How Jamie Foxx transformed for ''Ray'' -- The star of the new biopic reflects on his comedy career, transition to film, and what it's like to impersonate a legend

By Clarissa Cruz
Updated October 29, 2004 at 04:00 AM EDT

Clad in a perfectly tailored black Zegna suit, Jamie Foxx is crooning a soulful R&B ballad while plucking notes on a vintage piano in the lounge of L.A.’s Dresden Restaurant. The space is dim and romantic, the only light radiating softly from yellowed chandeliers and wrought-iron lamps. Foxx screws his eyes shut and draws a deep breath as he delivers these heartfelt lyrics:

”I love you better when I’m high/I love you better when I’m messed up/I love you better when I’m on quaaludes/I love you better when I’m high.”

Loud giggles burst out from a gaggle of onlookers. About a dozen assistants, publicists and handlers are gathered for a photo shoot to promote Ray, the Ray Charles biopic in which Foxx portrays the legendary musician. The star continues to spoof R&B slow jams with lyrics like ”I was in love, so in love, with you/Til I met your sister,” and culminating with an impression of Luther Vandross warbling The Brady Bunch theme. (Joking aside, the classically trained pianist can sing. ”Slow Jamz,” Foxx’s No. 1 hit with Kanye West earlier this year, was clearly no fluke.) But when the photographer requests a more serious expression, Foxx seamlessly channels his cinematic alter ego, all jerky mannerisms and concentrated frowns as he quietly sings a few bars of the Charles classic ”Georgia on My Mind.” The observers take in the transformation in awed silence, letting the perfectly recreated classic wash over them.

”Georgia, Georgia, the whole day through/Just an old sweet song/Keeps Georgia on my mind.”

”Thank you, thank you very much,” the actor intones in Charles’ trademark drawl, hugging himself with glee. He has every reason to be content. Ray, which debuted to rave reviews at the Toronto film festival last month, chronicles Charles’ life from his dirt-poor childhood in Florida through the height of his musical career and into the ’70s, along with his well-documented fondness for drugs and women. The film costars Kerry Washington (as Charles’ long-suffering first wife, Della Bea), Regina King (his fiery mistress Margie), Clifton Powell (Charles’ road manager and friend Jeff Brown) and Curtis Armstrong (as the Atlantic Records honcho who signed Charles, Ahmet Ertegun). But it’s Foxx’s pitch-perfect performance that could earn the movie Oscar consideration and catapult the 36-year-old actor?better known for his comedy and supporting turns in Any Given Sunday and Ali — into the rarefied ranks of A-list, dramatic leading men.