Look, obviously there’s something working with this newfound collaboration between director Craig Brewer (who directed Hustle & Flow and the Footloose remake) and Eddie Murphy. Murphy, still one of the most famous people on this planet, had been in a grand total of two movies since 2011 before Brewer’s Dolemite Is My Name, in which Murphy gives one of his best performances in … well, maybe ever. Brewer is also currently filming Coming 2 America, a sequel to the 1988 smash that will surely be the comedy hit of late 2020. And then Brewer (maybe accidentally) let it slip he’s even got an idea for another Axel Foley adventure. But, Brewer is quick to deflect and get back to the matter at hand, which is Dolemite Is My Name.
Is Brewer the Eddie Murphy whisperer? He doesn’t love that term, but concedes there may be some truth to it. Though, that term needs to be redefined here, because it’s less a force to be honed in, but more letting that force come out again. And, in Brewer, Murphy seems to have found that director, because in Dolemite, Murphy is electric. In this true story, Murphy plays Rudy Ray Moore, a down-on-his-luck comedian and singer who desperately wants to be famous. After donning the character of Dolemite, Moore parlays that into a number of successful comedy albums – then bets it all on a feature film, starring himself. For whatever reason (and there are obviously plenty), Murphy latched on to this character and, for about two hours, never lets go. The Murphy you remember is back, and Brewer explains why their collaboration seems to be working, and will continue to work through Coming 2 America. And maybe even after that with the return Axel Foley? (Brewer stresses that last one is still just “an idea.”)
Okay, so this is a weird way to put it, but how did this happen? Because we haven’t seen a lot of Eddie Murphy in the last few years.
Well, let me tell you first about, “How did this happen?” Because every day on set, we all came together and very quietly under our breath said, “Can you believe they allowed us to make this movie?” I had been working on an animated movie that Eddie and I were developing together for a little bit, and whenever I would meet with him, we would kind of vibe on music and movies and everything.
Though we lived through the “Eddie is back” narrative before with Tower Heist, then the Oscar hosting gig fell through and then he went away again.
So, I remember seeing him in Tower Heist going, “Oh, damn it. I just wish I saw more of him.” You know what I mean?
Right, because it’s not his movie.
Yeah, it wasn’t his movie. This is, at its very core, his movie. I remember the first time he said “motherfucker” on the set.
And I just looked around to the crew and there are just huge grins on everybody’s face, because nobody hits that curse word like Eddie. It’s like hearing something signature. It’s like you’re hearing three strums of Willie Nelson’s acoustic guitar and you’re like, “Oh, is that Willie Nelson?” Hearing Eddie say “motherfucker,” as much as I know my buddy Sam Jackson has had the cornerstone of that, Eddie’s got that down. And I remember there would be times I came over to him and I’d be like, “Hey, we’ve been trying to figure out when was the last time you said this word in a movie.”
Did you figure it out?
No, we’d have to sit there and figure it out. He had to do the math. He was like, “I think I said ‘mother fucker’ in Life.”
Right, I don’t think he said it in Dr. Dolittle.
Yeah, there were no strippers in Dr. Dolittle.
I have seen a lot of Eddie Murphy movies in my life, but there are some where you can tell Eddie’s not as interested in a movie as some of his other movies. When did you know, oh yeah, he’s going for it here…
Well, I think what it was was when we started talking about the moments where he’s not doing Dolemite.
When he’s just Rudy?
Because I remember one of the first conversations we had was, “I could watch you do Dolemite all day. My biggest question is Rudy.” You know?
That makes sense.
How are we going to tackle Rudy Ray Moore as a man and see him transition into Dolemite? So one scene I told Eddie was very important to me was watching him come up with the character and watching him perform it on stage, turning to the drummer and saying, “Hey, put your weight on it.” We never really get to see Eddie Murphy’s process. And I’m fortunate that, every day, even on Coming 2 America, I get to see that process. Because I think it’s, at times, maybe jarring for people because they come up to him, and he’s going over his lines, and he’s rather quiet and thoughtful on set. And maybe some new actors or comedians are like, “Hey, why isn’t Eddie Murphy entertaining me 100 percent of the time?” It’s because you’ve seen his finished product.
In most interviews Eddie Murphy is quiet and thoughtful. He’s not always the guy you see on camera.
I wish I could find a better word than duality, because duality always makes it seem like two sides are at odds with each other, but if you think about even Nutty Professor, the whole idea that you’ve got one real person that actually has genuine heart, and then he suddenly gets to turn into somebody else, you know? To me, I feel that’s why Dolemite Is My Name was the perfect movie for Eddie to do because he experiences that, I’m sure.
Are you the Eddie whisperer now?
I’ve been called that a few times.
Really? Then it seems like you are if people are saying that?
I’ve been called that on set. What I don’t like about the term is, I get it, but…
Well, he’s very particular about directors, and we’ve known that from his career. And obviously you and he have something.