Interview

04.28.14

Jamie Foxx on ‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2,’ Donald Sterling’s Racism, and Bill O’Reilly’s TV Act

The Oscar winner on playing the supervillain Electro in ‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2’ and why Donald Sterling's racism isn't all that surprising.

There are only two men who have ever won the Academy Award for Best Actor and had a No. 1 song on the Billboard charts. One is Bing Crosby. The other? Jamie Foxx.

Foxx took home the Oscar for his spot-on portrayal of Ray Charles in the 2004 biopic Ray, and hit No. 1 with the Kanye West tune “Gold Digger,” which also won a Grammy. The former stand-up comedian has evolved into one of the most versatile entertainers in showbiz. He can sing, dance, and play a wide variety of characters onscreen, from a hard-ass drill sergeant (Jarhead) to a bounty-hunting ex-slave (Django Unchained).

His latest role is that of Max Dillon, a callow Oscorp employee who, following a terrible accident at the office, transforms into a vengeful villain who can manipulate electricity in Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2.

Foxx sat down with The Daily Beast in New York to discuss everything from his superhero flick to Fox News personalities.

What sort of suit did they put you in for Electro?

You know, it’s crazy! Nobody can see my shit, man! I was in makeup for four-and-a-half hours and now people say, “Oh, that’s just CGI, that’s not even really him.” Imagine a big vat of candle wax, and they just dipped me in that for four-and-a-half hours, and then I emerged with silicone from head-to-toe. You know how people shoot against green screen? My whole body was like a blue screen.

You haven’t done a superhero flick before, so why Electro and why The Amazing Spider-Man 2?

Well, Electro is part of the Sinister Six, and this movie is really a setup movie. No one’s story is really closed. If you look at the Ultimate Series of Spider-Man, Electro always gets shorted-out and then comes back. And you look at all these actors in these films—Robert Downey Jr., Christian Bale, Heath Ledger—what it does is it opens up your fan base. I’m out in Beijing, Tokyo, Malaysia promoting this with my daughter, and a lot of these kids will see me for the first time in Spider-Man. It opens up a whole new fan base, so it’s strategic as well.

Are you going to be in the upcoming Sinister Six film?

Well, I know Electro is part of the Sinister Six and electricity doesn’t go anywhere, it just dissipates, so I’ll put my bid in.

"It’s hard for a person of that age who has that mentality to change. I’m sure he’ll be disciplined and the NBA will deal with it, but those types of people exist."

It’s great that we’re seeing more people of color in superhero films. When I grew up, they were all pretty whitewashed.

You know what? Here’s what’s interesting: When the doors start being knocked down—Denzel wins an Oscar, Halle wins an Oscar, Sidney Poitier—eventually the way of thinking about all race changes. For people like my age and up—I’m 46—it’s always about race. But for people my daughter’s age, who’s 20, or my other daughter, who’s 5, when they see President Obama, they don’t know there’s a race situation. They just think, “We’ve always had black presidents, right?” So we can bang the gong as much as we want saying that this is the first African-American supervillain, but people my daughter’s age just think, “Jamie Foxx is going to be in this,” and they’re not really putting race on it, which is great, right? And you look at Anthony Mackie, who killed that shit [Captain America: The Winter Soldier], and you look at Michael B. Jordan, who kills everything. Maybe 15 years ago, I said, “When you eat pizza, you just eat pizza. You don’t say, ‘This is great pizza…the Italians did this.’” For black folks, I want it to eventually be that whenever we’re in anything, it’s just pizza. When you see Lupita Nyong’o, it’s pizza. When you see Quvenzhané Wallis, it’s pizza.

Speaking of Quvenzhané, it’s cool to see her play Annie because there’s really no reason why a person of color can’t play a role that’s traditionally gone to a white person. I was just talking with a friend about how we want Idris Elba to play James Bond.

Foxx gets up out of his chair and gives me a high-five.

You know how crazy that is? I ran into Idris and I said, “You know you’re the motherfuckin’ James Bond, right?” How crazy would that be?

People—any people—need to see public figures that look like them.

What’s interesting is hip-hop. I was talking to some record executives about hip-hop and they said, “Well, Jamie, I don’t know if it’s mainstream.” So I took them to a Lil Wayne concert and they saw that there were 20,000 white people there raising their hands. I took my daughter to the plantations in New Orleans and I was crying and singing and getting emotional, and she looked at it from a different mindset.

140425-jamie-foxx-stern-tease
Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures

Racism is still pretty prevalent in America, though. Just look at those comments by Clippers owner Donald Sterling.

Here’s what I’ll say about that: I’m from Texas, right? There’s a considerable amount of racism in the South, but I’ve learned that the reason you have people like Donald Sterling is because he’s 80 years old. Fifty years ago, that was the law—that “niggers” weren’t allowed to be in public, or at the same bathroom. It was the law.

Interracial marriage wasn’t even legal in the U.S. until 1967.

You couldn’t even have interracial marriage. And black people were considered less than human. This is what Donald Sterling grew up on. So when I hear that, I go, “Yeah…typical.” A little shocking considering his whole team is black, but look at where he came from. It’s hard for a person of that age who has that mentality to change. I’m sure he’ll be disciplined and the NBA will deal with it, but those types of people exist. We shouldn’t be so shocked by it. I’ve heard that he’s always been sort of like this.

Loved your Bill O’Reilly impersonation on Fallon. Did you see that he called out Beyoncé on Friday?

He did? What did he say?

He basically misinterpreted the songs on her recent album, which is obviously a love letter to her husband, Jay Z, and criticized her placement on the cover of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people issue, saying her songs were “libertine in tone” and “could have a negative influence” on young girls.

You have to understand this: When it comes to Bill O’Reilly or Fox News, what people aren’t factoring in is that they have a huge audience and that’s how they make their money. It’s hard to do, but you sort of have to look beyond their job. I’ve seen Bill O’Reilly around and he isn’t a bad dude. It’s not like I’d want to hang out with him or whatever, but he’s playing a character. So I look at it like, “OK, man. You’re fooling your people and getting your check,” because these guys get a lot of money. If he doesn’t do that he doesn’t make news, and the only way they make news is by saying the most outlandish stuff that they can about minorities.

A lot of people believe it though.

Yeah, but that’s because there’s people out there who believed it already because they have a certain idea of how black people are. So I hit him [O’Reilly] with my jokes, and then he’ll come back at me. But my jokes are going to be funnier. We live in a world that has two sides. And it’s unfortunate because Bill O’Reilly is a smart person and if Bill O’Reilly wanted to, he could do so much for bringing the gap closer. We live in a world where people are looking for role models on both sides—a role model who can see the other side of someone’s experience. And the more you drive the stake in where it appears you don’t like minorities or you don’t like women, eventually that’s going to get old and played-out. He has that air about him though. “Jamie Foxx is a pinhead.” He’s done the “pinhead” thing to me a few times, but you know, nobody’s listening.

On the subject of Jay Z and Annie, is Jay going to have original music in the movie?

Yeah, man. I heard there are talks of Justin Timberlake doing something on it as well.

140425-jamie-foxx-stern-embed
Niko Tavernise/Columbia Pictures

Every time I go see Kanye in concert, “Gold Digger” still plays big. Are you guys gonna hook up again soon?

Yeah. I told him, “Quit runnin’ from me!” He’s such an artist and he doesn’t like retracing his steps, but we text back and forth, and he’s such an artist, man—even with all the other crazy stuff that happens. With all the other crazy stuff that happens, he takes all that and he juices it and comes out with a record. He takes all the craziness, puts it in a juicer, and then it comes out. Hopefully I can tie him down and have him do something for my new album. I tell him all the time, “You know ‘Gold Digger’ is your biggest.” 

It’s been just 11 years since “Slow Jamz,” and on that record, Kanye seemed a bit hesitant. You can tell he’s rapping real slowly. Quite a lot has changed since then.

He was nervous and trying to figure it out. We were doing this Clive Davis party the night before the Grammys and I begged Clive, “Please let me, Twista, and this young kid Kanye play.” Clive said, “I really don’t know…that party is very tough…” But I told him I knew the deal, and Kanye went on that stage and he killed it that night and got a standing ovation. We knew it was something that was going to be special, and for Kanye to have given us so many great hits since then is crazy.

I heard you were going to play Martin Luther King Jr. in a biopic directed by Oliver Stone and produced by Spielberg. Is that still happening?

I don’t think it’s going to happen. I don’t think it’s the right thing for me to do. I would lean more towards The Mike Tyson Story. Whenever I talk to Mike and ask him about his life he says [in spot-on Tyson voice], “I’m good brother, all praise to Allah.” And I say, “Why are you so good?” and he says, “Because I lost all my money. I don’t have any money so nobody wants anything from me now, and I can just be myself. When I had money, people always wanted to stab me in my back and it made me a very angry person.” And I thought, “That’s the movie. That’s what we need to see.” We only see the rants, the anger, or the comedy, but we’ve never really gotten a chance to get underneath. That’s the role I’d much rather play.

So is the Mike Tyson biopic next for you?

We’re trying. But right now, I’m going to see this album I’m working on out. I’m working with Pharrell on a song called “Tease” which is classic Pharrell. Also DJ Mustard, and my man Breyon Prescott, who actually put me on the record “Slow Jamz” with Kanye, and also “Gold Digger.” I’m looking forward to dropping my album sometime around when Annie comes out.