Eddie Murphy is more than just a leading man, often playing multiple characters in the same movie. He began developing this skill at an early age through imitations and impersonations before gaining national notoriety for his characters on Saturday Night Live (SNL). Now a trademark of the talented actor’s career, Murphy’s ability to transform into characters from all walks of life has exhibited his range as both a dramatic and comedic actor. To date, there have been six movies in which Eddie Murphy plays multiple characters, and they are often hard to spot thanks to his skill combined with prosthetics and excellent hair and makeup departments.
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Eddie Murphy developed the skill of playing multiple characters in imitation of comedic legend Peter Sellers, whose multiple performances in Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb and The Mouse That Roared served as inspiration for Murphy’s career. Impersonations on the stand-up comedy stage led to more thorough character transformations for Murphy as an SNL cast member from 1980-1984, where the rising star received national notoriety for his recurring characters like Buckwheat and Mr. Robinson. Eddie Murphy’s transition to the big screen provided a fitting backdrop upon which to display his acting range through multiple, often contradictory characters in the same movie.
Murphy plays multiple characters in six movies to date, a fitting tribute to his childhood hero Peter Sellers. Murphy’s supporting roles spanning different ages, sizes, and nationalities are the more eccentric performances that provide a balanced contrast to his leading men, played relatively straight.
Coming to America (1988)
This fish-out-of-water comedy opens in the fictitious Kingdom of Zamunda, a wealthy African nation to which Prince Akeem is the sole heir. Growing tired of his sheltered existence in the palatial residence, where an arranged marriage awaits, the pampered prince slips away with friend Semmi to Queens, NY in search of a wife. Masquerading as poor students, the two friends develop a work ethic at their fast-rood restaurant jobs while visits to the barbershop teach them about American culture.
Eddie Murphy plays four characters in Coming to America, including the leading role of Akeem Joffer. The barbershop introduces two additional characters played by Murphy — Clarence, the shop’s wisecracking owner, and Saul, a Jewish patron. While Clarence’s high-pitched voice and minimal makeup may reveal Murphy’s identity, Saul’s deeper tones and complete physical transformation make it hard to identify the character as one of Murphy’s four. Murphy’s final character is Randy Watson, a soul singer of the fictitious band Sexual Chocolate. Watson performs at the Black Awareness rally that Akeem and Semmi attend upon Clarence’s recommendation.
Vampire in Brooklyn (1995)
Directed by genre icon Wes Craven, this comedy-horror tells the story of Maximillian, a Caribbean vampire who arrives in Brooklyn, NY in search of a half-vampire, half-human woman from his native island that he requires in order to live past the next full moon. The woman, Rita Veder, is unaware of her heritage and currently works as an NYPD Detective tasked with investigating the mysterious murders that coincide with Maximillian’s arrival.
Wes Craven’s comedic take on the vampire classic stars Eddie Murphy in three roles, including the vampire Maximillian. Like his previous foray into multiple characters, Murphy tackles a different nationality as part of his more radical transformation into the Italian mobster Guido. Murphy also stars as the preacher of Rita’s church, Preacher Pauly. Max uses his powers to assume the identity of both Guido and Pauly in order to get close to Rita.
The Nutty Professor (1996)
Sherman Klump is an obese research scientist and university professor with a kind heart who develops an experimental weight-loss drug and, hoping to win the affection of his dream girl, tests it on himself. The drug miraculously transforms Klump into the vigorous, charismatic, but evil alter ego, Buddy Love.
This remake of the 1963 movie of the same name stars Eddie Murphy in seven different roles, including Sherman Klump and the majority of his family. Murphy is most recognizable as Sherman’s alter ego Buddy Love, who embodies the charismatic, confident leading men of typical Hollywood movies. Murphy relies on heavy prosthetics in his performances as Sherman and family, which helped the movie win the Academy Award for Best Makeup. Murphy transforms into Papa Cletus Klump, Mama Anna Klump, Sherman’s uncouth brother Ernie Klump Sr., and Grandma Ida Mae Jenson, whose unfiltered ramblings are highlighted by her talk of “relations” around the dinner table. Finally, Eddie Murphy goes full undercover as Lance Perkins, a parody of flamboyant fitness instructor Richard Simmons, who dances to the song “Macho Man” on a TV program during the opening credits.
B movie producer Bobby Bowfinger has saved up his entire life to direct his own movie, and he has a promise from Universal to distribute the movie if it features action star, Kit Ramsey. The arrogant, neurotic star refuses, so Bowfinger sets out to covertly film Ramsey’s scenes without his knowledge. To aid in the production, Bowfinger hires a Ramsey lookalike named Jiff.
Eddie Murphy plays two characters in Bowfinger—Kit Ramsey and his lookalike Jiffrenson “Jiff” Ramsey. The two are polar opposites, with Kit’s pompous attitude and neurotic outbursts contrasting with Jiff’s amiable, generally clueless nature. The characters may lack the heavy prosthetics and makeup that has come to define many of Murphy’s roles, but he’s still able to create two drastically different performances through little more than voice inflection, body language, and disposition.
Nutty Professor II: The Klumps (2000)
University professor Sherman Klump returns to the research laboratory to develop a youth formula while also navigating a new love with DNA researcher Denise Gaines. When Sherman uses Denise’s methods to rid himself of the alter ego Buddy Love once and for all, the genetic material containing Buddy grows into a sentient being outside of Sherman’s body, threatening Sherman’s life, love, and work.
Eddie Murphy reprises all of his seven roles for the sequel, which sees Sherman Klump’s family more prominently featured. Murphy’s role as Cletus Klump takes on a new form when the father takes his son’s youth serum. The unforeseen results of Sherman’s DNA experiment mean Buddy and Sherman can now share scenes together, adding a new twist to Murphy’s performances.
Norbit Albert Rice and his childhood friend Kate Thomas are separated from their home at an orphanage upon Kate’s adoption. A tough girl named Rasputia Latimore becomes Norbit’s best friend and protector, and the two eventually marry. However, Rasputia grows into an arrogant and tyrannical woman. After reuniting with Kate, the mild-mannered Norbit begins scheming to be with her instead.
Eddie Murphy plays three characters in Norbit, including the mild-mannered titular character and his monstrous wife. The orphange in which Norbit, Kate, and Rasputia grow up doubles as a Chinese restaurant named The Golden Wonton. Murphy’s third character comes in the form of the Chinese-American owner of the restaurant, Hangten Wong. The gruff but kind-hearted Wong pops up throughout the movie dispensing sage advice, colliding with Rasputia’s nefarious relatives, and providing wedding toasts, the latter of which begins to reveal Murphy’s otherwise unrecognizable disguise.
Eddie Murphy is a skilled actor whose range allows for captivating dramatic and comedic performances. With a background in stand-up comedy and as an SNL cast member, Murphy is able to transform into characters of different ages, sizes, and nationalities. To date, Eddie Murphy has played multiple characters in six movies, first doing so in Coming to America as a tribute to his childhood acting hero Peter Sellers. The sequel, Coming 2 America, will see Murphy reprise his original four roles, marking the seventh of his multi-character movies.
More: Coming To America 2: Every Character Returning For Eddie Murphy’s Sequel
- Coming 2 America (2021)Release date: Mar 05, 2021
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