How the south was won
Jamie Foxx had no reservations about starring in Quentin Tarantino's Golden Globe-winning western, Django Unchained, despite the controversy he knew would follow.
''I loved it right away when I heard the story, but of course any time you deal with slavery and being a black man [today], especially when we have an African-American president, you're supposed to knee-jerk,'' Foxx says. ''The script is controversial - you wouldn't expect anything different from Quentin Tarantino - but also being from the south myself, I had a different interpretation.
''What I really appreciated was the love story in the film between Django and Broomhilda [played by Kerry Washington] because it was taboo for slaves to have feelings for each other back then, much less get married, and that element of the story was really interesting to me.''
Fantastic Mr Foxx ... Django is on a mission.
Django Unchained is set in 1858 in the south and Django (Foxx) is a black slave rescued by German bounty hunter Dr King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), who needs his help to track a trio of brothers wanted dead or alive. Django successfully helps him and is set free, only to remain with Schultz as a bounty hunter until the time is right to find and rescue his wife, a slave called Broomhilda. The duo track her down to a plantation owned by Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) and hatch a dangerous plan.
''If you're not troubled by some of this material, then you're not human,'' the 45-year-old actor says bluntly, sitting in a New York hotel suite on a cold morning, dressed in a smart but casual cream button-up jacket over a brown shirt. ''When black people said to me, 'Oh man, I felt bad when I heard the word nigger,' I said, 'You're supposed to!' That's what we were all trying to do, to affect people in a way that shakes them up.''
Foxx acknowledges that researching the role was often painful. ''I had to read up more on slavery and there was a book called Without Sanctuary by a guy who documented lynchings throughout America,'' he says, softly. ''It's all these pages of black folk being hung and the stories behind it and I read those things and had that boiling inside of me when I was filming.''
On set ... director Quentin Tarantino.
Foxx grew up in Terrell, Texas, and was a class clown, a football quarterback and a gifted classical pianist. After accepting a music scholarship at a San Diego college, he left two years later to pursue a stand-up comedy career, and this led to his successful stint in the TV sketch show In Living Color. Dramatic roles followed in films including Any Given Sunday (1999), Ali (2001) and Collateral (2004), and he won an Oscar in 2005 for his role as Ray Charles in the biopic Ray.
The actor admits it was the genre, not just the subject matter, that excited him. ''You never get to see a black cowboy in a film and, being from Texas, I'd been pretending to be one since I was a kid, watching Bonanza and Hee Haw and twirling my little plastic guns any chance I got,'' Foxx says.
As well as producing an original Rick Ross song, 100 Black Coffins, for the soundtrack, Foxx found a job for his own horse in the film. ''When I met with Quentin he said, 'Hey man, I got to get you on a horse,' and luckily, I got a horse about six years ago, Cheetah, so I asked if I could try riding my own horse and see if he could learn the tricks,'' Foxx says, referring to Django's horse, Tony, being able to nod and trot backwards in a circle.
Next up for the star is the action film White House Down, in which he plays the US president. The irony is not lost on Foxx.
''I call it the evolution of freedom. It was fantastic to go from being called nigger to Mr President but it took a little getting used to,'' he says, smiling. ''Of course, the memory of Django will always be inside me, but it was also just a cool moment to look back at that and then say, 'Wow, now you're the president!'''
BUZZ Despite controversy, its great reviews, award nods and big box-office takings in the US will attract an audience beyond Tarantino fans, who also won't be disappointed.
STARS Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Samuel L. Jackson.
DIRECTOR Quentin Tarantino.