Jamie Foxx Used His Real Life Football Experience For His Any Given Sunday Audition

In 1999, the majority of the testosterone in the United States congregated in Miami, Florida to film Oliver Stone's "Any Given Sunday." After a pair of commercial disappointments in "Nixon" and "U-Turn," the two-time Oscar-winning director needed a hit, and John Logan's adrenalized football drama was roided-up with box-office potential. Once Stone landed Al Pacino for the role of the embattled head coach, every actor with an athletic physique wanted in.

Jamie Foxx was one of those guys. The comedic dynamo had established himself as a television star via "In Living Color" and "The Jamie Foxx Show," and co-starred with Tommy Davidson in the uproarious sleeper hit "Booty Call." But he wasn't perceived as a serious actor. If anything, he was on track to join the elite class of Martin Lawrence and Chris Tucker as a comedy superstar. This wasn't poverty. Far from it. Both men were guaranteed bank at the box office, and pulling down $20 million per picture. Foxx could've charged down this path, but he had loftier ambitions. He wanted to measure himself against one of the greatest actors in film history.

He was up to the task, but he had to convince Stone he could punch at the heaviest of weights.

Don't like my acting? Watch me ball!

In a 2018 interview with Yahoo!'s Nick Schager, Foxx revealed that, as far as Stone was concerned, he blew his initial audition for the role of Willie "Steamin'" Beamen in "Any Given Sunday." The "Platoon" director was turned off by Foxx's high-decibel delivery, which he ascribed to his television background. "I remember him writing down as I was walking out, 'Jamie Foxx — slave to television.' Because I was so loud. Everything I said was loud."

But as Stone struggled to find the right actor for the brash, up-and-coming quarterback who leads his team to an improbable championship, he revisited Foxx. Ever the resourceful performer, Foxx switched tactics and sold the filmmaker on his athletic background. As he told Yahoo!:

"I didn't lean on my acting skills; I leaned on my quarterback skills — I was a quarterback in high school, passed for over 1,000 yards. What I told him was, 'I may not know all of the intricacies of what you're talking about with the acting. But when it comes to the football, I know exactly what that is.' So as opposed to auditioning and reading, I made a VHS tape of me as the character, Willy Beaman. I turned that into him, and he dug it. He turned it into Warner Bros., and we started our journey."

A perfect portrait of athletic excellence

There are ways to hide actors' lack of athleticism in sports movies. You can cut around the performer and use stunt doubles for certain crucial moments. Or you can let it ride and assume audiences simply won't give a rip (as Arthur Hiller evidently did with John Goodman while making "The Babe"). Stone, however, isn't one for artifice. He wants his films to look and feel brutally authentic. At his best, his work is abrasive and startlingly immediate. His Vietnam movies hurl you into the tumult of combat and send you home with a touch of shellshock. "The Doors" may be the most toxically realistic depiction of rock-and-roll stardom ever put to film.

Stone's never had a more committed collaborator than Foxx, and casting him as Beaman paid unexpected dividends. According to Foxx, he used his sports background to coach Pacino on his pivotal locker room speech. As he told Yahoo!:

"I said listen, the main thing about the coach is that, to these kids, he's the father. They're the father to these kids; they're not the coach. If you put your mindset in the fact that these kids come from the inner city, and may not know their family or whatever like that, you're their father."

There's a lot going on in "Any Given Sunday." It's a smorgasbord of errant machismo. In this sense, it's the perfect pro football movie (though I wish it had ended on a bum note like Ted Kotcheff's "North Dallas Forty"). That it works to such an ecstatic extent is due in large part to Foxx. He looks the part of a generational quarterback, and he infuses the character with arrogance and grievance. We don't necessarily like Beaman, but we're rooting for him to piss all over the conservative expectations of his position. He wins his way.