Comedian Eddie Murphy, in a rare new interview, explains his five-year break from movies, his avoiding drugs since his earliest professional days, and his take on the controversy over no minority nominees in the last two Academy Awards’ acting categories.
“I was giving the audience a break,” the 55-year-old Murphy, who was raised in Roosevelt from age 9, says in The Hollywood Reporter’s latest “Awards Chatter” podcast. “After a while, the audience needs a break, and you need a break, too,” he goes on. “You start taking each other for granted. I’m like, ‘I know what you all like!’ And the audience is like, ‘Oh, yeah, I know what he’s gonna do!’ . . . and the next thing you know you’re starring in [‘The Adventures of] Pluto Nash,’ ” his infamous 2002 bomb.
Murphy, who was speaking in support of the upcoming independent drama “Mr. Church,” for which he has received good notices, last made a feature in 2011, with the caper comedy “Tower Heist.” His critical and commercial flop “A Thousand Words,” released in 2012, actually had been shot four years earlier. Murphy’s three previous non-animated features — “Imagine That” (2009), “Meet Dave” (2008) and “Norbit” (2007) — did similarly poorly, although “Norbit” at least appears to have turned a profit.
Murphy says he avoids alcohol — “I don’t drink — I don’t have like this moral thing about it, I just don’t do it” — and even when coming of age professionally in the drug-drenched 1980s, “I didn’t get high.” On “Saturday Night Live,” some cast-members and guests famously did so. One night, he recalls, “ [John] Belushi and Robin Williams offered me some blow and I didn’t take it, and Belushi called me a [expletive]. Then, years later” — after Belushi’s drug-abetted death — “I was like, ‘Wow, that’s a trip.’ … And that just reaffirms my faith. I know that God is real. There’s been a bunch of times when I could have wound up crashing and burning.”
As for the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, he says, Academy members “can’t control it if nothing came in that black folks was in, or just two or three things that black folks was in was Oscar-worthy. So it’s not them. The studios gotta start making more stuff where black folks get quality stuff. But I can’t trip about that because I’ve been making movies for 35 years and I’ve played everything from an old lady to a donkey, so I can’t be on here talking about, ‘They don’t give us enough roles’ and diversity. … But, for the other actors, they need to make better stuff, more stuff, more diverse stuff.”
As for his day-to-day life, Murphy says, “I used to be the hippest of them all. I used to know everything about everything. I used to read about everything that was going on and I knew everybody’s name and anybody in pop culture. Anything that was written about me I would read. And for the last maybe 20 years — I haven’t read a newspaper in 20 years, or read a corporate magazine . . . ,” evidently referring to trade publications. “Like, if there’s an article about me, someone has to read through it before they even give it to me. I don’t want to see anything that has anything negative,” a choice made easier since “I don’t have a computer, I don’t have email…. I don’t need to be on social media interacting with the fans, tweeting that I just ate strawberries.”