Eddie Murphy, who stars in the family drama, Mr. Church, helmed by “Driving Miss Daisy” director Bruce Beresford, didn’t attend the film’s premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival Friday evening. “Mr Church” has been touted as Murphy’s comeback.
Eddie Murphy plays the title role in his first major part since “Tower Heist” in 2011. Mr. Church is a kindly cook who becomes a surrogate father to a young girl (Britt Robertson as an adult and Natalie Coughlin as a child) whose mother (Natasha McElhone) is dying of cancer.
On the red carpet, I spoke to screenwriter Susan McMartin, whose script is loosely autobiographical, Academy-Award nominated director Bruce Beresford (“Tender Mercies,” 1984) and star Britt Robertson about working with Murphy. (Fans will recall Murphy’s acclaimed Oscar nominated performance in “Dreamgirls” in 2006.)
“He actually got the character,” said McMartin of Murphy. “He also knew that it was not autobiographical, it was inspired by my story. It was important that he wasn’t just trying to copy an actual person.” She told me what Murphy got right was the “the stillness to the seriousness to the joy, all of it. He really captured the character better than I could have ever imagined.”
Robertson, who is 26, said of Murphy, “I followed him around trying to observe and trying to figure out what’s going on inside his head,” she said. “He’s a really sweet, kind, smart guy.”
The “Tomorrowland” actress said what surprised her most about Murphy is his shyness. “He’ll open up to people once he feels comfortable, but he’s really shy when you first get to know him. He’s not just going to be open up to everyone.”
Beresford, who directed the Academy Award winning film “Driving Miss Daisy” (1990), said what drew him to “Mr. Church” was the screenplay. “It was only that it was a good script and I found out it was a true story. If it hadn’t been, I probably wouldn’t have been that interested. But I thought it was a very good story, very interesting ramifications and complex characters. That was all.”
As for casting Murphy, the director told me, “We just sent him the script. Well, like it’s any actor, you sent the script and sometimes you never hear anything and then other times they’re on the phone like a rocket and say, ‘I’ll do this.’ Eddie only had the script for a few days and he called up and he said, ‘I like it very much.’”
Beresford described Murphy as very professional. “He was always well prepared, knew all the lines. Was very cooperative, very good with the other actors, so he created a very good atmosphere.”
I asked if Murphy’s comic gifts were on display during the shoot. There was no time to fool around on set with a 22 day shooting schedule the director told me. “Yeah, so we were just getting on with the whole time, but he can be witty.”
When I asked Beresford about the inevitable comparisons to “Driving Miss Daisy,” in which a kindly black driver chauffeurs a prim white Southern lady around, the director, replied good-naturedly, “Well, you haven’t seen it. I don’t think so.”