Interview : Eddie Murphy

On his new comedy, “Norbit”


You could say that ‘Norbit’ is Eddie Murphy back doing what he does best, but after seeing his amazing dramatic turn in ‘Dreamgirls’, that’d be a lie. In many respects, the riotous comedy is simply a chance for Eddie to spend some time doing what he enjoys – dressing up in women’s clothing.

In the movie, directed by ‘The Shaggy Dog’’s Brian Robbins, Murphy plays – to name but one of his characters – a mild-mannered guy named Norbit, who is engaged to a monstrous woman (Murphy, too) but meets the woman of his dreams (Newton), and schemes to find a way to be with her.

For the first time since ‘The Nutty Professor’ series, Murphy dons the disguises of multiple characters again – and as per usual, make-up wizard Rick Baker is the man showered with the credit.

Murphy, who worked with Baker on ‘Coming to America’ and the abovesaid ‘Professor’ remake, says Baker is “brilliant”, an absolute “genius”.

“Rick makes my characters look like real people”, he says. “Unlike a lot of other movies, where the audience knows that the character is in make-up – like when there are scenes where they gotta put their make-up on fast and all that – we have to make it look real. Its crucial that you forget these characters are make-ups [here]. Rick is a genius in helping you forget that it’s Eddie Murphy – and helping you see this character, you know.”

Murphy says he has played characters in films that people still don’t recognize him for. “I’ve had people tell me that they didn’t realize it was me playing the old Jewish guy in Coming to America. Unless people told you, you wouldn’t know it – and still wouldn’t know it.

“I think if I hadn’t had a history of this, you’d come to this movie and you wouldn’t know I was that old Asian guy, coming into it you know it, but if no one had told you, you would never think that that wasn’t a really an old Asian guy and that’s Rick’s genius.”

Murphy says his job is just as difficult as Baker’s job on the film, though. “It’s fun for me to see the end result when I’ve been in one of these movies where I did multiple characters, but it’s not fun doing it, it’s a bunch of hard work doing it.”

Murphy and Baker come up with the look and personality together, of the characters. “He’ll make the face, and then he’ll start asking me questions, and that’s how I find the character. He’ll ask ‘So where are you from?’ ‘How many kids do you have?’.. and so on. I’ll then try different voices out. All the while, he’s stretching the make-up around. After about two or three hours of him asking questions and me seeing what the make-up can do, after awhile you have it, and it’s, like, ‘Oh, you can really see this other person’”.

One of his favourite characters was the film’s rogue, Rasputia. “She’s just tyranny in a skirt, I’d never played anybody quite as mean as Rasputia”, Murphy laughs. “She’s a screen villain – at the start of the movie she’s amusing, but towards the end Rasputia’s like a great screen villainess I never played a villainess.”
The idea for Norbit came to Murphy when he was watching a funny video on his computer of a woman beating her husband.

“All the wives thought it was the funniest thing ever”, he laughs, “And it was, like, you think that’s funny? They’re just, like, ‘Yeah, look she, he’s, she can’t, he can’t, hah, hah, hah, and she…’!, the guy that just couldn’t defend himself, and my brother and I talked about it, it was, like, ‘They think that’s so funny?’, and it was, like, ‘Well, let’s write something’. And we kinda, like, used The Color Purple as the model. Its like if you take The Color Purple and switch it and make it a man that was under a woman’s thumb his whole life, it’s kinda funny.”

Murphy says he thinks audiences are “gonna laugh, really laugh” with the film, but he also doesn’t want people to overlook its sweet side. “What I love about the movie is this sweetness that’s at the center of it, the sweet little love story between Thandie Newton’s character and Norbit’s character”.

Murphy, who recently agreed to reprise his role as Axel Foley for a fourth ‘Beverly Hills Cop’, says he’ll be re-teaming with director Brian Robbins on his next film, Starship Dave, a comedy about a team of tiny aliens try to save their planet from destruction.

- Clint Morris