‘Django Unchained’ star Jamie Foxx relayed his encounters with racism to Quentin Tarantino
Jamie Foxx wasn't always the Oscar-winning, Hollywood powerhouse that he is today. Part of taking on the role of a pre-Civil War era slave in "Django Unchained" meant conjuring memories from his own past. It also meant shedding his celebrity persona -- something writer-director Quentin Tarantino made clear from the outset of filming.
Yahoo! Movies spoke with Foxx over the summer at Comic-Con in San Diego, CA. The actor-comedian-musician was still clearly buzzing from the roar of a convention hall filled with screaming fans just minutes before. What wasn't said in the panel discussion was how Foxx personally related to the racially-charged subject matter that fills nearly every frame of "Django."
Foxx described how he intimated his thoughts on the matter to Tarantino. "We taught each other," Foxx said of his working relationship with the famed auteur. He recalled telling the "Pulp Fiction" writer-director, "I can give you my input because I feel like I'm a black professional on blackness."
Tarantino was listening. But he also made one thing clear to Foxx before shooting began: It's about the work. "He pulls me in a room and says, challenges me, 'Can you be this person? Can you leave all the shininess outside and actually be this person -- a person who can't read." Fox said it was a drastic adjustment for him but that, "I think that's the best thing I could have been told in the way of, 'I don't care about your celebrity. I don't care about who you are as that person.'" Once he came to terms with that, Foxx said he "turned into a monster," living, eating and breathing the role of Django.
[Related: Why Jamie Foxx changed his name]
Foxx indicated that Tarantino himself, known for pushing the limits of shock value onscreen, was stunned by some of his stories of racism from his youth in Terrell, Texas. Then, Foxx went by his given name, Eric Marlon Bishop, and was raised by his mother's adopted parents. The 45-year-old actor launched into what was presumably one of the stories he told Tarantino:
"I played the piano and that's how I made money. My grandmother taught me how to play the piano. She said, 'You need to learn to play this piano, boy, so you can go across on the other side of the tracks and make some money.' The other side of the tracks is where the white folks live. I was pretty well known in the city, but when I was 16 and a friend of mine was 17, I get a gig to go play [a] Christmas holiday. So I go to this big Gemcraft home out in the country. I go, 'Wow, this is nice.' And the guy opens the door and he says [in a thick Texan twang], 'What's goin' on here?' And I said, 'Well, I'm here to play your Christmas party. What's your problem?' 'Why are two of you here at the same time?' I said, 'Well, I don't have a license and he drove.' And he says, 'Yeah, I can't have two n----rs in my house at the same time. Now you figure it out.' Mind you, I'd heard this growing up. I said, 'Can he leave?' [The man replied,] 'He can't wait on the street.' So I go in, he gives me a jacket to play in, and as I was playing -- I taught Quentin this word, it's called 'furniture' -- as I was playing, they were doing racial jokes... But my grandmother said, 'When you playin' in those situations like that, you furniture.' You know what I'm sayin'? So the lady at the house says [in a decidedly more feminine Texan twang], 'I apologize for what's going on. Could you sing us a song? And I sang [sings], 'Chestnuts roasting on an open fire.' And the guy says, 'Wow, that's good,' and he handed me a hundred bucks at the end of the thing. And I was like, 'Man, call me n----r every daaaay!' And when I went to give him the jacket back he says, 'What are you doing?... I can't wear that jacket anymore.'"
Foxx was quick to point out that this happened not too long ago -- in 1984. He recalled telling Tarantino, "What you're writing in the script -- I'm not knee-jerking because that happened."
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Foxx said he would offer his experience up to Tarantino so he would "have enough." He also let the director know he could represent the film to the press, knowing the sensitive nature around the topics of violence and racism that are tackled. "I said [to Tarantino], 'Hopefully what I bring to you is not just someone who is saying your wonderful words but someone who can articulate this movie after the movie's in the can and we're going to go through those -- some may be tough interviews of why this movie is happening."
"Django Unchained" opens wide on Christmas Day.
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