Two words, you probably never imagined coming from Jamie Foxx: "Hee Haw."

The Oscar-winning actor is on the phone talking about pitching director Quentin Tarantino to give him the title role in "Django Unchained" when he mentions the TV show.

"I had that upbringing. Of watching 'Bonanza,' watching 'Hee Haw,' which both black and white would watch," says Foxx, who grew up in Terrell, Texas. "I rode horses. I did gun spinning as a kid. I do these things," he told him.

This is vintage Foxx. He's not a method actor so much as an American renaissance guy. He set records as a quarterback at Terrell High. Hence his comfort in Oliver Stone's gridiron drama "Any Given Sunday." He earned a scholarship to study classical music and composition. Hence "Ray," for which he won an Academy Award for his depiction of Ray Charles.

Do all pitch meetings with the actor end with him saying with a grin, "been there, done that"?

"I told Quentin, whomever he gets is going to be fantastic. But I want to put my hat in the ring. It would take the pressure off, I told him. It all worked out."

It did indeed. Foxx delivers a hero of glower and glory in the tale of a slave who assists a German bounty hunter named Dr. King Schultz in tracking down a trio of brutes known as the Brittle Brothers.


Advertisement

In exchange for his help, Schultz frees Django. Instead of parting ways, the two become partners. Christoph Waltz plays Schultz, who decides to help Django find and free his wife, Broomhilda.

Foxx knows that his home state has that unique quality of being both Western and Southern. Which is nearly perfect for Tarantino's latest payback saga. (Tarantino loves pay-back. In 2009, the director made the Holocaust revenge flick, "Inglourious Basterds," for which Waltz won an Oscar for his turn as a Nazi.)

"Django Unchained" boldly mixes two genres, one cinematic, the other literary: the gunslinging Western and the American slave narrative.

Django and Schultz's quest to free Broomhilda is by turns amusing and dark, poignant and profound.

"When I read the script, the thing I gravitated toward was the love story between Broomhilda and Django," Foxx says. "That's what really drew me to it."

Kerry Washington portrays Django's wife. After they were separated, Broomhilda was sent to a plantation called "Candyland." Leonardo DiCaprio, uncharacteristically portraying the baddie, plays third-generation plantation owner Calvin Candie, and Samuel L. Jackson creates a new villain as Candie's most trusted slave, Stephen.

The chemistry between Foxx and Waltz catapults their characters high up the list of best onscreen partnerships.

Foxx, 45, believes sharing his upbringing helped. He told Waltz some stories about growing up in the racially segregated Texas town where, he says matter-of-factly, "I was called nigger every other day."

Foxx then does a lovely imitation of the German-Austrian actor's flustered reaction. "I, I, I can't. I don't. I don't. I don't....."

"He really felt a certain compassion hearing the stories of what happened to me," says Foxx.

From all accounts, things got heavy for the "Django" cast when the production moved to a plantation near New Orleans. Evergreen Plantation stood in for Candyland.

"Evergreen Plantation is the most intact plantation complex in the South with 37 buildings on the National Register of Historic Places, including 22 slave cabins," states the plantation's website.

"I learned so much stuff being on this plantation," Foxx says. "How the plantation worked. What it was all about. And some of the terrible things. The names of kids that were exterminated because they wanted the moms to get back out to the field."

"It's something you have to admire to see that we evolved. The whole country evolved, black and white folks."

Foxx brought both his daughters down for a set visit. The four-year-old ran around as little ones are wont to do. But for his older daughter, the actor seized it as the kind of teachable moment parents are so fond of.

"See what you came from," he told 18-year-old Corinne. "See what you're allowed to do, to wear your Gucci, your Louis, ride in your whatever because these people laid it down in such an incredible way."

Lisa Kennedy: 303-954-1567, lkennedy@denverpost.com or twitter.com/bylisakennedy