Until recently Jamie Foxx was probably happy to be best known for the hit comedy series In Living Color and The Jamie Foxx Show rather than for his film work. Indeed, movies like 1997’s Booty Call and 1998’s The Players Club tested the audience’s patience more than they challenged Foxx’s acting ability. So in 1999 he decided to follow the lead of fellow comedians Robin Williams and Jim Carrey by taking on a serious role. After his work in Oliver Stone’s football picture, Any Given Sunday, won him praise, he continued to look for dramatic roles and eventually landed the part of Muhammad Ali’s corner man, Drew “Bundini” Brown, in Ali—a performance that generated Oscar-nomination buzz. If you conclude from this interview that the 34-year-old Foxx is taking himself a bit seriously these days, don’t worry: He has a new comedy special, Jamie Foxx: I Might Need Security, which debuted on HBO in February and will air throughout this month.

Why did you want to play Bundini Brown?
It’s a plum role. In the movie it’s one of the only roles where you get to see the arc of the character. Bundini Brown was like Ali’s Cyrano de Bergerac, coming up with different phrases for him.

Did you surprise yourself with your performance?
A little bit, because I didn’t know how close I could get to him. I knew that I had him, but when you look at it on-screen, it’s like, “Aw, yeah. Yeah.” I want to do more roles that can leave marks on people—where people go, “Wow. Did you see that?”

Do you get tired of the pressure to be funny?
No. That’s what I do. There’s nothing in this world better than coming up with something funny.

Is it hard for you to get work in Hollywood?
It’s not that hard now. The more you climb up, the easier things get. And then when you get good roles, you just have to make sure you hit a home run with them. You just make sure you’re the best.

How have you changed over the years?
Well, when you’re young and you’re coming up, you kind of fall into Hollywood. Now I kind of know how to do things. I know how to make things funny; I know how to make things dramatic. I’ve got a good hold on it.