Project Imaginat10n caught my imagination when a photographer caught a handcuffed NYC couple kissing just before they were separated and led to jail. He was the graffiti artist and she was the lookout. The shot seen around the world had a romantic True Romance feel to it. This image was disqualified because the photographer couldn’t get a release, but their fifteen minutes of fame created a lot of hype for this Canon project. Canon has gathered Jamie Foxx, Eva Longoria, Twitter co-founder Biz Stone, Marchesa designer Georgina Chapman, and LCD Soundsystem frontman James Murphy to direct ten-minute films based on photographs which inspire them. These photographs must be submitted by today. Two-time Academy Award-winning director Ron Howard will be on hand to guide this crew through the process.
The new Quentin Tarantino project, Django Unchained, is a can’t-wait-to-see flick starring Jamie Foxx. Jamie gave me fifteen minutes of his famously valuable time to discuss.
How did you end up doing this project with Ron Howard?
I saw this campaign that Ron Howard was a part of with Canon, when they had the commercial, and I said, “Wow, that seems so interesting, that seems like such a great thing to be a part of.” And then when Canon opened it up and I became one of the guys who was actually going to get the opportunity to direct and look at these pictures and bring to life a good story, I thought, man, this is great. So Ron Howard and I had a relationship; we were sitting next to each other during the inauguration, when President Obama was becoming president, and then Ron eventually went on to be in the video “Blame It on the Alcohol” with me. It was cool to reconnect with him, only this time, under his tutelage, I’ll be able to get to do what I’ve wanted to do for a long time, which is direct my own projects and see if I can become a director that can be cinematic.
That brings me to my next question. I saw that back in 2000, you directed a couple of your own television shows and you did something in 2011: a TV movie. You’ve done comedy, won an Academy Award, a Grammy, and now you are directing again. Where do you want to go with that?
I’ll tell you what: with the directing, what I’ve always told my people, I said, I’m telling you, from all of the exposure that I’ve had with these great directors – Oliver Stone, Michael Mann, Antoine Fuqua, Sam Mendes, and now Quentin Tarantino – I just think it’s a natural progression, and I feel like I want to be able to take another journey into a world that I feel I’ve learned from the best. I can’t wait to get the Canon opportunity; the cameras that they have really make it handy for what you want to accomplish and what you want to have your film look like in so many different ways and so many different angles and looks and feels. So, I can’t wait. I don’t want my short film to be just, “Okay, I finished.” I want it to be something that people will marvel at and say, “Wow, did you see that?” I want it to be something that once people see it, hopefully, you know… shoot man, I really want to go at it.
Do you think you have a leg up on your competition or your fellow directors here? You have Eva Longoria who has some movie and television experience; you have fashion designer Georgina Chapman; Biz Stone the Twitter co-founder; and you’ve got James Murphy LCD Soundsystem. Is there a slight competitiveness here?
You never know. These guys are all fantastic and they’re all visual and they have insight and that’s all it is when it comes to being a director; it’s what your vision is. I feel like I have the most pressure since I have worked with all these great directors and great projects, so I need to really make sure that I come through.
So I read that the themes are: character, mood, backstory, relationship, goal, obstacle, the unknown, and of course the last one: discovery. Do you have any preconceived notion on a theme, or are you just going to let the photos speak and react?
I would email Quentin Tarantino periodically and say, “I hope your movie is talking to you like your friend,” so I want to be able to look at these pictures and have these pictures speak to me like a friend, and once I do that, then I’ll know exactly what it is I want to shoot and what I want to write about and the story I want to be told. I don’t want to jump the gun and say, you know, it’s going to be this, it’s going to be this. I just want to really get the chance to soak all of the pictures in and go from there.
One of the things that got the public’s attention and brought people to this project was that couple that got caught holding hands on their way to jail, which was an incredibly romantic moment or something out of the end of a Tarantino-written film, like True Romance. It captivated everybody’s mind. How did you feel about that moment? Did that picture say something to you?
The thing about me is that I can really see a picture with so many different stories that people could tell. There’s so many different interpretations, so I want to see what I would come up with. I would take that certain picture and look at it and make it something different, so that’s what’s exciting about this process; it’s the fact that all of these pictures will speak to us in different ways and, like I said, I can’t wait to see what the pictures say to me.
You mentioned working with Quentin; I’ve seen a lot of people like Brad Pitt and Christian Slater talk about working with him… tell me something about Quentin that maybe we don’t know.
Remember the movie Amadeus about Mozart? I come from a musical background, and what’s great about Mozart is that he was able to write music as if he was writing his name. Quentin Tarantino is able to grab shots as if he is writing his name. He doesn’t make a big deal out of this, but I’m gonna make a big deal out of it. When we were shooting Django Unchained, Tarantino wasn’t satisfied with his endings, so he rewrote the ending in his trailer and at his house, and then he came back to the set, with it handwritten, and said, “Here’s our ending.” And the ending was better than the ending that was already in the movie. So to me, that separates him from anybody that I’ve seen, because the lines that he writes are absolutely classic, and to be able to take that and put the camera on it and then make it cinematic, is just amazing to me. And then his process, like a kid, playing music between scenes, having fun—for every hundred rolls of film we did, we took a shot of tequila or vodka or whatever it was. He just made it fun, man. He told me, “When you leave this production, you will long to have these types of memories again.” He keeps it fun, so he’s definitely a gem.
You mentioned Mozart writing like he writes his name and Tarantino being able to move on-the-go and adjust and correct himself. How do you prepare as an actor? You didn’t become an actor early in your career, but you rose quickly. You blew me away with your performances in On Any Given Sunday and Ray. How do you prepare for a role? Do you act like you write your name?
Well, I’ll put it this way: I think you have to give it to a higher being—I call it God-given—that it’s something where it’s a sixth sense, you know? It’s something that you just feel. When it comes to acting, I just feel something. When it comes to creating, I just feel something. And that’s what it is. You can’t really put your finger on it. I’m always thankful, I’m always thankful that I am touched by whatever that is, that creative gene. It allows me to jump into different worlds—like music and movies—and really give those worlds respect. I can’t put my finger on it, but I have to maximize it. I know that I have to get into it and give all I can. When you look at my 10-minute film from this Canon project, I want to make you absolutely wowed by the performance from the actors and actresses, and the story that you see.
You talked about Ron Howard and Quentin, but what other directors, or any other kinds of creative people, have inspired you?
I’m inspired by Floyd Mayweather Jr.; I watch him and what he’s done in his career and how tough things have been, and am amazed at how he makes things happen with his charisma and acting. I’m inspired by Ray Lewis, a guy who’s played in the league almost 15, 16 years in football, and every time he speaks he’s so inspiring. LeBron James—a person who really, really wanted something, and set the wheels in motion that some people would be angry with him about, but he knows if he doesn’t do it in a certain way that he wouldn’t be able to get what he’s set out for. I’m inspired by President Obama, a person who is, even when it’s chaotic, still the coolest person in the room, and able to make a choice – even though it may not be the best political choice—but what I feel in my heart. I’m inspired by outside entities that fuel my ideas and stories in my art; that’s what I feel gives me the most feelings, when I use that type of energy that’s not in my field.