Murphy enjoys view at the top, but focuses on his art

December 16, 1992|By Steve Murray | Steve Murray,Cox News Service

Eddie Murphy is doing the dad thang, hanging out with his month-old baby, Miles.

"I can't really bond with him yet," he says. "He just lays there and cries."

So the answer is: No, the comedian hasn't been thinking a lot about Congress. Or how his new film, "The Distinguished Gentleman," will play in the twilight of a 12-year Republican administration. Or the difficulty of satirizing politicians when they do such a good job of it themselves.

But after playing a Capitol Hill con man, he'll go this far: "I don't want to say that everything in Congress is corrupt, but it has an element of corruptness in its underbelly."

Speaking from his New Jersey home, Mr. Murphy -- nicknamed "Money" in Hollywood -- is a top box- office star whose movies have earned more than a billion dollars. Floating on this comfy gold cushion, he says he doesn't worry anymore about who's on top.

"I went through that just like any artist," he says. "You want to be No. 1, the best, the hottest. But these are my priorities: my art and my family." That includes girlfriend Nicole Mitchell, with whom he also has a 3-year-old daughter, Bria. Compared to domestic affairs, he says, "I can't trip out about how long the line is around the block."

Besides, he points out, "Marlon Brando is the best actor on the planet, but the biggest movie star is Arnold Schwarzenegger. That has nothing to do with being an artist."

Despite a tabloid rep as a testy superstar, during this interview he sounds convincingly like a laid-back dad at home (give or take a few dozen expletives peppering his speech). Then again, this could be just one of his many guises, like the comic quick-changes and accents he tackles in "Gentleman."

As an actor, Mr. Murphy hasn't adopted the full-transformational, gain-60-pounds Robert De Niro route. He relies on his stand-up training. "I can jump out of people and other lives very easily," he says.

As for personal politics, he derides the Hollywood elite's elbow-rubbing with politicos over $1,000 plates of chicken.

"I'm a very spiritual person, and I give money to private organizations," he says. "In the Bible, you're not supposed to make a big deal about making contributions to charity. These cats that give money -- and you see pictures of them in magazines with their checks -- I want to be judged by my art only."

He says a mix of things drew him to the Hollywood Pictures project -- the one film he's able to make outside of Paramount, with which he has a four-flick deal (including last

summer's "Boomerang"). "It's a cerebral comedy, but at the same time it's not preachy," he says. "And it allowed me to do a lot of the comedic stuff I did on 'Saturday Night Live.' " In other words, the role of a con artist isn't that far removed from a stand-up comic -- you do what you have to to get the response you want."

The film's modernized Capra-corn fits in with the retro (if raw) tone of "Boomerang," itself an updated take on the old bachelor-and-babes comedies of the '50s. "It's right with where I am," he says. "I'm 31 years old, right? And when you get older, you like to do things that are more appealing. You want to just chill on the couch with your girl."

He's a little amused by all the recent attention to "Malcolm X" and its acknowledged status as a test case for "black films" at the box office.

"It's weird that they use those labels," he says. "They don't call 'Coming to America' a black movie, but it's the most successful black film in history. It's an all-black cast." The director, John Landis, is white.

OC Of course, "black film" has become synonymous with the grittier

social concerns of Spike Lee and John Singleton. But Mr. Murphy defends the need for lighter entertainment such as "America."

"It wasn't about screaming 'Wake up' or getting out of the 'hood. This type of movie is needed, too, so that every time theatergoers see black people on the screen, they're not bitching and moaning [on screen], they're not going 'black, black, black.' "

This winter, he'll start filming "Beverly Hills Cop 3." Then (fair warning, Francis Ford Coppola) he wants to direct his own vampire film, playing several incognito bits (as he did in "Coming to America") -- an old man who rents an apartment to the vampire, an old woman who lives across the street and an old Jewish man.

Forget the Gothic flourishes. Mr. Murphy's take will be distinctly urban. He says, "The coolest thing in 'Blacula' is when he goes in the bar and some guy says, 'That's a bad cape.' They're dealing with Dracula not like this Victorian guy but this real [bad guy]. There's never been a horror movie with black people in it."

And after vampires, how about a Western? "I'm trying to get all these brothers together for a 'Magnificent Seven'-type thing," he says, mentioning Wesley Snipes, Denzel Washington and Charles Dutton.

"I'm optimistic about the future in Hollywood for black people, and the artists emerging now. There's no way Wesley Snipes is not going to be around in 10 years, and Denzel and Spike. There are artists who are going to turn into pure [powerhouses]. These are real good times."

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