The important stuff first – is it true you had to send baskets of fruit to your LA neighbours after they complained about you and your mates playing basketball naked?
Yeah man, but you know what it was? It was my fence. There was an accident with my fence and it had broken so you could see right into my back yard and I could see in my neighbour’s back yard.
So talk us through the nude bit…
Well, I wasn’t there, but I’ve got many comedian friends that I hang out with on the circuit and they go to my house anyway, even when I’m not there, they use my house as Party Central. So there’s Tyrin Turner – he played Caine in Menace II Society – and he hangs out at my house all the time. So one night he has these girls over and Tyrin is playing strip basketball and obviously the guy is going to be playing better than the girls, you know what I’m saying? And I get this call and the guy says, “I’ve been watching you for hours, can you please put some clothes on?” And I thought that was the funniest thing about it, you know, “I’ve seen all I want, now can you put your clothes on!” And I had to send them some fruit. Periodically, I have to send baskets of fruit to all of my neighbours because I do throw a lot of outdoor parties.
So your mates just drop by any time, night or day?
Oh yeah, people just show up. One day Shaquille O’Neal, just after he won the championship, calls me from a Harley down the street from my home and says, “I’m comin’ to your house!” and he shows up. People are like, “Oh my God, please don’t ever move, Jamie!” There’s a lot of folks: Shaq, Puffy, Rick James. Everybody, man.
You play a marine in Jarhead, did you ever think about joining the army?
Of course. The reason being that for any African American, Latin or poor white person the military is a saviour for you. Nobody anticipates that you are going to go to war but if you’re a kid and you don’t have any money and somebody recruits you and says, “There you go, you can get an education and travel…” you’re going to do that because you don’t have any other way out. It’s either that or prison which is a terrible dilemma but that’s the way it is. We all took the test to go into the army and luckily the guy who was recruiting heard me play the piano and said, “No don’t come into the army…”
Your life would have been completely different…
Yes it would have been completely different. I would have been in the [first] Gulf War. But I was 18, I thought I would have an education, make some money. Who wouldn’t want that as a kid coming from poverty?
Did you do the boot camp before you started filming Jarhead?
I went on the boot camp thing but not as extensive as they [the rest of the cast] did because I didn’t have to. I was like, “You guys get down there because you’re going to need it! Because when I start getting off on your ass you’re going to want to have this kind of conditioning because I’m not going to be playing around!” And that’s the way it was – we hit the ground running.
Did it give you a taste of what the troops in Iraq are going through?
It’s nowhere near as tough as the real thing. It’s almost ridiculous to even compare it. We’re firing guns that had no real bullets in them, you have earplugs on and eye protection. And then you wonder what it would be like if you were a marine firing real bullets and someone was firing back at you and trying to kill you. I fired a gun without the ear plugs in and it was crazy. So you can never be prepared for what those guys are going through right now in the real thing, and how old are they? Like 19, 20. Kids going off a long way from home and protecting our borders whether it’s an agenda that’s gone awry or legitimate, they don’t care one way or the other, they’re still there. It’s such a fucked up thing.
What has winning the Oscar done for you?
Oh man, it feels great because you get respect, you get a chance to look at those great scripts that before always kept in the back. It would be fabulous if I could just let people ride this ride with me because it’s an amazing thing and you sit back and enjoy it. You enjoy every single moment.
Is the success as sweet as you’d hoped it would be?
It’s even better. It’s fun and it’s even more fun when you get out there; you’ll see a lady, Caucasian, in a ritzy hotel that you know maybe 30 or 40 years ago would have been completely taboo and she’s an older woman, say 55 or 60, and she looks up and recognises you and goes, “I loved Ray Charles and what you did was so fantastic.” It’s so nice.
Celebrity is a powerful thing…
It is a powerful thing. So you have to do something with it. We went to Atlanta, did our charity, asked people if they want to be in business with Jamie Foxx, with an Oscar winner? And if they did, we’d say, “Well what do you want to do? Do you want to build some playgrounds?” I want to do that for some inner city kids – done deal. We were raising money for Hurricane Katrina and maybe a few years ago that would have been one or two thousand, this time half a million [dollars]. So I try and use it in a good way.
You were brought up by your grandparents…
Yeah, my grandfather died when I was 17 and my grandmother passed on a year ago.
So you were still living with your gran when your career kicked off?
Yes, ha ha. I was a mama’s boy because when I got on [hit US TV show] A Living Color she was 83 at the time and she came to live with me. So I’m living this hero’s ride with all these girls and I’m living with my grandmother!
You were bringing girls back with your gran there?
Yeah, I’ll never forget coming home once and there was like four cars in my drive, four different girls and my grandmother was like, “Come on in. I called them in and we’re just having some wine…”, ha ha. She just had that thing and when I look back on those days it literally fuels me and it will to the end of my life. It was like Ray Charles, his mother fuelled him, right to the end of his life.
Do you think you will get married one day?
Marriage to me, especially in this business, looks like, “Wow there are a lot of cars on the road!” You know, you will be driving a 190 Mercedes and look over and see a 500SL and then it’s, “Oh there’s a Bentley and there’s a Porsche right there!” I think marriage will come to me when I see a classic, like a 57 Chevvy or a 67 Corvette. It will be like, “That’s the one…”, the one that is going to talk to me, the one that is going to let me be with her, but at the same time be able to talk to her. Somebody who laughs a little bit at your jokes. It has to work on a lot of levels.
So there’s no 57 Chevvy at the moment?
I’m young, free and single and it frees me up for more creativity. For me being single gives me the perspective. You notice it when a comedian gets married and his jokes change, you know, “Man my wife is nagging me...” And you are somewhere else then, not boring, but you have fallen into that thing, you are basically wrapping up and you are on a different road.
You’re going to be working with Eddie Murphy in Dreamgirls. Was he one of your heroes when you were growing up?
What! Man he was bigger than life, it was like this is a rock star telling comedy. He had on leather pants and diamond rings over a leather glove and he was the ultimate cool. You wanted to wear your pants tight and you wanted to hold a microphone like him. You wanted to do everything like him! It was crazy.
Original interview by Martyn Palmer in the March 2006 issue of FHM UK magazine