DALLAS – Everywhere he goes, he hears the same wordplay: 2004 is The Year of the Foxx.

For 36-year-old Jamie Foxx, the votes are all in his favor. The endorsements he earned opposite Tom Cruise in “Collateral” proved only a soupcon of the Oscar-potential raves he’s winning for “Ray,” which opens Friday.

The life of legendary musician Ray Charles has the kind of drama the Academy loves. Charles, who died this year, became blind from glaucoma at the age of 7 and fought racial prejudice through all stages of his career. He sang exquisitely, played musical instruments and composed much of his own music. He eventually overcame a drug addiction. He also had 12 children, at least two wives and an unknown number of mistresses.

“I don’t want to get my hopes up for anything like that golden guy Oscar,” Foxx said when visiting Dallas recently. “But I sure haven’t gotten tired of hearing good things about my performance and the movie itself.”

Words such as “Oscar potential” can’t help being more satisfying than the derogatory racial expletive he heard all through childhood, adolescence and even adulthood.

“I heard that word all the time,” he says. “Some people just automatically put that word at the end of whatever they were saying to me. Even when I was quarterback for the Terrell Tigers and got my picture in The Dallas Morning News, I heard that word. And I still hear it today.”

His tone is more matter-of-fact than bitter.

“Everywhere I go, there’s someone being picked on, someone who’s considered not as good as the other people. In Australia, it’s the aborigines. I don’t understand racism, but I don’t think it will ever change. Some people are just built that way. It’s inside of them from birth.”

Foxx echoes Charles’ views when he and the blind entertainer discussed their experiences with racial prejudice.

“He just leaned back and told me, “You’re not gonna change those people. I can’t see black and I can’t see white, but I was met with bigotry all the time. I don’t like labels. I don’t call it rhythm and blues. I just call it music. And those magical notes change everything. You and me, we’re not gonna be the ones that change people. But music is more powerful than people. It can change anything.”

“Ray” director Taylor Hackford offered the role to Foxx, having seen the actor share screen time with Al Pacino in Oliver Stone’s drama “Any Given Sunday.”

“He said that if I could go toe to toe with Al Pacino, he knew I could play Ray.”

Losing 33 pounds was just the start of Foxx’s preparation.

“I spent a year just watching Ray. I watched everything about him. I watched him in person, and I spent days and weeks and months watching tapes of him. I studied everything I could about him, the way he ordered his food and the way he talked to his women. I let it all soak in. …

“Ray’s a complicated man. When you watch a shark, you know that a shark is a shark. But Ray’s a combination of different marine life. When the creator was making Ray Charles, He took a little extra time. When the angels knocked on the door, He told them to come back later.”

Despite the preparations, Foxx had an occasional panic attack, mostly because the director insisted that his eyes be glued shut to register Ray’s blindness.

“I agreed to do it. It wasn’t easy. They had prosthetics made for me that were similar to Ray’s own eyelids. The first two weeks, I panicked like anything. I felt claustrophobic all the time. But it pays off.”

On June 10, Ray Charles died of liver failure.

“He had told us earlier in the year that his time was near. Our hearts fell. But we showed him the movie. He completely experienced it. He could tell what was going on in every second of the movie. And he said he thought it was great.”


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