxx signed on to co-star and produce. The character wasn’t written for him, but the actor made it his own.
“It looked good on the page, but he makes anything you write sound 10 times better that you could have imagined. Then he improvises things in between the cracks,” Taylor said. Take the elevator scene that had Boyega balling up his fists to keep from laughing. That was about three lines in the script, according to Taylor.
On set, the A-lister taught the novice director about the unsaid. “He’s like a savant, so he can roll out of bed and get into character. He does a lot of subtle things in the movie that I didn’t tell him to do, but I wanted him to do, but I didn’t necessarily want to tell him what to do, you know?” Taylor said.
Basically, Foxx is the people’s movie star, a celebrity who knows when to turn it on and when to turn it off.
At one point during filming, Taylor, like all directors, was faced with one of those terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days on set. It was rough, he said. So rough he doesn’t even want to describe it on the record. “That was a very low-morale day,” said Taylor. But in the heat of it he heard laughter. Yep, Jamie.
“He’s doing stand-up. Instead of being in his trailer, he’s in a crowd in the parking lot, and everybody’s laughing. It was five minutes of just jokes,” said Taylor.
“You could see the whole mood start to shift. So you got all these people who were like, salty, laughing. He’s so intuitive. This is what the set needs right now. Everybody needs to relax and remember that we just on a movie set. He kept, like, for lack of a better word, the spiritual needs of the set always at the forefront of his mind.”