Eddie Murphy, Arsenio Hall, Jermaine Fowler, Leslie Jones, Tracy Morgan, John Amos, Louie Anderson, Wesley Snipes, Nomzamo Mbatha, Teyana Taylor, Vanessa Bell Calloway, Garcelle Beauvais, Luenell, Akiley Love and Bella Murphy
Coming Back 2 America
by Jay S. Jacobs
Eddie Murphy was at the top of the world in 1988, having become a comic superstar in Saturday Night Live and then becoming a movie star doing the films 48 Hrs., Trading Places and two Beverly Hills Cop movies in the several years before. However, he had never done a romantic comedy.
That all changed with Coming to America, a charming fantasy about a prince of the fictitious African country of Zamunda. He is not interested in an arranged, politically expedient marriage. Therefore, he flies to the United States, trying to fit in as a normal commoner and find his true love. It was a sweet and wacky film, with Murphy playing several supporting roles under layers of makeup.
The film had an all-star, all-black cast, including a pre-talk show Arsenio Hall, James Earl Jones, Shari Headley, John Amos, Madge Sinclair, Vanessa Bell Calloway, Garcelle Beauvais and Louie Anderson (the token white cast member). The film became a huge hit – and in the years since has become considered a classic romantic comedy.
33 Years later, Prince Akeem and all the residents of the royal palace of Zamunda return in the long-awaited sequel Coming 2 America. The sequel features almost all the living actors who were such a big part of the original film’s success, as well as such newcomers as Jermaine Fowler, Leslie Jones, Tracy Morgan, Wesley Snipes, Nomzamo Mbatha, Teyana Taylor, Luenell and Murphy’s daughter Bella, who not surprisingly plays the oldest daughter of Prince Akeem.
A few weeks before the release of Coming 2 America on Amazon Prime, we were one of the lucky media outlets who were invited to participate in a series of three virtual press conferences with Eddie Murphy and pretty much the entire significant supporting cast of Coming 2 America, with the only major exceptions being Shari Headley and James Earl Jones. This story is cobbled together from those press conferences.
On the legacy of the Coming to America films:
Eddie Murphy: Coming 2 America, the legacy of both movies? Well, the first, let’s start off this way. The original Coming to America, the very first one is the first movie in the history of movies that had an all-black cast that was successful all around the world. All around the world, the very first one ever. And there’s just a handful of movies that have had all black casts that have been successful all around the world.
John Amos: My opinions of Coming to America, the original, have been echoed by so many people that it was an incredible experience. The choreography, the costumes, the script, and of course, the fact that you had Eddie Murphy, who for my money is a consummate actor, comedian. It all came together in a wondrous way and quite frankly, I’m doubtful that we’ll be able to repeat that success to that degree.
Louie Anderson: I just think that this movie brought so much joy. All of us – I know for me, but I’m not trying to speak for everybody, but I think everybody feels the same way. We did the first one and for 30 years we’ve been asking about doing the second one. Are we going to do it? So this thing is alive and well. I think people are really anxious and are really going to love it. Anybody who doesn’t like it, well, they’re those people who don’t like anything.
Leslie Jones: I don’t know what comedian didn’t write themselves into the original Coming to America. So I was already in the movie…. I had done a whole different character though, but I was Samuel Jackson’s sister, you know what I’m saying? And we decided to get a job at McDowell’s. But they decided to write this way, that’s cool. It worked out. It worked out their way.
Eddie Murphy: You could count [the blockbuster films with all-Black casts] on one hand, and you’ll have fingers leftover. That two of those movies are Coming to America and Coming 2 America is like the legacy of this movie – that it’s accessible to all audiences.
Vanessa Bell Calloway: Girl, if I had a nickel for every time somebody came up to me and said, “Whatever you like” or “bark and hop like a dog,” I’d be a very rich woman. It’s the gift that keeps giving….
Garcelle Beauvais: This was historic. I don’t know if anybody knew, but I had auditioned for Shari Headley’s character, which I had no business doing. I was so green. I didn’t know anything. I didn’t know marks. I didn’t know rolling, action. I didn’t know any of that, so to even be in the movie was truly a gift from God. I was just so happy that I was on a set with so many black people and all the women were gorgeous. Everywhere you looked, there was a beautiful girl. I had no idea that it was going to turn out to be what it turned out to be and what a blessing for all of us, but truly for me, because I didn’t know anything. I was just a little baby.
Bella Murphy: I saw [Coming to America] kind of young, I was either 10 or 11. I don’t think there was negotiation. I just watched it. But it was really cool. It was cool to see my dad like that, because that was the first time I saw images of black royalty on stage or onscreen. So it was cool and even cooler that it was my dad. I felt really empowered and yeah, it was awesome.
Eddie Murphy: It’s just about family, and love, and doing the right thing, and tradition. That’s what the movie is about. It’s these amazing images of black Kings and Queens, and princesses and all this stuff is going. … Black Panther did it. The second movie that had black Kings and black [power]… The very first one is Coming to America. And the third one is Coming 2 America.
Wesley Snipes: I have to admit that in the original, I was most impressed and most delighted by the opening sequences of the African dance scenes, or the African dancers. Yeah, their opening… that big pomp and circumstance and regalia, I love that. That stood out the most to me.
Vanessa Bell Calloway: It was just an honor to be in the first production. And who knew that I would have a phrase that would be coined by everybody loved that. I get pictures of people dressed up like me for Halloween and weddings and birthday party themes. It’s amazing. You just never know where something’s going to lead you, so it’s been a great blessing.
Louie Anderson: The great thing is, is that when I walked onto that set then and now, both times I felt so welcome and so lucky and so excited because it was really my first thing. I went, wow, this is the most fantastic thing on so many levels. I would say any day I’m out in public somebody brings it up, not just because of what’s going on now, but for the last 33 years people bring it up to you. They bring it up to you and it’s a fun thing and I’m honored.
Eddie Murphy: It’s like the only time we’re seen like this around with just some people in the movie, just some telling this story about human beings’ stuff that everybody can relate to. The themes are timeless. Love and all this, marrying somebody for who you want to, who you really love. It’s a lot of stuff that’s in it. Fiddler on the Roof has a lot of stuff that’s similar images, and similar stuff is similar themes is Coming to America.
On bringing the story into the present day:
Eddie Murphy: Well, it was maybe about three drafts of the script in we got it to where the structure and the narrative thread was strong enough… I was like, okay, we have a movie here, and now we just have to bring a young writer in and put that modern spin on it. Enter Kenya Barris.
Jermaine Fowler: What I go through with my situation with Mirembe, he slowly gets reminded about what brought him to Queens and his love for Lisa. All that comes back to him. But it’s something you learn throughout the movie. Without my family, my aunts, my uncles, my mom, and Mirembe that we all start to realize this movie is just a reminder of what true love is. Sometimes you’ve got to get bumped in the head a little bit to just remember that.
Nomzamo Mbatha: For me, it was also important because the film wasn’t going to Queens. It was coming to Zamunda. So it was about what I as an African woman am able to bring in terms of the nuances, in terms of the truth, and rooting it in so much texture and culture and seeing ourselves.
Eddie Murphy:We wanted to bring everybody back from the original. Where the story left off. It was like, okay, we have to bring back from where the story left off. The Eriq LaSalle character and the Lisa McDowell sister. The last time you saw them, he was soaking wet. She said, “We got to get you out of these clothes,” and imply that they were going to be together. And me and Lisa went off happily ever after. So it was like, okay, how do you connect the dots? It was like, it would be kind of funny if McDowell opened a McDowell’s in Africa and it was so that he could be there. It was like, who would make the most sense? How can we connect the dots the best? That’s how we picked who would be in the movie.
Louie Anderson: When I walked onto the set and saw John, I said, “Oh my God, look how young John looks.” You know what I mean? … I mean, I look okay, but John looks like…. I go, “What kind of serum are you taking to look this young?” It was so great. I thought it was a big responsibility for Eddie because he’s going to get blamed for everything. But I thought you’re right, John. I thought you were right. … I think he did a great job addressing every single question people are going to have. And I don’t think that’s easy.
Arsenio Hall: There was a night when Eddie did a scene with John Amos at the McDowell’s, and it was the first time I walked into a room and saw John Amos and Louie Anderson. It was a real special feeling, especially for John. I mean, I love John. What John has done for black people in Hollywood when I was growing up, the dignity that he displayed as a man, I love him forever. And seeing him, really, it warmed my heart, as Leslie might say.
John Amos: With Eddie, we might even do better. I don’t know how it’s possible. I don’t know how any actor can mention his name without realizing that this is a genius. This is a master of comedy, drama, the whole nine yards, those transitions that he makes between characters from film to film are just astounding. And quite frankly, I’m in awe of the man. Every time I’ve worked with him or seen him … from everything he’s done. I have great hopes for Coming to America 2. I’m excited for Eddie and I’m looking forward to it.
Teyana Taylor: The singing, the big performance was added on a little bit later. So it was just like when I heard I was doing it, I was like, “Okay, I’ve got way too many big shoes to fill.” Now, I mean with that scene it’s also like reenacting the original. So it was kind of like, “Damn. I’m going to do … Oh my God. This is too much.” But I pulled through.
Tracy Morgan: We had the original cast here to give us the support and the guidance. When we followed the expectations, we got a thumbs-up. That’s why the first thing I said, Teyana, you did a great job, man, but we ain’t do it by ourself. We had the original cast there with us. They gave us that quiet confidence to let us know we on the right path.
Leslie Jones: I was like, oh, okay. So we’re going to have some real fun here. This is insane. They let me do stupid stuff. I’m so glad they didn’t put half the stupid stuff I did that day.
Eddie Murphy: You are so funny in this movie, Leslie.
Leslie Jones: The character is me. I mean, seriously, just so ghetto. So the free life and just, you ain’t got to take care of me. I’m taking care of me. I ain’t need no Prince to raise my son. Oh, you here now. You see I ain’t called you…
Arsenio Hall: Classy.
Leslie Jones: Let me have my moment. You know what I’m saying? It was just so easy to play because it was just one of those characters that you do embrace. I love these type of characters that are in a movie that is going to join everybody together. Just like carefree. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Girl, I’m sold. I’m sorry for sleeping with your man. I’m so sorry.
Akiley Love: It was just really fun to play a character that is from Africa and she’s able to walk around and wear all of these really cool, amazing outfits. And see all this gold and to play a princess, that was really fun. I just hope that everybody who sees it that looks like me would just realize that they’re like that, too. The movie isn’t a fictional movie, although yes it is. It’s actually knowing what black people are. And that’s the reasons why I’m so proud that I was able to be a part of it.
On the empowerment of women in the Coming to America films:
Luenell:There were no weak women in the original. All the women were majestic, from the flower girls to everything, and there’s no weak women in this one.
Vanessa Bell Calloway: I’ll just say that this is a movie that you will see empowerment of women. It was mainly the younger women. My character, I think she still had a few issues. Her brother came to her defense, who is now Wesley Snipes, who we know. So she still has a few issues, but at the end of the movie you see that she finally probably got over it. But no, her growth and development was a little stagnant compared to some of the other characters, because she was caught in a time warp because she still felt like she was wronged. And she was, to a degree.
Nomzamo Mbatha: Mirembe’s witty. She’s smart. She’s sassy. She also brings a lot of grounding, and that’s the thing about comedy that we never give credit to. Comedy, there’s so much drama. There’s so much human connection that we can truly, truly learn. I’m really just excited for everyone, every Brown girl, every little girl around the world to just see themselves, to hear themselves through the central theme.
Tracy Morgan: If you look at the movie from [Eddie’s] character, his daughters to his wife to his mother, all the way up to the point where John Amos says, “I always thought the queen was the smartest of them all. What do you think your mother would say, Akeem?” That right there was it for me.
Arsenio Hall: The message of female empowerment, there’s no timing like the timing of God. That message is so important and perfect for right this moment. I’m proud of the film in many ways like that. I was there at 2:00 in the morning watching Bella and Ms. Love beat people up. What it says about women is incredible in this movie.
On the possibility of Dave Chappelle playing the Witch Doctor in the second film:
Eddie Murphy: Chappelle played Cleveland and Arsenio and Chris Rock was on the show. He told Dave, “Yeah, we’re go and do a Coming 2 America.” Dave was like, “What? If you guys do Coming 2 America, I want to be in it.” Really? … It didn’t work out because [of] schedule and all that stuff. But we thought he was [in] for a sec.
Arsenio Hall: Problem with him being the Witch Doctor is you wouldn’t have known it was Dave. It’s kind of getting Dave, but not getting Dave. So it worked out.
On working with Eddie Murphy:
John Amos: To work with Eddie is, for my money, easy, because he’s always on point. He seems to know intuitively exactly where you’re going with your character and he goes along with you. In those moments in the dialogue when your character as the actor, he lets you know that you’ve been given the freedom to do with this dialogue and with this character what you’d like to do, and that in itself was a blessing.
Leslie Jones: I’m going to tell you the first day of shooting to me was the one that put the goosebumps on me. When Eddie walked in, dressed as a king. It was almost like the movie had just continued. He walked in, he just walked off another scene from the original movie. … I don’t think he knew everybody was like, “Oh my God.” That’s when it really started becoming really real.
Eddie Murphy: That’s how it always be when I walk in the room, though.
John Amos: That’s the gift of being an Eddie Murphy. He seems to know exactly how a scene should be played out in advance of any rehearsal or anything else, so I enjoyed it. To say I enjoyed it, that’s an understatement. I mean, I look forward to it. I probably had crevices in my face from smiling and laughing so much. But in the serious moments that we had, the few very serious moments, we got them through like a trooper, like a Shakespearean trained doctor. He’s quite a talent.
Copyright ©2021 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: March 4, 2021.
Photos #1-3 ©2021 Jay S. Jacobs. Courtesy of Amazon Studios. All rights reserved.
Photos #4-6 ©2020 Quantrell D. Colbert. Courtesy of Paramount Pictures. All rights reserved.