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After years off screen, Eddie Murphy takes a dramatic turn in 'Mr. Church'

A scene from Eddie Murphy's latest film
A scene from Eddie Murphy's latest film "Mr. Church."
Photo by Darren Michaels, SMPSP

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Comedy legend and former "SNL" cast member Eddie Murphy is best known from his roles in films like "Beverly Hills Cop" and "The Nutty Professor," but there’s nothing funny about his latest role:

After nearly five years of semi-retirement, Murphy is back in the dramatic role of Mr. Church. It’s a story about an unlikely relationship between a teenager, played by Britt Robertson, and an introverted cook, played by Murphy, who comes to care for the girl’s dying mother.

When The Frame's John Horn sat down with him at the Four Seasons hotel in Beverly Hills, he explained why he took a break from acting and why he chose Mr. Church as his comeback moment.

Interview Highlights:

What was it about this movie that convinced you to come back after those five years away?

After years and years and years of being in the public, I was like, let me give the audience a break and just not make any movies. I was thinking about doing stand up again. I was like, let me just go and take some time off, write some stuff and just not be one of the faces for a minute. Then this thing popped up out of nowhere and I was rested and was just sitting in the back in the hammock and it was some stuff that I hadn't done before. I was like, hey let me take a shot at this thing. This could be fun to do. 

Were there ways that you connected with Mr. Church that you wouldn't have with a comic character?

Yeah because it's all of this emotional stuff. There are all these other layers that you're getting to play and go into areas that you don't usually go into. Usually, if I'm in a scene, I'm trying to get the scene to be funny. The only thing that matters is — is it funny? I actually had times on the set where I would come up with funny ideas and the director would say, oh yeah that's funny, but I don't think we should use it. Hysterical, but no. 

The characters you play are typically larger than life. Was it a struggle to turn that part of you down?

That's what attracted me to it, that I usually play extroverts and this guy is not an extrovert. It was totally some stuff that I hadn't done before. I knew I'd be able to connect with the emotion in it because I was crying when I read the script. That doesn't happen. I'm reading the script and tearing up and it's like, wow. 

This story is based on the life of Susan McMartin who also wrote the screenplay. What were your conversations like with her?

She would tell me, you don't realize it, but you moved your hand or you did something — a gesture... She was tripping off of little stuff that I was doing naturally going, wow Mr. Church really did do that. Mr. Church did that. So we had a bunch of conversations like that where she was like, wow. Whatever I was doing was really making her remember this guy and that was kind of cool for me.

Last October, you won the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. How do you look at stand-up comedy now? Is it something that you'll be doing more of in a year or two from now? 

I will definitely do it again. I want to do one last tour of a stand up thing just to take the whole thing full circle. This is my 40th year in show business and I haven't done stand up since I was 28. I'd like to do it again just because I'm so different and so much has happened in my life. I'm curious to see how that would come out on stage. 

"Mr. Church" opens in theaters September 16th.

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