21st-century Foxx

On the final day of shooting for The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Jamie Foxx chats about going from playing dodgy comedy clubs to starring roles as pop stars, presidents and super-villains

Fri, Apr 18, 2014, 00:00

Settled by the Dutch during the 1650s, Oyster Bay, Long Island is one of America’s oldest addresses. Impeccably manicured, with tasteful flourishes of art deco, this is the locale where Theodore Roosevelt and John Gotti “summered” and where Thomas Pynchon and Marie Colvin were schooled.

And then you turn a corner and encounter the unexpected and seemingly endless cuboid sprawl of Long Island’s Gold Coast Studios, a nexus of sound stages and production facilities retrofitted from the same hangars where they assembled the Apollo lunar module. It’s not unlike a monolith moment from 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The complex’s vast warehouses and labyrinthine corridors – all lined with costumes, jetpacks, joinery and, quite probably, the Ark of the Covenant – are dwarfed by the Amazing Spider-Man 2 rig, a makeshift arena where Nephilim might play football with Titans, with proximate pyrotechnics as floodlights.

Sequels are bigger, remember?

By the standards of this production – with its 3,500-person crew and its 11,000 extras – this counts as an intimate scene. Previously, sections of New York’s financial district and much of Chinatown were shut down to accommodate the shoot, leaving behind what state governor Andrew Cuomo described as the “biggest stage footprint ever seen in New York”. This is the last day of filming. And all major players are present for the crucial showdown between Andrew Garfield’s Spider-Man and Jamie Foxx’s Electro.

Headliner Andrew Garfield skirts the edges of the set with a look of intense focus. As ever, producer and Marvel Studios founder Ari Avid – the man who made Marvel financially marvellous – is on hand to promise the greatest superhero movie yet.

Emma Stone wanders along to pass queenly pleasantries (“How far have you come?”) and make movie small talk that studiously avoids anything that might constitute a plot spoiler: “Something happens with the Rhino character, but I’m not sure if I’m allowed to talk about it,” or ,“Oh, nobody told me that.”

In the current climate, making movie small talk has become a very tricky business. And don’t even think about asking the Avengers mash-up question.

But not for Jamie Foxx. “Spider-Man gets to kick my butt,” stage-whispers the 42-year-old. He points to an empty spot between the many fake pylons on set. “See there? When they put in the effects something very exciting is going to happen over there.”

While all bustle importantly around him, Foxx manages to fill any awkward silences, even between the monotonous business of – sigh, possible spoiler alert –- lying down and getting up again, lying down and getting up again, ad infinitum, on into the night.

His rapping Ronald Reagan impersonation – a charming, ridiculous party piece – is made more impressive by the restrictive blue goop that covers his entire face.

“The computer-generated thing will make this silicone all look like a storm inside my body,” he tells me. “But what’s amazing about it is that I get to keep my own face. What’s funny is when I forget something and I have to go back to my homeboys.” He drops into a Dark Knight rumble: “‘A. World. Without. Power!’ Uh. What’s the line again?”

The prospect of even more takes from every conceivable angle doesn’t dampen Foxx’s enthusiasm for super-villainy. “When I was growing up in Texas the television show was the thing,” he tells me. “There’s something about those costumes. I nearly shed a tear when we presented them at ComiCon. The whole family gets a kick out of it. My four-year-old daughter has a Spider-Man costume. And I ask her: ‘You sure you’re not Spider-Woman?’ And she always says ‘No. I’m Spider-Man.’ She likes to have web fights with her friend Jacimo. I want to release that video.”

He beams proudly: “You know she can spell Spider-Man since she was three years old.”

Electro, as even less-learned comic book geeks know, is the nefarious alter-ego of mild-mannered Maxwell Dillon, a lonely engineer transformed into a human electrical capacitor by a freak exposure to high voltage. It’s an appropriate part for a man experiencing a career surge since 2011, when Foxx parted with Marcus King, his manager of 20 years.

“It’s not that my old management wasn’t great,” insists the Oscar-winner. “It’s just that I wanted to go in a different direction. And once I signed with Rick Yorn, who looks after Leonardo [di Caprio], because he had different contacts, I started having different meetings. You work to get to a certain point. But like most actors or actresses, you get to a place where you plateau and you’re just looking around for the next frontier.”

That frontier turned out to be the title role in Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained.

“I think Django really turned the tide for me,” says Foxx. “Being able to work with a genius like Quentin on that ambitious script was amazing. I tell him that. I say: ‘You make people’s careers even when they have a career.’ I think that’s why I’ve gone from slave to president [in White House Down] to super-villain.”

He shrugs, in happy enough fashion. Jamie Foxx is well accustomed to the vagaries of his profession. Abandoned by his biological parents and raised by his mother’s adoptive parents in a segregated east Texas town, he studied classical music until he stumbled into a comedy career following a bet with a girlfriend on an open-mic night. He credits his early work on the circuit for allowing him to get in touch with his inner villain.

“So I was in LA, working some of the rough spots, as a comedian,” recalls Foxx. “And there were a bunch of guys who’d follow me through the city. Always messing with me. ‘Yo, Foxx’. And I asked one of these dudes at a club, who was somewhat of a gangster, to help. And the guys who were messing were escorted into the parking lot. But after that I owed him. So he’d turn up to gigs with 15 of his friends. And one night I couldn’t work his club and the next time I turned up I hear: ‘You embarrassed me in front of my friends.’ It’s the people who think that you owe them, who think that you’re with them, who have the most venom inside.”

He signed on to the TV show Living Colour in 1991 and was popular enough to merit his own sitcom, The Jamie Foxx Show, which ran from 1996 to 2001. Transitioning to the big screen was tricky. His first films – Toys , The Great White Hype , Booty Call – were hardly box-office triumphs. But in 2004, Collateral made Foxx a movie star and Ray , the biopic of Ray Charles, earned him an Academy Award for best actor.

Still, you got to keep working: “You want to be Beverly Hills. You want to be fly. You want to be hot. So you have your friends over and say: ‘Hey, check out the pool, its 80 degrees.’ But then you get that bill. And the next time they come over to my house it’s freezing.”

Foxx is hoping that his role in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 may allow him to realise another long-cherished comic book-related dream.

“I’m obsessed with Spawn ”, he says. “It’s no secret. I’ve actively pursued it. And there’s an idea that I have that wouldn’t cost a lot of money to shoot. So maybe after this.”

He smiles: “I am under brand-new management.”