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Jamie Foxx has the keys to ''The Kingdom''

Jamie Foxx explains why ”The Kingdom” earns director Peter Berg and producer Michael Mann spots on his ”list,” juggling a serious topic with popcorn-worthy action, and his reason for taking up the cello

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It’s only September, but it’s already been a busy fall for Oscar winner and Grammy nominee Jamie Foxx. He got Jennifer Garner to dance at MTV’s Video Music Awards, he was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame, he logged hours in the Sirius Satellite Radio studio for his show, The Foxxhole. Oh yeah, and then there’s a little $70 million movie he made called The Kingdom, which kicks off fall movie season, quite literally, with a bang.

Loosely based around the FBI’s investigation of the 1996 bombings of Saudi Arabia’s Khobar Towers, The Kingdom finds Foxx leading a small team of FBI agents (Garner, Chris Cooper, and Jason Bateman) into enemy territory to investigate a terrorist attack on an American housing compound in the Middle East and hunt down those responsible before becoming the hunted themselves. We managed to get Foxx to slow down long enough at the L.A. premiere to discuss making a politically charged thriller in today’s unpredictable climate, his co-star’s Academy Award-worthy turns, and what job will keep him busy until next spring.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: As they promise in the trailer, the last 30 minutes of The Kingdom is intense, edge-of-your-seat kind of stuff. It looks so seamless yet I imagine actually shooting those scenes isn’t quiet so smooth.
JAMIE FOXX: It does end up looking a lot more seamless than it is when you are filming it. When you’re doing it, you have an idea of where you’re going so you can connect the dots. So even if you shoot a scene out of sequence, you go over what just happened and what happens next and it all comes together. And it helps that [director] Peter Berg is just flawless in putting it all together.

This was your first time working with Chicago’s Hope‘s doc-turned-director. He often inspires repeat performances, like Jason Bateman in this film and the upcoming Will Smith-vehicle Hancock, Tim McGraw in Friday Night Lights and The Kingdom, Jeremy Piven in Very Bad Things and The Kingdom.
Most definitely I want to work with Peter again. Denzel Washington said it best: He works with just a handful of cats and then he knows exactly what he is in for and how the film will turn out. He has a couple of guys he trusts, and I like that strategy. Peter Berg is most definitely one on my list now. I would work with Peter from here on out.

What is it about him that encourages such trust and loyalty from actors?
He gets it, and I think that some of it comes from being an actor himself. And he doesn’t have trust issues. He hires you to do what you do and lets you make decisions, and will debate your choices with you if you want and if he feels strongly about something, but mostly, he just plays it loose.

NEXT PAGE: ”I like being part of a film that makes people think about the current state of the union and the government and about how you live your life. Movies have that power so we should be using it more often.”

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Were you ever concerned about doing a film about the very current and controversial topic of Saudi Arabian-U.S. relations and terrorism?
JAMIE FOXX: [Shakes his head no] It’s Michael Mann [the film’s producer] and Michael Mann is courageous in cinema. He’s on my list too, by the way. He goes right into the belly of the beast, and to be able to do a movie on a topic that is so current for people and yet still make it entertaining is a hell of a hat trick. I think the beauty of this movie is when you see the quiet moments, like when [the Saudi colonel played by Ashraf Barhoum] is with his family. It’s showing a culture you don’t get a chance to see in the news. You don’t usually get a chance to see that there are people on the other side saying, ”I don’t like the violence or crime either.” It is a human story above all else. I like being part of a film that makes people think about the current state of the union and the government and about how you live your life. Movies have that power so we should be using it more often.

On one hand, this is very much a popcorn film with thrills, explosions, gallows humor and both you and Jennifer Garner nicely filling out your Kevlar. But, on the other, there are some very serious moments: it’s extremely topical and it stars several people who have been gold-fingered by Oscar in the past. In which sphere do you think this film falls?
I would never want to jump the gun and start talking about awards so early on, but the performances are fantastic. You can’t overlook Ashraf’s performance or Jason Bateman’s performance. He’s a funny dude, but his panic is so real in those final scenes. And Peter is amazing. But it’s also entertaining and action-packed. A film can be both.

What’s your next move?
I’m doing The Soloist. I play a cello player who lives underneath the freeway in L.A. and has schizophrenia. A reporter from the L.A. Times notices me. It is based on a true story. It’s looking good so far. We haven’t started it yet. But it’s shaping up. Robert Downey Jr. is on it. The writer wrote Erin Brokovich. The director is Joe Wright. We’re going to make it hot.

Sounds meaty, not to mention, very different than you in real life. How does a guy who can’t play a string instrument, doesn’t suffer from a mental disorder, and is the farthest thing from homeless or hungry get into character?
I have to lose about 25 pounds — no fried chicken for me for a while — and I’m learning to play the cello. I’m doing a lot of research on schizophrenia. Like with Ray, I feel it’s my duty to do justice to this story so I have to do my homework.