Shortly before a Screen Actors Guild Q&A for his most recent movie, “Mr. Church,” Eddie Murphy’s emotional state is total, absolute chill. “I really have such a small amount of stress,” Murphy says as, around him, a room buzzes with anxious publicists and SAG personnel. “I’ve always been aware that I have a charmed life. I’m from the Tilden Projects of Brooklyn. This is all gravy.”
Murphy didn’t have too much to say about Bruce Beresford’s “Mr. Church,” repeatedly calling the film in which he plays a longtime cook to a woman dying of cancer and her young daughter a teeny-tiny movie, a character piece where he’s but one of many players, one that offered him the chance to go to some sad places he’s never visited as an actor. Released in September, it has grossed just under $700,000.
On other subjects, though, Murphy offered plenty.
There was a story about you in the New Yorker recently with the headline: “Why Is Eddie Murphy in Cinematic Exile?” Does it feel that way to you?
Exile? No. A few years back, I took a break from grinding out movies. I stepped back, took a breath and gave the audience a break too. After 35 years in movies, I don’t care who you are, people get sick of looking at you. But I’m always writing — a script, a song.
I stepped back, took a breath and gave the audience a break too. After 35 years in movies, I don’t care who you are, people get sick of looking at you.
What about standup material? You’ve said in the past you’d like to do another tour.
Yeah. One day I’ll go full circle and do it. I’m curious to see what will come out of me. I’m so different. I stopped doing standup when I was a kid. I was 28 years old. That’s another lifetime. Times have changed. I’m not edgy — at all. And I don’t want to be one of those middle-aged comics who go out and say (adopting old-timer voice), “We had this and you guys have that.”
What about the scripts you mentioned? Are you like Prince with a vault?
[Laughs] I have a vault with a bunch of scripts, yeah.
Will we see any of these made soon? Like I heard about one, “Buck Wonder, Super Slave.”
Now that’s very edgy. I play a slave called Buck Wonder. And I also play the slave master, as well as Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. It’s a bedtime story that an old man is telling his grandson about the true story of slavery and the Civil War. It’s a parody of superhero movies and slave movies. It’s pretty funny.
I also heard about an R-rated, animated talking-animal movie.
That’s “The Misadventures of Fluffy.” I was in New York years ago and there was a show dog that got loose in Central Park overnight. And they did a news story and the dog was laying on the couch traumatized. I was wondering: “What happened to that dog in Central Park?” So I wrote “Fluffy.” How do you know about “Fluffy”?
It’s out there. “Buck Wonder,” “Fluffy” and a movie about two brothers inheriting a black circus.
We actually might be getting ready to do that one. “The Jenkins Brothers Fabulous Mystical Magical Right-On Circus.” I think I’m going to do that with Tracy Morgan. And “Beverly Hills Cop” is actually closer than it’s ever been. They’ve got a good screenplay from the guys who did the last “Mission Impossible” movie. Jerry Bruckheimer is producing it. So there’s a bunch of things that could happen in the next year or two.
That same New Yorker story said that “Norbit” deserved to be hailed as a masterwork.
[Laughs for half a minute] Yeaaaah.
It went on: “Instead critics treated it like a plague. It’s hard to imagine the effect the tin-eared, hard-hearted, oblivious reviews had on Murphy.”
Oh, they have no effect on me at all. I haven’t read a review in, easily, 20, 25 years. I used to. I remember when “Coming to America” came out, Siskel and Ebert gave it two thumbs way down, saying it sucked. Then 10, 15 years later, I remember seeing them do a retrospective and they were both, “The classic ‘Coming to America’ blah blah blah.’ The shelf life of movies changes over the years.
Have you seen that with other movies you’ve made?
Well, I don’t think the New Yorker will be singing the praises of “Meet Dave.” “That was a gem!” I don’t know if there’s some “Pluto Nash” Appreciation Club out there. The Friends of “Holy Man” Group. The “Vampire in Brooklyn” Club.
It was relevant at the time. It made sense. Back then, it was still ‘one at a time.’ For years, it was one black actor at a time would get in the mix.
I recently watched a clip of you presenting best picture at the Oscars in 1988 where you pretty much stopped the show and called out the academy for not recognizing black talent. What was the response to that?
The next day, people were mad. “The nerve of him!” “How dare him!” People were trippin’, making up stories. [John] Landis called me up. “Eddie, you …, why’d you say that? You’ll never get a nomination now.”
You were ahead of the curve with your remarks.
It was relevant at the time. It made sense. Back then, it was still “one at a time.” For years, it was one black actor at a time would get in the mix. I made “48 Hrs.” in 1981. It was me and Gregory Hines and Howard Rollins and Richard Pryor in the movie business. After I got in the mix, that kind of changed.
So, yeah, backstage at the Oscars, I was trying to come up with something to say. I ran it by Robin Williams and he said, “Oh. Why you want to go there?” [Laughs] He didn’t think it was funny. And maybe it wasn’t. But that was kind of the point, you know?