Interview: Eddie Murphy
Eddie Murphy: â€œWell, for me, having made pictures for 25 years, Iâ€™m getting to be one of the old jacks in the movies. So, itâ€™s cool for me to work with an actor that you can watch and learn from. And Danny Glover is a master actor, like a fine wine. Itâ€™s fun to just sit back and watch a master do his thing. Heâ€™s a wonderful actor.â€?
Born in Brooklyn on April 3, 1961, Edward Regan Murphy began appearing on stage at the age of 15, doing a combination of impersonations and side-splitting observational humor. While still in his teens, he joined the ensemble cast of Saturday Night Live, and was instantly catapulted to superstardom.
Next, he made the jump to film, meeting with even more success in such films as 48 Hours, Beverly Hills Cop and Coming to America. More recently, Murphy has cultivated considerable appeal among youngsters, evidenced by his work in such kid-friendly franchises as Shrek, The Nutty Professor and Dr. Dolittle.
Eddie’s movies have made more money than any other African-American actor in the history of motion pictures. Here, he talks about his powerful performance as R&B singer James “Thunder” Early in Dreamgirls, for which he was nominated for a Golden Globe in the Best Supporting Actor category.
BSN: What interested you in this project?
EM: When they came to me about it, the part that they offered me, I remembered that being a standout part. Cleavant Derricks won the Tony for the role that I play. It’s rare that you get to be in something like this. You dream about being in something like this. A cast that’s this strong combined with a director that’s this strong creates a lot of opportunities for great performances. I’ve been making movies for a long time, and to be involved with a piece of material like this is a dream come true. So, I had a bunch of good stuff to attract me to it.
BSN: Tell me a little about your character.
EM: Jimmy Early is an up-and-coming R&B singer, kind of like right on the edge of having some national exposure. He’s known in the inner-city communities, and he’s right there where he’s bubbling under.
BSN: And what is the trajectory of your character?
EM: “Cadillac Car” is a song that he writes and thinks can be a big hit. We record it at his car dealership and it becomes a hit. But just before it breaks out to become a really big record, a white group cuts the song, and turns it into a bubble gum pop hit, and ours falls off the charts. Then we start playing dirty.
BSN: But your manager Curtis’ [Jamie Foxx’s character] attempted makeover doesn’t exactly work, does it?
EM: He tries to smooth Jimmy Early’s edges out, to make him more accessible to the pop crowd. But that’s not who Jimmy Early is. So, it turns into a horror show, because Jimmy can’t contain what he has in him. He doesn’t do a smooth show. He does his typical Jimmy Early pumpin’ and humpin’ and grindin’ act, and in a way, he kinda’ knows what he’s doing when he’s doing it.
BSN: How does Jimmy come to cross paths with The Dreamettes?
EM: From messing around with his back-up singers so much, I think some girls quit. So, he’s caught in a bind, because he didn’t have anybody to sing in the background. He has to get some background singers real quick, and that’s how he meets the Dreamgirls.
BSN: And he gets involved again.
EM: Usually, Jimmy just has these little trysts with these women in the background, and he has his wife that he’s had for years. One doesn’t really interfere with the other. But he really develops feelings for Lorrell [Anika Noni Rose’s character], and they start having a real relationship. That complicates things because he’s married and he’s in love with this woman, and he’s in love with each other, and it just goes on for years and years. So, she’s the first one that gets her hooks in him.
BSN: How’d you like working with Jamie Foxx?
EM: What’s really cool about Jamie in this movie is that it’s classic leading man stuff. No flash, just acted out with subtleties and nuances, and all this little acting stuff that he’s doing.
BSN: What do you have to say about Beyonce’s performance?
EM: Beyonce’ brings the whole star power. She’s the “It Girl.” She’s got everything: sex appeal and charm, a great voice, and she’s a good actress.
BSN: And how was it working with a veteran like Danny Glover for the first time?
EM: Well, for me, having made pictures for 25 years, I’m getting to be one of the old jacks in the movies. So, it’s cool for me to work with an actor that you can watch and learn from. And Danny Glover is a master actor, like a fine wine. It’s fun to just sit back and watch a master do his thing. He’s a wonderful actor.
BSN: And how about relative newcomer Anika Noni Rose?
EM: She was just a bright, little light on the set immediately. When they first cast her, they just started talking about how this girl who’s going to play Lorrell was really great. “She’s from the stage, and bubbly.” And she is like that. She just brings a real positive, bubbly spirit to the set. And she’s super, super, multi-talented. A great singer, a great actress, funny, sweet—she can just do everything.
BSN: Did you enjoy being directed by Bill Condon?
EM: Just his presence made you more confident, because you knew you were in good hands. And if an actor is confident, it makes a big difference in your performance. If you’re confident with anything, you’re going to be better.
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