Jamie Foxx

Jamie Foxx: What You Need to Know

UPDATED 02/14/2005 at 01:00 AM EST Originally published 02/14/2005 at 01:00 AM EST

Who would have thought that the man who played In Living Color's outrageous Ugly Wanda would someday find himself making Oscar history? Director Michael Mann, for starters. Mann spotted Jamie Foxx in drag on TV a decade ago—"I was like, "This guy can act,' " he recalls—and later cast him in Ali and Collateral. Now Foxx, 37, is in the thick of the Oscar race as the first African-American actor ever to earn dual nominations: Best Actor for Ray and Best Supporting Actor for Collateral Read on for more surprises about Foxx's rise to the top.

"Around here, he's just Eric, the clown," says Foxx's friend Torrez Thomas, from their hometown of Terrell, Texas, who calls Foxx by his birth name, Eric Bishop. "It's everybody else that's going crazy." Well, Terrell is going a little crazy too: Plans are afoot to rename Foxx's childhood street for him. The grave of his grandmother Estelle Talley, whose death at 95 in October devastated Foxx, is a few blocks away from the house where she raised him. Says friend Willie Autry: "He dearly loved her."

After studying at San Diego's United States International University on a piano scholarship, he shifted into stand-up comedy, doing spot-on impressions at open-mike nights and switching his name to the gender-neutral Jamie Foxx after realizing that emcees tended to call on females. "After spending three minutes with him," says Ray costar Kerry Washington, "he does a better you than you do."

From Hollywood to Miami, Foxx is usually in the middle of the action, with a sizable posse that includes "everybody from hoodlums to executives," says friend Brian McKnight. After a weekend out, "he'd come to work with stories that would bring us to our knees," says Garcelle Beauvais-Nilon, his costar on TV's The Jamie Foxx Show (1996-2001).

Last fall a construction worker tried to peddle nude photos of Foxx and a woman, which he claimed he found in a garbage can outside Foxx's Las Vegas home while repairing the house last summer. Foxx's take? "There's no farm animals involved. There's no men involved," he told GQ. "And to be honest with you? They're nice."

"This guy takes care of people," says Ray director Taylor Hackford of Foxx, who shares his L.A. home with half sisters Deidra, 27, a hairdresser; Diondra, 21, who has Down syndrome; and their father, George Dixon. (Foxx's relationship with his mother, Louise, 62, who let Talley adopt Jamie as a baby when she couldn't care for him, is strained.) The actor also is close with daughter Corinne, 10, who lives nearby with her mom (who had a previous relationship with Foxx). "I think she's made him grow up a little bit," says Beauvais-Nilon of Corinne.

"If you're playing basketball, you want to go to the championship," Foxx says. Hackford thinks Foxx's busy schedule—which includes the upcoming dramas Jarhead and Stealth and an R&B album—will keep him grounded. "I always tell him, 'Stay focused on the work,' " says Hackford. " 'Don't succumb to all this amazing hoopla.'"

Jason Lynch. Strawberry Saroyan, Brenda Rodriguez and Amy Longsdorf in Los Angeles and Tracie Powell in Terrell

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