Jamie Foxx talks the real-life gangster who helped him bring Electro to life

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Jul 20, 2013, 8:20 PM EDT

Like the late Michael Clarke Duncan as the Kingpin in Daredevil, or, more recently, Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury in The Avengers and Laurence Fishburne as Perry White in Man of Steel, Hollywood is casting more quality actors for superhero roles against the character's original race, and Foxx has that same opportunity with Electro in Amazing Spider-Man 2.

"It shows how beautiful America is," Foxx said. "I say this being a young black man who could see where his great-grandmother was when she was in slavery, and now to see us doing all of these great things, it speaks to what I call the evolution of freedom. We're evolving.

"A few years ago, this might not have happened. But now it's okay, and it's the youth pushing it. My older daughter is 19, and she sees the world through different lenses. It's great to see in her eyes, and her friends didn't even think about it. This is my dad. They didn't think it was 'black Jamie Foxx,' which I think is great. It's great for us as minorities to keep pushing."

What makes Foxx a prime candidate for Electro is that he understands the weight of the Spider-Man fans. That must be respected while moving forward, and he did this by making it personal.

"When I was younger in Los Angeles, there was this gangster in the city that did a favor for me, and I was indebted to him everywhere I went." Foxx goes on to explain an example of how this individual asked him to get himself and his friends into a club and was threatened when he could only pass through one of them. Foxx wound up paying for those he couldn't account for and caught the man's wrath. "Eventually I had to stay firm and said to him, 'I can't keep doing this.' He squinted, nodded his head and whispered, 'Fine.' [From then on] he was just terror, and I wanted to bring that to Electro."

Spider-Man promises that he and Max Dillon would be partners, and Foxx acted out how when Electro comes back with a clenched fist, saying, "You said we were going to be partners!" Spider-Man shrugs with his arms. Electro backs away, sneering, nodding his head. "By bringing with me something that happened to me that was real, it's going to make the audience member now, that's familiar, I've run into that guy, I know that kind of bully. Now put all of his expertise in mastering electricity in the mix, that's what's going to make him exciting."

Foxx was celebrating his younger daughter's third birthday when he received a phone call that they were making a sequel to Amazing Spider-Man. Ironically, his daughter was dressed in her Spider-Man suit for her party. Foxx was intrigued at the chance of playing Electro, a villain Foxx knew very well, sharing his reasons for being excited about being the big villain.

"His father left him. He's a mama's boy and he tried to get married. Now the last one we didn't show in the movie, but he tried to get married, but his wife left him because he's in his 40s and was still trying to figure himself out. If we could capture that guy who was 40-something years old and still living with his mom, then you add a layer to it. What if it's his birthday and no one remembered it, not even his mom.

"Now we see this guy is broken. Betrayed by family, love, and work -- it's the old school way of building a villain. There's no way out. Electro's perfect for that. So by having that under my belt before we started shooting, that's what made it really exciting to get into."

With this character design, Dillon comes off as a great sympathetic character, a poor schlub who could be drawn to Peter Parker. But how will audiences get to the point where they root against him?

"You root against him because you know you're supposed to root for the good guy, but then you think, he does have a point." Foxx goes on to explain the scene where Max confronts his mother about forgetting his birthday. It's soul-crushing, and it puts Max in a dark corner where our big villain is born. And with our reliance on electronics, Electro is more of a modern threat and relatable than he ever has been.

"Immediately, without putting on a costume, you're compelled that this grown man is being broken down by his mother. So that sets it up. So much disdain into his tank that by the time he turns into Electro, we knew this was coming. You're going to root against him and you should but you'll also understand. Having that venom is going to help make better when he goes at Spider-Man. I wanted to make sure to tell Andrew Garfield on the set that he was going to have a formidable opponent, someone who really doesn't like him."

As for that costume, gone are the yellow lightning bolts, the cumbersome headpiece and garish green threads. Electro's new costume is all black, and Foxx's head has been painted a silvery blue that will also have visual effects applied when he manipulates electricity. Foxx explained his design, including how Electro speaks.

"We wanted to change the look into something that was sleeker, and also dialing in his voice. He's not talkative. I didn't want to talk too much (as Electro). I just think he'd be quiet, he'd be the person [who] executes rather than being jaw-jacking serious one-liners." Foxx demonstrated his Electro voice into a cold, steely delivery with just a touch of gravel: "I don't think I like this partnership, I want to go solo."

Given Foxx's talent in comedy, dialing back his dialogue presents an interesting contrast to Peter Parker's relentless verbal jousts.

"So if Peter Parker is the funny guy," Foxx explained, "he's [Electro] the guy who doesn't laugh at anyone's jokes. I've been the guy in the room where I'll talk trash or whatever. And there's this one guy in the corner who's like, 'This corny motherf--ker!' Who's that dude? Then you find out he's some gangsta dude and he don't have that. That's Electro. He does not laugh. He's got one thing to do, shut this city down and take care of Spider-Man, and I'm going to do that with every ounce of me."