When you think of Eddie Murphy... well, let’s face it, there’s not a lot to hold on to from the last two decades, with the exception of ‘Shrek’. It’s sad to think that there’s an entire generation out there who, a) don't even recognise his face; b) don’t know that incredible laugh of his; and c) don’t know that he's one of the greatest and funniest actors, comedians and impressionists that ever graced our screens. My personal all-time favourite Eddie Murphy film and performance - or should I say performances - is ‘Coming To America’, and it just so happens that this month we celebrate 30 years since its release. During his long and illustrious career, Eddie became the ultimate chameleon - diving head-first into any and every character, and sometimes more than once in the same project.
Now, playing multiple roles in a single film isn’t new, but it’s always impressive and exciting, so I’ve put together a little list of my top 5 films with actors playing multiple roles. Sounds easy, right? Wrong! Where to start? Where to end!? These kinds of movies aren’t exactly rare so I had to create some rules. Rule #1: Playing twins doesn't count. Apologies to any and all ‘Parent Trap’ and ‘The Social Network’ fans. While the performances are always impressive due in no small part to their difficulty, it’s just not what I’m looking for here. Rule #2: No parallel stories. This includes but is not limited to the likes of ‘The Wizard of Oz’, ‘Back the the Future’ or ‘Alex and Emma’. Yes, I realise that last one will cut a lot of people deeply. And finally, Rule #3: no ‘Ocean’s Thirteen’. That whole Julia Roberts playing Julia Roberts thing was just plain awful. So let’s get cracking!
5) KILL BILL (2003/2004)
Michael Parks may not be a household name, but that doesn’t stop him from being a personal favourite of filmmaker Quentin Tarantino’s. However, this tale of duality was pure happenstance. Michael had played the role of Texas Ranger Earl McGraw once before being written into 'Kill Bill' and twice afterwards in Tarantino/Tarantino associated projects. Then, after original actor Ricardo Montalban was unable to make it to the table read for his role as Bill’s surrogate father/pimp, Esteban Vihaio Parks stepped in. QT ended up loving his read so much Montalban was out and Parks was in, giving the film and audiences one of the most entertaining and memorable cinematic characters. But it doesn’t stop there. The Bride, portrayed by Uma Thurman, had a kung fu master Pai Mei, played by Gordon Liu. But take away the beard, those infamous eyebrows and slap on a black mask, and Liu becomes the leader of the Crazy 88, the tribe of henchmen who all end up meeting the pointy end of the Bride’s sword. Either way *spoiler alert* both characters ended up dead. Sorry Gordon.
4) THE NUTTY PROFESSOR (1996)
Yes, Eddie Murphy’s multiple personalities aren’t confined to the one movie, but ‘The Nutty Professor’ (and its not-so-great sequel) pushed Murphy’s stamina to the max where gender, age, weight and even race were no match for this genius. Murphy wears the guise of not one, not two, but seven characters including all but one member of a six-member family. In this gruelling endeavour, only one of Murphy’s portrayals didn’t require hours in the makeup chair and layers upon layers of prosthetics, but I think we can all agree that the hilarious final product was well worth the effort.
3) SPACEBALLS (1987)
Lorelai Gilmore (yes, a fictional character, shut up) once declared that she would happily get a tattoo of Mel Brooks on her posterior - and who could blame her? We all know this comedic genius and powerhouse has got the chops behind the camera but as it turns out, he’s not so bad in front of it either. In this 80s ‘Star Wars’ parody classic, Brooks dons the guise of two characters, one on either side of the the Force... I mean, the Schwartz. One is President Skroob, the idiotic megalomanic hellbent on stealing a planet’s oxygen while the other is Yoda... I mean Yogurt, a dwarfish wise man in green robes and golden skin who shows our heroes the way to victory. Is there anything this man can’t do?
2) AUSTIN POWERS (1997/1999/2002)
Okay, this one is a bit of a cheat, as it’s not so much a film as films plural. Taking a leaf out of Brooks’ book, writer and star Mike Myers portrays both hero and villain in all three Austin Powers films. But it’s in the second film, ‘The Spy Who Shagged Me’, that he added obese Scotsman and ultimate fan favourite Fat Bastard to the mix, before stepping it up a notch in number three, ‘Goldmember’, with the whacky skin-eating Dutchman Goldmember. Isn’t that weird?
1) COMING TO AMERICA (1988)
And now for the pièce de résistance. By the time ‘Coming To America’ came out, Eddie Murphy was already a star thanks to the likes of ‘Saturday Night Live’, ‘Trading Places’ and ‘Beverly Hills Cop’. Fans had watched him play many characters on SNL for his four-year run, but for the first time he was showcasing his skills on the big screen. Playing the film’s lead Prince Akeem, a middle aged barber and an elderly, white, jewish man, Murphy became unrecognisable in each role, but funnily enough it was a single scene in which Eddie played the jerry-curled lead singer of ‘Sexual Chocolate’ that stands out in most fans’ minds, causing Murphy to steal the spotlight from... himself. But then again, he wasn’t the only one. Known for making the rounds as talkshow sidekick and such, comedian Arsenio Hall, in his first feature film, pulled quadruple duty as Prince Akeem’s offsider Semmi, an enthusiastic reverend, a barber shop employee, and a potential love interest of sorts in one memorable scene in which, thanks to some clever editing, Arsenio ends up coming on to himself. God, the 80s were great!