Movies

Director Craig Brewer On How ‘Coming 2 America’ Finally Became A Reality

It had to be slightly more complicated, but to listen to Craig Brewer tell it, it does sound like on the set of Dolemite Is My Name (If you haven’t seen Dolemite Is My Name, you should) Brewer started pitching Eddie Murphy some ideas for a fourth Beverly Hills Cop movie (Brewer calls it “fanfiction”), then Murphy basically said that’s all find and dandy, but what about a sequel to Coming to America? And, well, here we are.

In Coming 2 America, Eddie Murphy is back as Prince Akeem Joffer. He’s now living happily in Zamunda with his wife, Lisa (Shari Headley), but having had only daughters, he doesn’t have a male heir to the throne, which puts Akeem in a pickle with his rival, General Izzi (Wesley Snipes). Semmi (Arsenio Hall) then informs Akeem that he may have a male heir after all from their time in New York City back in the late ’80s, so it’s back to America for the two of them to search for Akeem’s son. (If the idea if a male heir sounds antiquated, the movie is well aware of that.)

It’s pretty remarkable this movie exists. It’s been 33 years since the original movie and, well, have you seen the original one lately? Yes, it’s beloved, but it’s also filled with quite a few scenes that would never fly in 2021. So that’s the challenge: How do you update Coming to America for 2021 and have it still be Coming to America? Ahead, Craig Brewer tells us just how they did that (and lets us in on his Axel Foley ideas that kicked all of this off in the first place).

Last time we spoke, you said on Dolemite you had an idea for an Axel Foley movie, you told Eddie, and that turned into you directing Coming 2 America?

Yeah. And the Axel Foley thing wasn’t so official, as much as we would be on set and I would always just do fanfiction. I would bring up what I would do, or what I would want to see, or something like that. And then Eddie finally came forward and said, “What do you think about doing Coming 2 America?” And that’s when I got really excited. It’s also very daunting because it’s a movie I love, and I know that millions of people around the globe love. But, I had just made a movie with Eddie and I felt like we were in a really great rhythm. I had just met Arsenio, and to see those two just standing together just made me nostalgic. I know this sounds corny, but it’s like, I needed them. I felt like the world was missing them and it was time to see them back together again. Then making the movies back to back, but then getting into the pandemic during post, the more that the whole team were working on it, and it was so stressful, the work on it in post-production and the additional photography, because the world was changing all around us. But, we really all really held to, we got to deliver this movie to everybody. People are going to need this.

Right…

They’re going to need to remember a brighter time. And also the movie deals with what Akeem is now experiencing 30 years later. He’s the same guy, but he’s dealing with different problems that a lot of the people who are now the core audience – the lovers of Coming to America, well they’re older too – and they’re dealing with the same issues.

So I have to ask, what was your Axel Foley fan fiction? What makes a good Axel Foley movie? The first one is great, the second one doesn’t quite have the magic of the first. And no one really talks about the third one anymore.

What I would say that makes it work is: I think that people need to remember that Axel Foley is a guy who uses his instincts, uses his attitude and ability to impersonate. Or, to create characters to get what he wants. And, it’s funny, because you look at the car that he’s sitting on in the Beverly Hills Cop poster, then int the second movie you look at the gorgeous car with the beautiful Tony Scott lighting around him that he was driving. They’re all loaners. He’s not paid. He doesn’t have a lot of money, or anything like that. He’s just figuring out a bunch of different angles and ways that he can get what he wants. And so, I can always see him now older, doing the same thing – changing into different voices to basically be on the phone and can get information out of people just by pretending to be other people. He’s figured out ways to kind of create illusion at times. That’s, I think, the key thing to Axel Foley.

When you did Footloose, that was a remake versus this which is a direct sequel. But is there anything you learned from that experience, dealing with a beloved property, you used on Coming 2 America?

Absolutely. I think that when you take a job like this, or doing a remake of a beloved ’80s movie, anything like that, you have to be okay with the idea that you’re laying yourself down on the train track, even in success. But, I also could keep everybody focused and calm saying, let’s all remember that we’re here to entertain people, and let’s stay off line. Let’s not be listening to what people are saying, and really stay focused on having fun today and making great scenes today. I do feel that I had a little bit of maturity from the first time I did it. To me, it just seems like online chatter, expectations, threats.

Are you getting threats?

It’s different from when I was a young film nerd. And we were just like, what, you don’t know what Starlog is? How do you know anything about Star Wars?

I have a few old Starlogs right here.

Oh, I do, too. I buy them on eBay. But, we’re not there anymore. I think that the best thing that you can do, when you’re dealing with something that is so beloved like this, is to really start everyday figuring out where the line is going to be of doing things just for nostalgia’s sake. And then doing things for the narrative of the current movie. And so, every day, the creative team was coming up with, well, why don’t we do this? That was in the original one. Why don’t we do this? And so, every day, I’d kind of have to be a little bit of a goalie in saying like, I think we should maybe tap into this. But, I don’t think that the audience necessarily needs that. And the same thing goes for the line of comedy. You could say that there’s a spectrum of comedy that starts with Airplane!, and then can kind of move through more like an Anchorman. And you really do find that some things that we would try, that were probably a little bit more like the first Coming to America, didn’t quite really land for our current audience. So, there was this constant moving around of it’s comedy and tone.

Well, the opening scene alone of the original Coming to America, I don’t know how that goes over today in a new movie.

Yeah. And by the way, the sexist dynamics that were happening in the first movie is also something that we had to deal with in this movie. And deal with it in a way that can both be funny and empowering, but also on message for what our movie was dealing with. Which is like, it’s a new era in Zamunda. And are you going to be someone who holds to old ideals and old traditions? Or, are you going to move forward? But, this movie is not necessarily so far away from what we’re dealing with today. We really do have to talk about old institutions and how they should be changed.

I talked to Wesley Snipes last week. He made it sound like he had to beg to be in this movie. That can’t be true.

That can’t… He’s fooling you. Let me tell you something…

He said he kept having to put himself in opportune spots at the Dolemite premiere to get your attention.

Let me tell you something. I know that working with Eddie Murphy would be top of my list, but the experience that I’ve had working with Wesley has just been incredible. And the first dinner that we had on Dolemite Is My Name, before I cast him in that, was just one of those memorable dinners that I’ve ever had. Listening to him, getting to know him… People’s eyebrows always go up when I say this, but he’s truly a lovely human being. And this is what’s great about movies: suddenly someone like Wesley Snipes starts showing up again, and then you’re like, I think I’m going to go back and watch White Men Can’t Jump. I’m going to watch that. And then you’re watching and you’re like, he’s so good.

We just watched Passenger 57. That movie’s incredible.

He owned that era. And now I remember there was another thought of somebody else playing General Izzi. And I was on the phone with Eddie, and I said, “Eddie, we got to have Wesley. You guys are like the new duo.” If you would’ve told me a decade ago that Eddie Murphy and Wesley Snipes is like gold, I would have said, what? But, I think they are.

I agree.

I really think that they hold a frame equally. And we, as an audience, just want more of it. Well, I’ll never forget, I said, “What about Wesley as General Izzi?” And there was just this long pause from Eddie. He was like, “Oh, if we could get Wesley, I mean, that would be everything.” I remember his agent calling me over and over again. And I was like, “I have a plan, and I just need Mr. Snipes just to sit back, because this is going to be his role or I’m not doing the movie.” He’s fantastic in it as always, and I hope to see more films come from Wesley.

‘Coming 2 America’ begins streaming on Friday, March 5th via Amazon Prime. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.

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