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Jamie Foxx puts a charge into ‘Spider-Man 2’

By Jake Coyleap Film Writer | 5/9/2014, 11:27 a.m.
Jamie Foxx poses for the media during the Germany premiere of the movie ‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2’ in Berlin, Germany. Above: Jamie Foxx as Electro. Photo by Michael Sohn/AP.

NEW YORK (AP) - Jamie Foxx, who stars in "The Amazing Spider-Man 2,’’ knows something about the double-life of a superhero.

Though he’s 46, Jamie Foxx was only born 25 years ago. Named Eric Bishop at birth, he adopted the stage name at a Texas open mic, choosing a gender neutral moniker since women were chosen quicker at the comedy club.

"When I go home, I’m Eric Bishop,’’ says Foxx. "And then when I go out, I put my cape on and I’m Jamie Foxx.’’ He smiles and summons a sonorous Superman entrance: "I’m Jamie Foooxx! I’m here to save the world!’’

But being "Jamie Foxx,’’ he grants, can be exhausting: "You have to know how to pull back, especially for me because sometimes I’m constantly on.’’

So it’s fitting that when the makers of "The Amazing Spider-Man 2’’ needed someone to play energy embodied, they turned to the perpetually "on’’ Foxx. In the film, which opens Friday, he plays Max Dillon, the shy Oscorp electrical engineer who’s transformed into the villain Electro after falling into a pool of electric eels.

Foxx’s highly charged personal energy takes many forms. He’s a stand-up, a sketch comedian (see: "In Living Color’’ or his 2012 stint hosting "Saturday Night Live’’), an Oscar-winning dramatic actor (the Ray Charles biopic "Ray’’), a chart-topping pop star, and now he’s a member of the Marvel universe.

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Courtesy photo of Spider-Man 2.

"He’s a performer in the deepest sense of the word,’’ says "Spider-Man’’ director Marc Webb. "When we were on set shooting three weeks at night in Times Square in the cold, he would get out and do Michael Jackson in the center of Times Square in his Electro outfit. The first day on set, he comes in and he just holds court. He does five minutes of stand-up that he’s improvising right there.’’

In a recent interview, Foxx casually displayed his versatility, peppering his otherwise thoughtful conversation with bursts of impressions: the boxer Mike Tyson (he wants to play him in a biopic), a hint of President Barack Obama, a hysterical version of the comedian Mo’Nique (“Hey, baby, let me tell you somethin’!’’), a Peter O’Toole-like English accent to talk about winning an Oscar.

"That’s my whole life, mimicking,’’ Foxx says. "It’s what I do.’’

He also switches into Will Smith to explain why he wanted the part of Electro, recalling a conversation between the two in which Smith befuddles Foxx by traveling to Russia to sell a movie.

"I’m like, `Why are you’ll going to Russia? I’m going to Detroit,’’’ says Foxx. "But what he was doing was opening it up for a person like me to be able to go to these places.’’

For Foxx, the globally popular "Spider-Man’’ is a way to sow a worldwide audience. The actor believes he landed the part because of the huge international success of Quentin Tarantino’s "Django Unchained,’’ (it made $262 million overseas), which Foxx calls a "reset button’’ on his career.

"In our business, we say, 'How do you travel internationally?’ - especially for an African-American kid,’’ says Foxx. "So 'Django’ gave me a huge international look so now we’re talking about taking `Annie’ down the streets of Rome, down the streets of Paris, down the streets of Singapore.’’