Jamie Foxx came out goofing around on Tuesday’s Late Show, dancing in to Jon Batiste and Stay Human’s musical intro and then improvising a seriously funky ode to Santa’s reindeer, all before getting deep into his new movie, the real-life legal drama Just Mercy. The Oscar and Grammy winner is just like that, switching on a 30-year-pro’s dime from hilariously recounting his initial stand-up successes as an impressionist (dude still does a killer Ronald Reagan), his career-making run on In Living Color, and the need, as a 52-year-old man, for cheaters, beard paint, and man-spanx, right into holding Stephen Colbert and his audience spellbound talking about the movie he calls “the most important” he’s ever done.
Telling Colbert how playing Walter McMillan, a black man famously railroaded onto Georgia’s Death Row even before his trial for a murder he didn’t commit, Foxx extolled the commitment of co-star Michael B. Jordan (as crusading lawyer Bryan Stevenson) for carrying through “the narrative” the young actor began back in Fruitvale Station. It’s praise Foxx can keep for himself, too, along with other cast members like Brie Larson and Tim Blake Nelson, who—along with Foxx—all have cashed superhero checks as their careers have gone on. (Larson starred in Just Mercy director Destin Daniel Cretton’s indie triumph Short Term 12, way back when.) For Foxx, essaying the role of a black man whose life was disrupted by the often racially compromised U.S. legal system also hit very close to home, as he related to Colbert about how his father’s 7-year sentence for possessing “$25 worth of illegal substance” impressed upon the young Foxx just how capriciously black people’s lives are treated in America. “I don’t like the perception of black men going to jail,” said Foxx, explaining that, as in the case of his own father, McMillan’s six years on Death Row was “a chunk of life” that “disrupted everything.” The exonerated Walter McMillan never really recovered from his wrongful imprisonment, developing dementia before dying in 2013.
Intense and passionate, Foxx praised Colbert (who noted how he’d interviewed the real Bryan Stevenson in character back on The Colbert Report) for using his own art “to open our eyes to what’s going on,” and noting that Just Mercy similarly uses art as “a vehicle to get the truth out.” Wrapping up his three-segment interview with an appropriately artful conclusion, Foxx returned to his theme, telling Colbert’s viewers, “When you see [Just Mercy], you’re going to want to do something to change the narrative.”