The clock is running on Eddie Murphy’s extraordinary movie career. And in less than three years, it’s going to run out.
“I am planning to make movies until I am 50,” the 47-year-old star told TODAY’s Al Roker. “That's two years and eight months. Then I am going back to the stage.”
It’s a difficult concept to comprehend. Murphy has been making movies since he was 20 years old. In the nearly 30 years since, he has made nearly 40 films and has established himself as one of the highest-grossing movie stars of all time.
He was a hit from his very first film, “48 Hours” with Nick Nolte, and carried that success on to such hits as “Trading Places,” the “Beverly Hills Cop” franchise, “Coming to America,” “The Nutty Professor” and “Doctor Dolittle.” To kids, he’s the voice of Donkey in the “Shrek” series.
Murphy’s latest film is “Meet Dave,” a summer comedy in which he plays a dual role: a spaceship that looks like a normal person, and the tiny person inside who controls the spaceship. Roker characterized it as “a romantic sci-fi action comedy.”
“That’s it in a nutshell,” Murphy confirmed.
No piece of cakeMurphy, of course, excels as playing multiple characters, a skill he began to develop as a kid in imitation of his acting hero, Peter Sellers. But playing a tiny spaceship captain and the big person who is essentially an empty shell was a challenge, he told Roker.
“Dave is actually a spaceship, and on the surface he looks like a regular person, but there's a crew of little people inside that are controlling his every move,” he explained. “It wasn't a piece of cake. Playing Dave was really hard because there is supposed to be nothing there. So trying to play this character where there is nothing there, and the person is a little bit off and there's somebody inside like controlling his every response — that was kind of difficult.”
“So you've got people in your head — is that based on reality?” Roker joked.
“Oh, no,” Murphy replied. “I just wanted to do something kind of different. I’ve never played a spaceship before.”
The star confirmed that there are still plans to do “Beverly Hills Cop IV," but it’s been difficult to get everything to come together.
“I got in shape and the script didn't come together,” he said. “I was just walking around in shape for nothing. I would love to do that [film].”
So what would the wisecracking and streetwise Detroit cop Axel Foley be like as a man closing in on 50?
“Axel’s back and he needs a laxative. Axel’s back and he needs a bran muffin,” Murphy joked. “When they first started trying to get a script together, they were thinking, where would Axel be and try to show the back story and all the stuff he's gone through up until now.”
Instead, Murphy suggested, “Let’s just get a really great cop movie.”
Dreams still unfulfilled
When Murphy began his career nearly 30 years ago, he had a list of people he wanted to work with. “Now that list is 25 years old, and I never got to work with one of them,” he confessed.
“Who do you want to work with?” Roker asked.
“I’d love to be on a Steven Spielberg set, Martin Scorsese set. But like I said, when I am 50, I'll be making movies for 30 years. That’s 30 years and almost 40 pictures, that's enough,” he said.
Born in New York, Murphy broke into television when he talked his way onto the “Saturday Night Live” cast in 1980. Within a year, he was a regular member of the cast, creating such characters as a grown-up Buckwheat and “Mr. Robinson,” the inner-city version of “Mr. Rogers.”
He also became wildly popular as a stand-up comedian, producing two X-rated shows, “Eddie Murphy Delirious” and “Eddie Murphy Raw,” which played on cable and were based on the pioneering work of Richard Pryor. Some of the material was so outrageous even he apologized for it years later.
And back to the stage is where Murphy intends to head in two years and eight months when he hits the big five-oh.
“Really?” Roker said, unable to quite believe a man whose movies have grossed more than $3 billion could really give it up. “You could walk away from doing this?”
“Absolutely,” Murphy said, dead serious. “Without question.”