It was the kind of year that felt like a punch. Jamie Foxx not only coped with the isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic, but his beloved sister DeOndra, who had Down syndrome, passed away.
There’s a quote from her new movie “Soul” that she loved.
“The line is, ‘The world has been here for billions of years, which is really just the blink of an eye. The important thing is not to lose your eyes’”, says the Oscar-winning actress. “My sister, who lived with me, would greet me in the morning and be like, ‘Jamie, don’t lose your wink; live your life.’ ”
On a cold December afternoon, Foxx, dressed in a black leather jacket, was doing just that in his Los Angeles home. With most of his town on lockdown, he’s had time to zoom in and reflect on his new Disney/Pixar movie “Soul,” which will be available exclusively on Disney+ starting Christmas Day.
In it, Foxx plays Joe Gardner, a dying musician and jazz teacher. In the afterlife he explores the passions, dreams and things that make us all human. “He wants a second chance but first has to ask himself ‘Why am I here? Why am I here? says Foxx, who is joined by Tina Fey, Angela Bassett, Questlove, Daveed Diggs and Phylicia Rashad in the voice cast of “Soul.”
Review-Journal: I’m so sorry to hear about your sister. How are you?
Jamie Foxx: 2020 has definitely been bittersweet for me. My sister made the transition, which was a lesson for us. I say in transition because she will always be alive in my heart. She was such a bright light. She always lived every moment to the fullest because you never know when it might be your last moment.
Tell us about DeOndra.
My sister had Down syndrome and came to live with me 18 years ago. I was the lucky one. I can’t tell you how many times, I’ve had parties and she got on that dance floor and stole the show. Who was my sister? All I can tell you is that I made a video years ago for my song “Blame It on the Alcohol”. I had all these big, big stars in the video. My sister said, “Big brother, don’t forget me. I want to do my dance solo in this video. Well, here she is doing her solo, doing her thing. The Down Syndrome community got to see her and she was such an inspiration. She was an ambassador for the Global Down Syndrome Foundation for 11 years. Personally, she always reminded me of the little things. She lived in such a beautiful way that she taught me to always find joy.
Your character Joe Gardner in “Soul” learns similar lessons. Why did you want to take the role?
It’s funny. When my daughter was younger, she would say to me, “Yeah, dad, you’ve done good animation in the past, but not Pixar. She was looking at me like, “When is it going to take off for you and you’re doing a Pixar movie?” Now I hear, “You’re at Pixar. You did it.” All I know is my grandma is looking at me smiling. She would have been proud. It’s an incredibly strange time with everything we’re going through. Something good had to happen, which for me has been this real-life movie.
Music is such a big part of this story. Did your love of music bring you into the zone to take on this role as a jazz musician?
Music means so much to me personally. My life revolves around music. I’m playing a jazz musician here, but I’ve listened to all kinds of music to get into the role, from Thelonious Monk to Ray Charles. I’ve listened to guys from my hometown who sing on the streets and just play, even though they don’t get paid for it. I just vibrated…I met Marvin Gaye’s manager when I was in college. Our first conversation was about jazz and how much we all love it. Jazz is about as many notes as you can fill. You just close your eyes and go to different places.
Your character is a teacher and a jazz musician. Have you ever had to sacrifice one major activity in your life for another?
I was on “In Living Color” and a Fox exec said to me, “Keep the jokes. He said that because I was always singing in my dressing room. I remember Tommy Davidson telling him, “No, he should do everything. Everyone should do everything in life. In my life, I want everything. I didn’t have to sacrifice acting or singing, but I had to work to be successful in both. If “Gold Digger” hadn’t been a big hit, I might have had to sacrifice a few things. I think you can do different things in life, but respect them all.
“Soul” is about finding mentors in life. Who do you look to for inspiration?
Mohamed Ali. You look at Ali and see this handsome guy. He was impetuous. He spoke truth to power. As soon as he opened his mouth, people hated him at first. But by the time he finished his sentence, you loved him. He captivated people.
Do you have any advice for young artists?
Don’t get tired. Don’t put your art aside. When I talk to Michael B. Jordan or when I’ve talked with Chadwick (Boseman) or anyone who comes to my house, I just say, “Hey, the opportunity is so wide open now. You have to run and enjoy it. When I arrived in Los Angeles, I remember standing on Sunset Boulevard thinking, “What do I do now?” But you understand. Now is the best time. Artists have so many social networks. Put your art out there. Someone will see you if you stay there.
Finally, what is your idea of an ideal Sunday?
I’m at home. With friends. The music is on. Food on the table. To laugh. Friends. Jokes. I am forever young. My daughter says, “That guy, my dad, will never grow up.” And she is right. Sunday is for acting like a kid and just having fun. And I make time for myself to be grateful to the wonderful people in my life, including my sister who is always with me in all the ways that matter.