In Oliver Stone's football saga, "Any Given Sunday," Jamie Foxx plays a third-string quarterback who gets his big break when the two men in front of him get injured. In real life, Foxx benefited from a similar stroke of someone else's bad luck. Stone had originally cast hip-hop impresario Sean (Puffy) Combs in the role. When Combs pulled out--because of scheduling conflicts, the filmmakers insist--Foxx was ready to strap on the jock as "Steamin'' Willie Beamen, an upstart with a golden arm and a swollen head. "I played football in high school and that attitude is there from the very beginning,'' says Foxx, 32, whose real name is Eric Bishop. "Puffy's loss was my gain."
The good fortune seems to be holding. Foxx gives a winning, charismatic turn in "Sunday," and the film just had the biggest opening weekend of any movie in Stone's career. Before this stormy meditation on race, money and testosterone, Foxx was known for his light, raunchy comedy, both in his eponymous WB series and his days on "In Living Color." As Beamen, he had to not only hold his own against a frothing Al Pacino but, in one particularly Stoned scene, to act in a montage that intercut lightning with bits of "Ben-Hur." Stone believed Foxx could handle it. "I had strong feelings about him the moment he read for us,'' says the director. "There was anger there that was needed, but also humor. Both worked perfectly together, and Willie got the edge he needed.''
To get his strut on, Foxx hung out with the flashy Dallas Cowboys star Deion Sanders. "I got the flamboyance from him," he says. But he admits that sometimes the verisimilitude went too far. A fight scene between his character and L.L. Cool J's continued long after the director yelled to cut. "We were just two brothers being totally dedicated to our craft," Foxx says with a coy smile. Fortunately, set security broke up the acting before Foxx got hurt: he's one player with a future.