Let the Eddie Murphy comeback commence.
The legendary comedian and actor has rarely appeared on screen in the last decade, but he’s karate-chopping his way back in the exclusive first trailer for Netflix’s Dolemite Is My Name.
Murphy stars as real-life comedian and “Godfather of Rap” Rudy Ray Moore, who went from floundering comic to word-of-mouth sensation thanks to his outlandish 1970s blaxploitation character Dolemite. Set to make its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in September and have a limited theatrical release in the fall, the film from director Craig Brewer (Hustle & Flow) follows Moore’s mission to make Dolemite, a movie unlike anything done before. Starring alongside Murphy are Tituss Burgess, Craig Robinson, Mike Epps, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Keegan-Michael Key, Snoop Dogg, and Wesley Snipes.
Watch the trailer above, and read on for EW’s chat about the film with Brewer, who found such great success with Murphy and Snipes that they’re all collaborating again on the long-awaited Coming to America sequel.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What about Dolemite Is My Name and Rudy Ray Moore appealed to you?
CRAIG BREWER: I come from the world of indie cinema, or do-it-yourself cinema, where my career got started just pulling together a ragtag crew of people who may or may not have known what we were doing, but we just had that passion to make movies. We would all get together and watch various independent films, and specifically classic blaxploitation movies, and Dolemite was that movie we’d always watch because of its glorious flaws. [Laughs] But as much as Rudy Ray Moore comes off as this wonderfully strong character, his story is really an underdog story, and I’ve always been drawn to movies of people who don’t have much but do a hell of a lot with it, and that’s what got me really interested once I read the script that Larry Karaszewski and Scott Alexander sent to me. At first I thought it was a Dolemite remake, and I was like, “I know that there’s probably a way you can make fun of it, but I don’t know if I feel comfortable doing it.” But finally when I got past the first page, I was like, “Oh, this is about Rudy,” and then it felt like it made sense to me.
You had some history with Rudy and Dolemite through your memorable viewings of the film, but what kind of research did you do to be as authentic as possible?
Rudy’s story in particular is not necessarily a blaxploitation film. Even though he made a classic one, his story is truly of a person trying to be an artist. And I think the great lesson is one can look at a budget that has no money, or perhaps a script that doesn’t make any real plausible sense in places, and sometimes those movies need to happen, because sometimes what doesn’t work becomes classic material. I actually had five of Rudy Ray Moore’s records already; The Cockpit was one of my favorites and I put it up behind my desk. Rudy Ray Moore is always naked in these, and he’s laying down and dressed like a pilot and he’s got a fleet of stewardesses who are also topless behind him. It was a little bit of a meter of cool, so when people would come in they’d go, “Rudy Ray Moore, I know who that is!” And other people would go, “Who’s that?” And I’d kind of gauge how I could relate to them.
We brought Nick Von Sternberg, the Dolemite director of photography, to set when we filmed the famous fight scene with the trunk where he says, “There’s nothing in my trunk, man.” That was at the exact same house where the original was shot. Our location manager was a Dolemite fanatic and found all the original locations, and so we brought Nick, who hadn’t been there in something like 40 years, and he’s like, “It’s like I never left.” And Nick actually gave us the slate that was used on Dolemite. I wanted to really make the movie a celebration of filmmaking as well as a celebration of Rudy. So all of those slate shots you see, that’s the original slate from Dolemite.
What was it like working with Eddie? It clearly went well since you reunited for Coming 2 America.
I would say that the joy of my life has been this new working relationship with Eddie. I think he’s a true artist, as much as I know some people would go, “What? He’s a comedian, he’s an actor.” Once you say “action,” a fully formed character is coming out. I would rarely do more than two takes. He’d look at me afterwards and be like, “How was that?” And I was like, “We’re moving on, I don’t f— with perfect.” [Laughs] The most important thing to realize with this project is that this was his project; he wanted to tell the story of Rudy Ray Moore, he went to Larry and Scott and said, “You guys got to write a script.” I had known Eddie and he looked at Hustle & Flow and saw the same kind of themes in that movie as this was one, and he’s the one who really supported me being the director of this. We’ve established a really great, respectful working relationship. Also, I just wanted to work my ass off to see him on the big screen again doing what he does best.
Eddie isn’t the only big movie star in the film, as you also have Wesley Snipes. How much did you enjoy getting to put those two legends together? [After this interview, the news came that Snipes would reunite with Brewer and Murphy for Coming 2 America.]
If you would have told me 10 years ago that Eddie Murphy and Wesley Snipes is comedy gold together, I wouldn’t have believed you. But now, seeing them share a frame together, I can’t unsee it, I can’t unfeel it. It’s amazing, it’s electric, and it’s something I’ve always wanted but just didn’t know it. [Laughs] When Eddie and I were discussing who should play D’Urville Martin, every single actor in Hollywood wanted to be in this movie — it’s the same thing that’s happening on Coming 2 America. To know that there’s a movie where you can work with Eddie Murphy, it’s like ringing the dinner bell in Hollywood; everybody is like, “I’m there, what do you need?” I remember Eddie and I having this conversation and saying, “Eddie, D’Urville has got to match you, not just in talent, but this has to be an actor of stature and force that is worthy of you.” He goes, “What about Wesley?” And once he said, “What about Wesley,” it’s like I couldn’t see anybody else. So I met with Wesley and we had this fantastic dinner, and I came out of that like, “I can’t believe I’m going to be working with Eddie Murphy and Wesley Snipes.” It’s like a dream come true. But he’s amazing in it. It’s this performance where you remember, “Oh yeah, Wesley used to be this guy that we would be entertained by outside of slicing zombies in half.” Suddenly I was like, “Oh yeah, Mo’ Better Blues. Oh yeah, White Men Can’t Jump. Oh yeah, Major League.” He was an absolute joy to work with.
Behind the scenes, you’re working with another person at the top of their craft in Oscar-winning costume designer Ruth E. Carter. What was that experience like of building this world with her?
I’m now working with Ruth again on Coming 2 America, and I sometimes just use Ruth as a verb. I’m like, “Let’s make sure we ‘Ruth E. Carter’ this moment right here,” which means, “Let the woman do her thing,” because it’s so amazing. It’s particularly challenging when you’ve got a character whose whole essence is to be flamboyant and bigger than life, but she managed to create this world. There’s a scene in the movie that is actually one of my favorites. For many, it might not even be memorable, but, to me, I totally believe this world — and it’s just a barbecue. The way they’re dressed, the backyard of that house, I just felt like I was part of a community of friends that knew each other. Ruth’s costuming on that set is just as important and crucial as it is to see Rudy Ray Moore in a double-breasted suit with roses embroidered into the lapel. And that’s the thing that I think about Ruth’s craft that people need to realize, it’s not just the bigger-than-life stuff, it’s also nailing a time in the late ’60s and ’70s that people can go, “Oh, I believe that.”
Dolemite Is My Name is set for release on Netflix and in select theaters this fall.