Oscar-winner, hip hop singer/musician, Tarantino anti-hero, comedian – Jamie Foxx can now add “comic book movie supervillain” to his list of illustrious achievements. In The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Foxx (born Eric Bishop) will play Max Dillon/Electro, a lowly, put-upon employee of Oscorp who gains superpowers and becomes crackling electricity incarnate.
By Jedd Jong
After grabbing a bite of grilled salmon, Foxx sat down to chat with F***, breaking out into multiple spot-on impressions, reminiscing about his first exposure to Spider-Man through, funnily enough, The Electric Company and explaining why he values a legacy of diverse characters over “chasing the money”.
First off, is it good to be bad?
It’s good to be bad. It’s good to be bad! You gotta think a little like this: what I think is that the badder I am, the better it is for Spider-Man, the more heroic (he’ll be). So basically, there were times when they had lines for me that were funny and I was like “I don’t wanna do that, I wanna stay evil, I wanna stay mean” because if you really feel like I’m angry at him, it makes you squirm a little more. I really wanna hurt him, I really wanna make sure that I wipe Spider-Man off the planet earth because I want that spotlight. We deal with that all the time, you get a gig, you know, doing this and somebody else didn’t get it and you go (sneers) “I can’t stand her!” It’s just like the story of Amadeus, remember the movie?
You were rapping at the press conference, was that part of taking in the limelight?
It all works, even the antics outside of the movie make it bigger so that when it does open, you feel that underlying emotion of what Electro really is. Basically what he is is that he’s bitter of the talents he’s been given. They even talk about it in the Bible, the guy feels like someone got more talent and got blessed with more than he has so he seethes. That basic emotion is what we capitalise on in the film.
Have you ever thought of playing a villain in a blockbuster before this?
No, I’ve never thought (about that) but we know one thing in Hollywood: the villain is always the most exciting person to play. What’s great about Electro is that you can’t kill electricity, it just goes away and it can pop up at any time. We all know that playing the villain is exciting.
From what we’ve seen of Electro in the preview footage, we don’t hate you because it seems like he’s just lost, and you’re portraying a certain vulnerability.
Yeah, he’s just lost. I think that’s the way it is with all the Spider-Man villains. The villains start off being angry for a reason, there’s something that happens and the world squeezes in on them and they turn into this – “I need help, and no one will help me.” It’s the same thing with Max, he’s like “I just need help” and then when I see Spider-Man, my “friend”, they all just start shooting at me and then (sneers) “why?” He’s not being able to think correctly because he obsessed over Spider-Man, he’s like “I wish I could be like him, it must be so cool!” So a person who obsesses like that, you know, love and hate (makes a dial motion with his thumb and forefinger) it’s almost the same. You always hurt the ones you love.
How does Electro shower?
He showers in a thunderstorm. “I gotta take a shower” (makes crackling sounds).
As a child, did you enjoy the Spider-Man cartoons?
Jamie: Yeah! There was a show when I was a kid called The Electric Company, “Cat. Hat! Morgan Freeman!” They would run Spider-Man clips in between the educational portions of that. That was the first time you were really exposed to a superhero on television who wasn’t animated. So we’d be like “oh man, Spider-Man!” We were running around in the neighbourhood doing that little web thing (does the web-shooting hand sign) and we didn’t think very much about it but now that you’re older, I’m like wow, how great is that to have watched that as a kid in the middle of a small town and now here you are, toe to toe with the biggest character on the planet? Crazy.
It doesn’t seem like Electro is very smart, he’s being used by Harry in this film. You usually portray smart characters, like Django and the president. What was it like to play dumb?
I think what it is is that anytime I watch a movie, or you watch a movie and the character that you’re rooting for has a certain “I know more than anybody in the room”, “I’ll figure it out if I don’t know…” those are the ingredients. When you watch Rocky, Rocky wasn’t smart. But Rocky used everything that he could to overcome whatever it was. He used love, he used brute strength, he used stuff that was almost supernatural like a belief that he could use his will. Any time you see what of those characters, I could be watching Beverly Hills Cop and Eddie Murphy was smarter than everybody, when he was getting the fingerprints off of the aquarium. Any time you see a character who has that kind of intellect, it makes you like them because that’s who you aspire to be.
How do you maintain a dedication to your work and impart it to the younger actors you work with, like Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield?
I tell you what it is: Ellen Barkin, in like 2005, walks up to me after the Ray Charles Oscar (win) and says “if you chase the money, I’ll kick your ass” and I said “what do you mean?” She said “don’t chase the money. Always do great work.” She said “you have a seven year grace period. Once you do something fantastic in this business, you got seven years until you have to do something (again).” By not chasing the money, I mean I wanted to chase the money. I wanted to be the Chris Tucker or the Will Smith, but it didn’t work out that way but I think it helped in that mostly all of the things we did, had a type of integrity to it.
Here’s something incredible: Quentin Tarantino is the best director in the world. When he created Django and I was able to be blessed to play that part, it changes everything. When you do Django, now the lay of the land opens up to you because Django was, to me, Quentin Tarantino’s best movie and I think all of the movies he had done before that, was getting him ready for something like Django. Once Django happened, roles like this, roles like Annie, now I can sort of pick the stuff that I want to do and allow something like Spider-Man to exist in a space where you’re working with someone who’s a great actor or great actress and we’re learning from each other but you know that it’s fantastic work when without him (Andrew Garfield), without the costume on, he’s still captivating. Emma Stone is still captivating. You can watch the love story between them without worrying about him putting on the costume. So that’s what you want to be, you always want to work with, if you can, great actors, whether they be young or old. I think the integrity of it is what makes it great, and what gives you enthusiasm. Going to work on Django, it was like an all-star game! I mean Leonardo, Samuel L. Jackson, it’s ridiculous! Here’s the thing, within that, quiet is better. In Django, quiet was better. The eyes, the look, the love that he had for his girl. ‘Cos how do you go toe to toe with Samuel L. Jackson every day? That’s tough! They would say action and he’d go (As Samuel L. Jackson) “why’s you feel the need to entertain this n*****?” And cut. “How was that, you like that?”
Do you ever feel scared or insecure?
Of course you’re scared! I did a movie (Law-Abiding Citizen) and I had a scene with Viola Davis and she killed me in the scene. It was so bad that the director walks up and I say “she’s killing me in this scene” and he said “yes, she is.” So I said “what do you think I should do?” He said “why don’t you just do facial expressions?” Some of these people, they can really, really go. So you’re nervous but you try to learn from them.
What do you chase now since you’ve decided not to chase the money and you’ve gotten the recognition in the form of an Oscar?
You know what you chase? You chase history. This is what it is. God bless you get to 70 or 80 years old, and you look back on your career. And every actor or actress will tell you it’s not the money that they really want, it’s the name of the character that they leave. I did a television show, I played a character called Wanda, everybody remembers Wanda. In Living Colour. I did a football movie (Any Given Sunday and played a character) called Willy Beaman. Go to any sports guy and say “Willy Beaman” and they know who that guy is. Ali I did a guy named Bundini Brown. (As Bundini Brown) “Muhammad Ali is a prophet, how you gonna be god? As soon as you come out to the garage you be number 2.” Bundini Brown.
Does each character stay with you forever?
Yeah, it’s like a file. And then, here comes Ray Charles. (As Ray Charles) “Hey, you know I’m gonna make you do what you do. Hey-o, tell everybody, Ray Charles in town!” Then the next thing you know, here comes Django. All over the world, little kids say “you’re Django.” Electro, Annie, now Daddy Warbucks. So when you look back on your career, you want to be able to say “I stepped into every genre, I stepped into every character and I was able to leave a name for people” and that’s really all you can do. And then hopefully, (as Mike Tyson) Mike Tyson. “I was boxing champ!” Hopefully we’ll do that next. You know what I’m saying?
Do the layers of characters enrich Jamie Foxx as a person?
Yeah, I think what it does is when I think about the characters that I do, there’s a file in the back of my head and I say “go get the Ray Charles file” or “go get the President Obama file” (As Obama) “if there’s…any indication that we’re not the most…credible country in the world and…yes we can” I mean so where it’s all these different files, but what it doesn’t do is…I have a friend, girlfriend of mine named Samantha. She does a million characters, but she can’t sit here and not do a character. Like it’s constant, which is interesting. So I’m happy that my characters don’t always…that I can sit here as a regular guy and just chill. But it does enrich me, and if you let it grow, you lose the feel of stepping into other characters.
How do you keep the balance between making movies, making music and your other endeavours?
You got to take the time out to do it good. If you do music, you gotta find guys who do real music and not music for Jamie Foxx, because if you allow your ego to get in the way and make them do the “Jamie Foxx music” then you won’t get a hit. I got a guy named Breyon Prescott who finds hits. He found all of these different hits for me, so again, you humble yourself. Anytime you go into anything, you humble yourself. The minute you go into anything (with pride), that’s when you lose. And I noticed that, I said “oh, I’m going to do this and this because this is what I think they want and you lose.” So with everything that you do, after a certain age, you have to rely on someone else’s opinions. Being 46, I’ve got to rely on my friends who are 25, 26 to tell me what type of music is relevant. In movies, yeah, I know where my talent can go, but I’ve got to lean on the director. It seems like you’ve got to have a director who is really alpha male and really, really knows the direction. So I’ve been lucky with Michael Mann, Taylor Hackford, Quentin Tarantino, serious; Oliver Stone, guys who know how to take the talent and make it what it needs to be.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 opens on 1 May 2014.