Film

Talking to Coming 2 America Director Craig Brewer on Eddie Murphy and Zamunda

“I think that the industry is just going through a major shift right now not only with questions of diversity, but I also even think that there’s questions of gender. I think we’re also going to be experiencing soon that the next conversation really in, in the industry is going to be age”. Craig Brewer Director Coming 2 America

Brewer  is an American film director and screenwriter. His 2005 movie Hustle & Flow won the Audience Award at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival and achieved commercial success, along with an Academy award for Best Original Song, “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp”. His credits extend to writing, directing and producing Fox’s Empire, his recent feature Dolemite Is My Name also starred Murphy and the-hugely anticipated  Coming 2 America, is timely, he says “the world needs a bit of Eddie Murphy right now”.

It has taken thirty-three years for the sequel to be made and it will be on Amazon Prime Video on March , with a rumored $125 million deal.

ALT: What made you decide you decide to become a director?

Craig

When I was younger, I was not very good at sports. I always struggled with weight and so my mom put me in children’s theater and so I was always in plays and stuff like that. But then I wanted to be an archeologist and the reason I wanted to be an archeologist was because I saw the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark. And I was like, well, that must be what an archeologist is like swinging from bullwhips and, fighting Nazis. then I realized, Oh, it’s just a movie and then I learned who Steven Spielberg was. And I was like, maybe I don’t want to be an archaeologist. Maybe I want to be the guy who made this movie about an archaeologist. And that’s when I started, to really focus on trying to be a filmmaker. It was my way of connecting to something larger than myself and connecting to other people who love movies.

Director Craig Brewer on the set of COMING 2 AMERICA Photo: Quantrell D. Colbert © 2020 Paramount Pictures

ALT: So, let’s talk about Coming 2 America what is it like working with Eddie?

CRAIG:

Well, I am really grateful that I got to already have made a movie with him to immediately going to something like Coming 2 America, because I think there was so much that you needed to trust each other to do Coming 2 America. I mean, that is Eddie’s legacy. As much as I wanted you to enjoy it, the most important person that I wanted to enjoy it was Eddie, you know. And so sometimes, we would have discussions as to what, the movie should be and, where we should maybe shift it and everything. And so luckily, we were already doing that, having those kinds of conversations when we were working on Dolomite is My Name. And he’s a very intuitive actor, he also prepares, I think that’s one thing that I sometimes get frustrated that, he’s never been kind of given awards because I see him process, I see him work hard. And I think that because he just makes it seem like it’s just so effortless coming off him, this comedy that people don’t realize that he’s a really gifted actor. It’s very difficult to do what he does, but he’s one of the best at it. And, it’s an honor to work with him.

ALT: James Earl Jones and John Amos were both on set.  What does it feel like just knowing that in a sense, you’re putting together something quite iconic and it may not happen again?

Craig:

Well, you know, when you work with movie crews, I may make a movie every other year, but film crews work on sometimes four to five movies a year. So, they’ve seen it all, nothing really like makes them in awe, except when, James Earl Jones came onto the set, nobody could help themselves, Ruth E. Carter, our wonderful costume designer said James Earl Jones, ladies and gentlemen, and everybody just applauded. He just came onto the set, he hadn’t even acted yet, but just seeing him made us all, just burst out into applause. And, for me it was really like to see John Amos and to thank him for everything. I told him you probably get this a lot and I don’t know how you feel about it, but I was raised on Good Times and I just feel like you raised me, man. And it was just such a pleasure to work with him. He’s still such a fine actor, and a really, great human being.

ALT: Last year was a year where, so many things happened with the pandemic and BLM. What has been some of the things that you’ve learned during this lock down?

Craig:

I’m glad you brought that up because I felt that we were in a unique situation in 2020, because that was when we were editing and testing the movie. And I remember there would be certain comments or jokes that we would have in the movie. When you’re doing a comedy you’ve got so much material and you’ve got to try them out. And I was surprised at reactions to jokes that would happen in February, but the reactions would be completely different in April and May. And because so much had changed in the world, not only with the pandemic, but with Black Lives Matter and the protests that were happening at the time. And so, we had an opportunity that we could change, and move with, where audience’s perceptions and opinions were going. I feel that it was a gift because I remember one day thinking like, huh, it’s funny, what’s happening in the country right now is actually changing my movie. And I was like, well, if only it could just change America. You know, if only some of these issues that everybody is wrestling with actually changed, you know, it made my movie better. Hopefully it can make America better and I think that the industry also is just going through a major shift right now not only with questions of diversity, I even think that, you know, there’s, there’s questions of gender. I think we’re also going to be experiencing soon that the next conversation really in, in the industry is going to be age. You know, we so many times just want to like, completely like bring in somebody new. And, I found even on Dolemite, is My Name when we were working on Dolemite. And they were saying like, well, who are we going to get to play the director to be opposite Eddie Murphy? And every single young new actor was brought up to play it. And I was like, I don’t think that really works. I think whoever’s going to be going up against Eddie Murphy has to occupy that same kind of turf. And I remember Eddie going like, well, the only person that really is going to occupy that turf, somebody who’s kind of like big back in the day and has that stature would be Wesley Snipes. And I was like, that’s going to be the most interesting thing I’ve ever seen, but the industry’s not geared up to thinking about older actors and actresses. When, to me, I feel like it’s just such a gift for an audience because we’ve grown up with these people and we have a relationship with them and why wouldn’t we want to see them in another movie. And so I know that so many things are changing about the industry in terms of technology and how we edit movies and how we film movies and everything. But really, I think a grander question is going to be well, what do people really want to see? Don’t necessarily force something on us. What do people really want? And that changes content and it changes the movies and the television shows that we make.

ALT: Do you think streaming is a game changer, which is good for the release model or would you like to go back to the cinematic release on the big screen?

Craig:

I’ve had movies that have premiered in theaters across America and across the world. And then the last movie I did Dolomite premiered across the globe on the same day in everybody’s homes that had Netflix. And so I was working with a lot of people on this movie that had not necessarily done a movie for a streaming service before. And as you know, like Paramount Pictures made our sequel Coming 2 America with the intent that we were going to have a big theatrical blowout. So, when the country and the world started to experience the problems with COVID theaters began not being a place that was necessarily safe, for the time being, we all got a little depressed. We were thinking like, Oh, are we ever going to have a moment where everybody can sit in a theater and laugh together? And now I can’t help it, I think a little differently about it right now, because I think I’ve watched more movies, since the pandemic, to be honest with you, I think I’ve watched more movies with my family, because let’s be honest, like it’s not like the movies that my teenage kids want to see are the movies that I want to see and vice versa, but because we’re all together, we’re experiencing more together. And so now we’re in a time where at least our country is definitely in a place where we could use some uplift, we could use some inspiration, we could use some comedy. We need a little bit of Eddie and Arsenio coming back into our life and smacking us and saying like come on now, let’s get back to who we are, you know, and to some extent, I feel that there’s a greater opportunity with the movie coming out on Amazon prime, where everybody can see it than necessarily figuring out a way where people can, can go see it in the theater. So I’m both torn, but I am also in favor of moving forward. I will say, I hope I don’t get in trouble for this, but I do think t that theatrical model, so affected studio greenlight capacity, that some movies, did not get made. It’s like, I think a lot of major studios are like, well, if it doesn’t play in China, and if it doesn’t play globally, then we’re not going to make it. I’ve seen a lot of really good movies that have been coming out over the streaming services over the last couple of years that I would say to myself, you know, what if it wasn’t for the streaming service, I don’t know if this movie would exist. And so maybe we needed a little bit of a shift makeup, you know, the conveyor belts may change, but the people will still want the product of good stories. So, I’m all for moving forward. I don’t think we should move back.

ALT: What did you like most about working on this movie?

Craig:

I would say every day to show up on a brand-new set that looked absolutely amazing, with our production designer, Jeff Sage, and then to see the actors come out of the makeup trailer in these costumes that Ruth E. Carter made. And just say to myself, I can’t believe I’m here in Zamunda. I can’t believe that I’m here doing a scene with King Jaffe Joffer and here doing a scene with Akeem and with Lisa and, so many cameos that we have in this movie.  I’ve just wanted to go in a time machine back to myself when I was 13 years old and dreaming about being a filmmaker and say, hang in there, man. I know that, you feel like a chubby nerd right now, but you’re going to be working with some of the people that you love the most soon. And so that was always the joy just to watch Eddie and Arsenio joke with each other on set and to feel like you were part of this energy that they’ve held onto for more than 30 years as friends, was just so special to see them working again, you know, and to see them on the screen together, just even looking at each other, you just go like, ah, I know what that is. And I love it. And I it’s been so long since I’ve had it, you know, I needed it. I didn’t know I needed it, but I need it. You know?

ALT: And one last question, where was Zamunda?

Craig:

Where did we film Zamunda? (laughs) I always tell people because people have asked me if Zamunda is a real place. I always say, yes, it’s East, West of Wakanda. And then they realize I am pulling their chain. We filmed a lot of it in Atlanta, actually. Our beloved Southern rapper, Rick Ross gave up his mansion for us to film inside. We changed it all to look like the Royal palace of Zamu, but he’s such a Coming 2 America fan that I had to put him in the movie. But when it came time for us to leave and take down all of our stuff, he was like, no, no, man, leave all that stuff. So, Rick Ross is currently living in the palaces of Zamunda.

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