Jamie Foxx on How His Father's Time in Prison Helped Him Tap Into 'Just Mercy' Role (Exclusive)

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Jamie Foxx's role as Walter McMillian in the critically acclaimed Just Mercy is definitely a personal one.

ET's Lauren Zima spoke with the 52-year-old actor at the 31st Annual Palm Springs International Film Festival Film Awards Gala on Thursday, where he talked about portraying the true story of McMillian, who was wrongfully convicted of murder and sentenced to death for the 1986 killing of a white woman in Alabama. McMillian successfully appealed his murder conviction with the help of young defense attorney Bryan Stevenson.

"Bryan Stevenson, his story, everybody needs to hear his story," Foxx tells ET. "People have seen this movie now, Just Mercy, it's an A-plus cinema score, it's an incredible, important story about a man who's helping people be exonerated from being on death row. He started in '86 with my case, which is Walter McMillian, and Bryan Stevenson is played wonderfully by Michael B. Jordan. And since then he's at to about 140 cases of people who are wrongly accused ... [and are] on death row."

Foxx has been receiving rave reviews for his performance as McMillian and received the Spotlight Award at the Palm Springs International Film Festival. He says his own experience of his father serving time in prison affected his performance.

"Me having my father, he was put away for 25 dollars' worth of illegal substance for seven years," he shares. "My father taught me how to play tennis, he taught me how to swim, and to have him taken away from me, I could easily sort of tap into what this story was about. People are loving it, I hope everybody gets the chance to see it, because the importance of the movie is what's incredible."

Foxx also talks to ET about celebrating the new year and answered a question left for him by actress Laura Dern, which is what he would like to leave behind in 2020.

"Negativity," Foxx says. "Nobody's saying 'I can't this, I can't that,' and at the same time, we living on wonderful, cause we talk universally, with my kids, we live in a wonderful place called America. It's still beautiful, it's an amazing place, and I just hope we leave all the negativity and all of the drawing lines in the sand of who's this and who ain't that, and stop looking for the bad things in people, look for the good things."

Meanwhile, ET was with 32-year-old Jordan last month, when he surprised his hometown crowd at a screening of Just Mercy in Newark, New Jersey. Watch the video below to see the sweet moment:

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