Murphy Pryor

HitFix’s Greg Ellwood ran an exclusive earlier today about Eddie Murphy being attached to play Richard Pryor in a biopic called Richard Pryor: Is It Something I Said? for director-writer Bill Condon (Dreamgirls, Kinsey, Gods and Monsters) and Fox Searchlight.

Very cool, looking forward, etc. But my first reaction when I heard this was that it will be surprising if Murphy really plays Pryor — i.e., not just does his voice and comic manner and speech rhythms, but really gets into his life and under his skin. I just don’t believe that Murphy, renowned for rampant egoism and his “fuck you, I’m leaving” routine when he lost the Best Supporting Actor Oscar to Alan Arkin in early ’07, has the hunger and humility to seriously burrow into the soul of another artist, and especially another black comic. I think Murphy is way too invested in being #1 to allow for any kind of profound submission/transformation.

Doing a clever Pryor impression on-stage is one thing; trying to really become the guy (which involves a serious suppression of one’s own personality) is quite another deal.

Boiled down, Murphy’s whole career since ’86 or ’87 has been about “hold up, you come to me ’cause I’m King Shit and not you, suckah.” I could be dead wrong and may have to apologize for this down the road (which I’ll be happy to do because Murphy is a very talented guy), but my suspicion, knowing Murphy, is that he’ll kind of “do” Pryor — i.e., repeat his bits, do his body language — in a nominal way but his performance will end up as a kind of Murphy-Pryor hybrid with things slightly tilting in his favor.

Again, I’d love to be proved wrong.

Ellwood reports that the Pruor biopic was “originally developed with The Weinstein Company, [but that] Condon and producer Mark Gordon were able to free it up in turnaround and have shopped it to different studios. Paramount Pictures was close to securing the project, but Fox Searchlight recently stepped in after having no qualms with the film’s $25 million budget.

“Murphy, who featured impersonations of Pryor in his early stand up routines and cast him in his own directorial effort, Harlem Nights, is said to be enthusiastic about playing his longtime idol and has dropped his usual salary requirements for the role.

“The script also features prominent roles for Pryor’s four wives and Red Foxx. Those roles have not been cast as of yet. Additionally, the film’s title will likely change before release.”

  • “Redd” Foxx. Hitflix is nitwits.

    And Murphy was a class act at the Oscars.

  • Josh Massey

    When Murphy tries, the man can act. I still wish he had gotten a well-deserved nomination for The Nutty Professor, one of my favorite performances of the ’90s. And Coming To America – Murphy’s best film, by far – has held up extremely well.

    Here’s hoping this can reinvigorate him.

  • Josh Massey

    Oh, and I assume Gene Wilder isn’t in the script, but it’s the role Owen Wilson was born to play.

  • shermy

    I just don’t believe that Murphy has the hunger and humility to seriously burrow into the soul of another artist, and especially another black comic. I think Murphy is way too invested in being #1 to allow for any kind of profound submission and transformation

    I think Pryor may be the only comic Murphy would actually do this for- particularly at this stage of his career.

    If he’s truly going forward with a fourth Beverly Hills Cop, I could see this being his Dreamgirls to that film’s Norbit.

  • Mark

    How good Murphy can be depends a lot on Condon.

    Bill Murray was almost as petty when he lost his Oscar to Penn. Comics are just more sensitive by nature.

    Nic Cage as Wilder.

  • DavidF

    When you want an Oscar and all else fails, and no one is throwing you a Holocaust movie, play a dead celebrity.

    A persecuted or misunderstood celebrity? Even better.

    Former drug addict? Yup, that helps too.

    A celebrity who ALSO had a disease?

    Holy shit – there’s not point even holding the Oscars next year, is there? Just give it to Murphy now so he and we can all move on.

  • bill weber

    what a horrible project. i’ll never see it.

  • D.Z.
  • Letters of Transit

    This is awesome. I would love to see Eddie work consistently with a guy like Condon. Eddie is a huge talent that has done so much crap over the years. Didn’t he own the film rights to some of August Wilson’s plays at one point (specifically Fences)?

  • econeywaaa

    if Murphy has a strong enough director who can reign him in and get the performance we all know he can deliver, then I’ll be first in line to see it. If it becomes one of those films that lists Eddie’s various credits on the film individually (Harlem Nights), then I’ll stay far away. Also, I felt he blew through the Lewis tribute, reading the lines like he had somewhere else to be.

  • dangovich

    Bah, humbug.

    I just can’t see anyone pulling this off. Pryor had such a unique face, voice, delivery, etc. His standup movies show up on TV so much it’s like he’s still alive.

  • erniesouchak

    This movie sounds horrible, but I’d like to think Murphy has another “Bowfinger”-quality performance in him. Then again, why not go with Dave Chappelle?

  • Deathtongue_Groupie

    This is one of those “why??” projects.

    Because the last thing the world needs in this new era is another biography about a performer. Tells us stories that we don’t know, but should.

    Besides, Richard Pryor already made the Richard Pryor bio-pic.

  • actionman

    I wonder if there will be a scene in Condon’s film that features Pryor on the set of Superman III, shooting the scene where he skis off the roof-top of that sky-scraper. And lives.

    Still one of my favorite movie moments of all time.

    Oh yeah, Murphy will knock this outta the park.

  • DavidF

    That’s funny, actionman.

    I was wondering if we’d get any dirty behind-the-scenes stories from “The Toy” shoot.

    Him and Gleason knocking back a few. Yeah….

  • corey3rd

    Remember back in the 21st Century when Steve Martin, Eddie Murphy and Bill Murray made films that were funny on many levels?

  • Noiresque

    For God’s sake, Jeff, that story about Murphy has been debunked time and time again, yet you still revel in untruths. At every other ceremony, Murphy left after his award was announced, whether he won or not. And he hardly bolted off in a huff, but queued up to exit the theatre area like everyone else who went to the bar during the commercial break. I’m not saying he is not a profoundly odd man, but everything about your spin on Murphy reveals more about you than about him.

    And his behaviour was hardly worse than Bill Murray’s, who was caught on camera pulling faces and gurning during Penn’s speech, but of course he is no doubt “hombre” so the rules are different.

  • great scott

    How long until Spike Lee complains that a white director shouldn’t make a biopic about a black comic?

    But there I go hijacking the post in another direction.

  • Chicago48

    This is an interesting turn of events. Wasn’t Eddie Griffin first attached to the Pryor biopic; wasn’t the rights owned by his widow (Can’t remember her name); and wasn’t Mike Epps the final choice for the Pryor pic?

    And why the hell would anyone want to make a pic about Pryor? Genius comedian yes; but troubled soul also and I’m not so sure his life can adequately be put on film. Murphy doesn’t do it for me.

  • Chicago48

    And if I recall, Pryor already made the self-autobio pic. It wasn’t very pleasant to watch. Interesting, but not pleasant.