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Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey put 'Soul' in career goals

Jamie Foxx plays the disembodied soul of a musician in Soul. File Photo by James Atoa/UPI
Jamie Foxx plays the disembodied soul of a musician in "Soul." File Photo by James Atoa/UPI | License Photo

LOS ANGELES, Dec. 23 (UPI) -- Jamie Foxx and Tina Fey voice disembodied souls in Pixar's animated film Soul, with both saying that working on the film reinforced many lessons they've learned throughout their careers.

In the afterlife, the soul of Joe Gardner (voice of Foxx) tries to help unborn soul 22 (voice of Fey) find a reason to be born. Fey said she related to lessons Joe learned about finding purpose outside career goals.

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"They also bring up the idea that an all-consuming passion can kind of overtake your life," Fey said at a recent Zoom press conference. "Being present is as important as achieving."

Joe is a music teacher who dreams of playing in a jazz band. A recording artist himself, Foxx said Soul made him think about the musicians he'd met, including Ray Charles, whom he portrayed in a film.

The actor said musicians can "build these wonderful worlds" out of a small selection of different notes. Foxx said listening to such music transports him to those worlds.

"When you close your eyes, you actually go to a different place," Foxx said.

Joe dies before his big gig with the Dorothea Williams Quartet. In the afterlife, Joe's soul tries to return to his body instead of going on to The Great Beyond. Joe sees a way back when he meets 22, a soul who has never been assigned a human body.

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In the film's You Seminar, unborn souls are assigned mentor souls. Over the years, 22 has frustrated mentors from Mother Teresa to Gandhi with her sarcastic resistance to being born.

"When 22 is sarcastic or skeptical of something, it's really because she's so afraid of it," Fey said. "She needs to open her mind up to possibilities and push past her fear. That's something I can relate to."

Joe makes a deal with 22. If he helps her find a reason to be born, she'll give him her pass back to Earth. He gets a second chance, and she gets to skip out on life.

Foxx related to working with difficult students. Although he's mentored successful artists like Ed Sheeran and Jay-Z, he's also been frustrated by others he felt squandered their opportunities.

22's apathy reminded Foxx of the latter artists. Foxx feels a human life is "a blink of an eye" in the grand scheme of the universe, so he hopes Soul encourages people to find their passion.

"Don't waste your blink," Foxx said. "Live your life."

Fey related to the mentorship theme of Soul, too. The writer/actor named Saturday Night Live executive producer Lorne Michaels among her mentors, as well as some of her teachers and family.

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"My parents encouraged me to pursue the arts," Fey said. "They didn't ask me to have something to fall back on."

Foxx called music producer Breyon Prescott a mentor to him. The actor added music to his career as early as 1994 with the album Peep This. Foxx said Prescott, producer of his second album in 2005, Unpredictable, noticed Foxx was falling back on comedy.

"He says, 'You got to quit joking. Just do your music." Foxx recalled.

The afterlife themes of Soul continued to resonate with Foxx after he completed recording his lines. He said the death in October of his sister, DeOndra Dixon, drove home the themes of Soul.

Dixon was an ambassador for the Global Down Syndrome Foundation and appeared in Foxx's "Blame It" video. Foxx said Dixon's zest for life taught him to appreciate the little things. Likewise, dying teaches Joe that there's more to life than his singular passion.

"It is exactly what I am now going through," Foxx said. "All the things that she taught us while she was living, it's exemplified here in this film."

The 53-year-old Foxx also feels like animated movies keep him feeling young. Before Soul, Foxx voiced a character in two Rio films.

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"I'm like a big kid," Foxx said. "You have to have that child-like spirit to do these incredible voices and characters."

Fey also had prior animation experience in the Dreamworks film Megamind, the English language dub of Ponyo and the Aqua Teen Hunger Force movie. She said Soul directors Pete Docter and Kemp Powers were open to improvisation, but stopped her from getting off course.

"They were able to steer you if you were down a road that they knew they weren't going to use," Fey said. "They could very graciously steer you back to the right path."

Soul premieres Friday on Disney+.

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