Oprah: What was life like in your town? Were you poor or really poor?
Jamie: We were on a fixed income. I got free lunch at school.
Oprah: But you had running water and an inside bathroom?
Jamie: Oh, yes. Our neighborhood was a black Pleasantville. No crime. No killing. There might've been a fistfight.
Oprah: Did you have little petunias in the yard?
Jamie: Yes, and my grandmother was serious about those flowers! [Jamie mimics his grandmother.] "That little ol' mean-ass dog is in my flowers."
Oprah: What's the most important lesson she taught you?
Jamie: My grandmother was a confident woman. I think about what she must've endured during the sixties, when she was starting her own day care business. She could walk into a bank filled with white folks and say, "Let me speak to so and so." She knew who she was. And with the love she and my grandfather extended to me, she passed on that confidence.
Oprah: Did you go to church every Sunday?
Jamie: Sunday, Wednesday, Thursday, you name it. I was the minister of music, so I had to be there. We learned everything in church, even about kissing your first girl.
Oprah: What was your dream for yourself?
Jamie: I just wanted to be a singer. I wanted to be like Lionel Richie. Like the Winans and the Clark Sisters and Commissioned—they were the first gospel group who could make the girls come down to the altar; they were the fly guys.
Our town had some of the most incredible singers you'll ever hear. Steve Hardy, who sang at my grandmother's funeral, taught me. When he sings, he moves the earth a little bit. Once when my agents heard Steve sing, they were hugging people they didn't know. They were like [Jamie in his imitation white man's voice], "Man, these black folks! Jamie, I have never in my life felt this way! The emotion! I'm thinking we could do a TV series or something." They were moved, man.
I'll never forget looking at Steve Hardy's hands when I was a kid. He had these knuckles—the kind that look like he could fight. He was a spiritual man who'd say, "God doesn't want us fightin'"—but then he might add, "But God does tell us to defend ourselves." When I was a kid, I thought, If I could just be like that, I'll be all right.
Oprah: My fame has been so gradual that I feel I'm the same person I've always been. After you won the Oscar, did you immediately notice people treating you differently?
Jamie: Yes, and I called them on it: "What in the hell is your problem?" After the Oscars, I went to the music studio to work on a record with some producers, guys I've known for years. That's when I realized these guys weren't talking to me. Later I discovered one of my guys was going around telling people he was my new manager. So he'd said to these producers, "Jamie Foxx just won the Oscar, so he ain't paying y'all." These are producers I've known for years!
I've learned to do what I call kill the beast. You say fame hasn't changed you, Oprah? That's because you've killed the beast of who you could become. You could walk around saying, "I'm the powerful Oprah Winfrey." Of course, there are times when you have to pull someone aside and let them know who you are. That's exactly what I had to do with that dude—"You've got to go. If I'm gonna mess up, I'm gonna mess up for myself."
We Hear You!