Currently playing in theaters and streaming exclusively on Disney+ is the new Pixar movie Soul, which was directed by Pete Docter (Up, Inside Out). The movie follows a middle school music teacher named Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx), who seeks to reunite his soul and his body after they are accidentally separated, just before his big break as a jazz musician. Along the way, he meets 22 (Tina Fey), a soul trapped in the “Great Before” who learns the joys of life from Joe and helps him on his journey back to Earth. In addition to Foxx and Fey, the film also features the voice performances of Angela Bassett (Black Panther), Phylicia Rashad (Creed), Daveed Diggs (Hamilton), and musician Questlove.
We Live Entertainment recently had an opportunity to attend a virtual press conference for Soul, which featured Academy Award-winner Jamie Foxx and Emmy-winner Tina Fey. Both actors began the press conference by discussing their experiences working with Pixar on this film.
“When it comes to animation, I’ve done animated films before,” Foxx explained. “But my youngest daughter was like, ‘Yeah Dad, you’ve done animation before, but not good animation. Not the good kind.’ I said, what you mean? ‘You’re at Pixar now, you made it,’ she said. So, my daughter is eleven-years-old and has seen all the animated movies and is looking at me like, when it is going to take off for you? So, donning this role and it being such a momentous role, and at the same time having the music, you know, that’s what I came out here to do. So, I know my grandmother, who is looking down, would be proud that we are doing something like this. It’s such an incredibly weird time that what we’re going through. Something good needs to really happen and I think, this is something great. I think when people see it it’s going to be amazing.”
“The film does get you to reflect on these topics,” Fey added. “I think the film does a really interesting thing where they go a step beyond just saying, ‘You’ve got to find your passion in life.’ They also bring up the idea that an all-consuming passion can kind of overtake your life, and that being present is as important as achieving. Especially coming out in 2020, it’s a year when we’re all taking stock of what it means to have had a good year. What it means to have been successful in your life and it often now means taking small joys where you can find them and being present with the people that you love.”
In addition to being an Oscar-winning actor, Jamie Foxx is also a Grammy-winning musician and he talked about how his musical background helped prepare him to play Jazz pianist Joe Gardner in Soul. “There was a guy by the name of Harvey Fuqua who actually discovered me,” Foxx explained. “Harvey Fuqua was Marvin Gaye’s manager. So, I was in college at United States International University on a classical piano scholarship and I meet Marvin Gaye not too long after. I met Marvin Gaye’s manager not too long after that and our first conversations were about jazz. We talked about all of these guys like Charlie Parker and Miles Davis, you know, that he actually had an opportunity to hang out with. He talked about how great jazz was because it’s as many notes as you can fill in. Which, you know, these guys were masterful at that and he talked about how masterful you must become to rise to the top of the jazz world. If you think about it, music is only from that C note to that B note. Then, it repeats itself. So, it’s those notes in between that these guys take those little amounts of notes and build these wonderful worlds that when you close your eyes you actually can go to a different place. So, all those guys I listen to, they’re very instrumental in all the personal things that I do. It’s always revolved around music.”
One of the themes of the film is about finding your creative spark, so Fey was asked when she first discovered her own creative spark? “I think a story that comes to mind is when I was in college and I studied drama at the University of Virginia,” Fey said. “Like everybody, I think I mostly wanted to be an actor. But then the first time I took a playwriting class, and I wrote a one-act play. I was not in the play, so that was the first time I ever sat back and watched other people get laughs and stuff from something that I wrote. It was such a unique thrill that something opened in my brain and I was like, I think this is it for me.”
Since Joe acts as a mentor to 22 in Soul, Fey also talked about the mentors she has had in her own life and how they helped her on her path. “I think my parents were huge mentors, obviously, but it’s one we overlook a lot of times,” Fey explained. “My parents encouraged me to pursue the arts. They didn’t ask me to have something to fall back on. Then, also, a lot of teachers that I had. I had writing teachers in a public school in Pennsylvania, who encouraged me. Then, of course, I always have to mention Lorne Michaels, who I worked for, and still work with, for over 20 years now. He’s taught me so much about how to be a good boss, as well as a good producer.”
On the subject of Joe mentoring 22, Jamie Foxx discussed some of the advice that he has given to young actors and young musicians over the years. “You got to run, and you have to take advantage of it,” Foxx explained. “Because I think about all of the different platforms they got. They didn’t have any platforms when we were coming up. I remember getting to LA and I was on Sunset Boulevard just like, okay, what’s next? There was no Facebook, no Snapchat, no nothing. So, now you have it all. So, sometimes the artist leans back and relies on just the social platform as opposed to pushing their art. I will continuously tell the young artist, this is your best time because somebody is going to see you if you stay at it.”
Finally, the film takes place in New York City, a location closely associated with Tina Fey from her work on Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock, respectively. So, the actress discussed the film’s depiction of the Big Apple and what it was like to see the city she loves to come alive in a Pixar movie. “Oh, I mean, I love the look of everything in the city,” she said. “There’s this one shot where Joe and 22 exit a hospital, and it’s meant to be where Saint Vincent’s was in downtown Manhattan. The amount of assaultive noise, visuals, and energy coming at them are overwhelming to 22, and that really took me back to what it feels like the first time you come to New York, from wherever you’re from. I think they really captured the spirit of the city.”