Call Him Money: Eddie Murphy Opens Up

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What do you think that means?
I'm just worried. You don't know where people's hands have been. I shake a lot of hands.

Is it true that you won't use public bathrooms?
I won't take a dump in a public bathroom. I can pee anywhere. I can pee outside.

Bubble Hill, your house in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, has taken on mythic status now that you've put a song about it on your album. Describe a quiet night at home.
Bubble Hill is never quiet. I named it after the black expression bubble, which is slang for "party." Translated: Party Hill. It goes deeper than the party, though. I really feel at home in that house. My lifestyle is very conservative. There's always a lot of swimming and Ping-Pong and listening to music and watching movies. There's not like a bunch of fucking going on, because basically everybody's too afraid to catch herpes and AIDS and die. And if my guys do drugs, they don't do them in front of me. I'm not gonna say you won't go behind the house and find somebody smoking a joint every now and then. But there are no orgies and coke and stuff.

If Elvis was alive, would you takes him in at Bubble Hill? It is your version of Graceland, after all.
I love Elvis. Funny you say that. Arsenio does this routine for me about how, if Elvis was alive and his career was in the toilet, he'd be trying to get into Bubble Hill. I'd be going [sotto voce], "Tell him I'm not here." And Elvis would be in the lobby going [in Elvis's voice], "Is Eddie there? Say, man, he tol' me to come over. Where's Fruity? Fuck y'all. Tell Eddie I'll call him later." Elvis pissed off in the lobby of Bubble Hill – it wouldn't happen, though. I'd hang out with Elvis constantly.

Can you explain your fascination with him?
His presence. He had the strongest presence of anyone ever in this business.

You must know you have a strong presence, too.
Yeah, but it's no fucking Elvis Presley presence. Maybe after I die. It didn't matter what he was singing – and after the Fifties, his music got really weird – he was Elvis up there. He looked like he was in total control, even though he was totally out of control and had no idea where he was. This guy was a fucking recluse, doing drugs, fucking up his body and his diet. He had this terrible deal with his manager, who got maybe fifty percent of all his money, and he paid seventy-percent tax bracket. It's lunatic, man.

Speaking of Elvis's manager, you once met Colonel Tom Parker, right?
Colonel Tom Parker rubbed my head in Vegas. A couple times he set me up in the Elvis Presley suite on top of the Hilton, and I would go play Elvis for a week, which was real cool. One night we were at the crap table together, and he rubbed my head for luck. I wanted to punch him in the face. But this guy is like eighty years old – too old to be taught the limits of racism. There was nothing I could do. What would it look like in the papers? EDDIE MURPHY BEATS UP COLONEL PARKER! To this day, he probably doesn't realize how horrible a thing that was to do. "Let me rub your head for luck, boy!" My blood was boiling, though. I wanted to choke him.

When was the worst moment in recent history to be black?
We lost our minds in the Seventies. We had big, long Afros, big platform shoes, big lapels, big hats. That was 200 years of oppression coming to a head. We'd been under so much pressure for so long – look how you made us dress!

Do you ever feel discrimination in Hollywood?
I'm aware of racism, although I don't feel overt racism towards me. What Hollywood doesn't do, however, is acknowledge your accomplishments as readily if you're black. For instance, Michael Jackson is never given enough credit for being the biggest thing in the world. Taking nothing away from Bruce Springsteen – I like him – but I attribute a lot of his popularity to the fact that there has to be a white counterpart: "Michael is the Thriller, but Bruce is the Boss!"

If you think about it, we get all fucked-up nicknames. Bruce is the Boss, Sinatra is the Chairman of the Board, Elvis is the King, John Wayne is the Duke, Jackie Gleason is the Great One. Michael is the Gloved One! The Thriller! Fred Astaire: the Greatest Dancer Who Ever Lived; Bill Robinson could outdance anybody who ever existed right off the planet, and they called him Mr. fucking Bojangles!

In retrospect, do you regret your comments during the Oscar ceremony last year about black artists' being overlooked by the Academy?
Because of what I said, I will never, ever get nominated for an Oscar, much less win one. I said that only three Oscars had been given to black actors in sixty years. I was just stating a fact. You know what was interesting? Everybody who was white felt that it was the wrong timing, and everybody who was black gave me the right-on sign. Wrong timing! Where else can you say something like that? On the Soul Train awards? Nobody's gonna see it.

There's No Way Eddie Murphy Was Really Going to Host the Oscars

Spike Lee has been quoted as saying that he thinks you've been neglectful in not using your influence to install more blacks in power positions, especially at Paramount.
Which is a weird thing to say. I do my black thing. I am completely aware that I am a black man. I have a strong social conscience. Still, the company is called Paramount, not Eddie Murphy Productions. Eddie Murphy Productions, which is located on the Paramount lot, however, is laced with color. But I can't walk into the studio's front offices and demand shit: "Hire some black people here!" Spike gets overanxious playing that militant-brother role and occasionally says some stupid stuff.

You do exert a quiet power in that scene. Paramount is generally acknowledged to be the most well integrated of all studios.
And who would you attribute that to? If I weren't here, it wouldn't be like that. You can go find 600 black people on the lot right now. So, Spike, that stuff is silly.

Would there be a Spike Lee if there wasn't an Eddie Murphy?
That's like saying there wouldn't be an Eddie Murphy if there wasn't a Richard Pryor. Spike just does a different type of film than I do. Spike is more of a politician that I am. I'm an entertainer. If I can get a message across through my entertaining, fine. I think Coming to America is a political movie without shoving a message down anyone's throat. It's a black love story, in which black people are seen being black people, and it made $250 million. And that's a political statement without having to run a Malcolm X quote at the ending [as in Lee's Do the Right Thing]. Not that there's anything wrong with that. You can be overt or covert – you make the choice. I don't hold anything against the brother for being overt.

How has it been directing Richard Pryor?
First of all, he doesn't need to be directed much, because he has such good instincts. Directing Richard is easier for me than it might be for someone else, because there's so much Richard in me. I know how brilliant the man is. The thing I like most about this picture is that Richard's character is so laid-back. He's, like, acting in the movie. It's a real classy role, and he's laying it out.

You're both playing gangster guys in the movie. Your character seems decidedly unlovable for a change.
Oh, yeah, that guy is a prick. He's a hothead kid. Paramount was real weirded out by me playing such a hothead – somebody who shoots an old woman's pinkie toe off, who kills another woman who tried to kill him first. Paramount was unhappy, but I said, "I'm an actor, man. I'm not gonna be Axel Foley every time I go up the fucking screen."

Some people think you shouldn't have been Axel Foley more than once.
Do you know what's scary? Beverly Hills Cop II was probably the most successful mediocre picture in history. It made $250 million worldwide, and it was a half-assed movie. Cop II was basically a rehash of Cop I, but it wasn't as spontaneous and funny. But my pictures make their money back: No matter how I feel, for instance, about The Golden Child – which was a piece of shit – the movie made more than $100 million. So who am I to say to sucks?

Which means you'll do a 'Cop III.'
There's no reason to do it: I don't need the money, and it's not gonna break any new ground. How often can you have Axel Foley talk fast and get into a place he doesn't belong? But these motherfuckers [at Paramount] and developing scripts for it. They're in preproduction. The only reason to do a Cop III is to beat the bank, and Paramount ain't gonna write me no check as big as I want to do something like that. In fact, if I do a Cop III, you can safely say, "Oooh, he must have got a lot of money!" Eeeh-eeh-eeh. Because we're whores. Stallone said it best: We're whores. If you think about it, they take you, put makeup on you – I got makeup on my face right now – they dress you up how they want you to dress, and they tell you to go out there and make that money. They give you a little cut of it – if you're lucky, you get ten percent of what the movie makes. If you're lucky. And then when you get old and fucked up, they throw you out and bring in some new bitch.

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