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.”