In which the director of Norbit explains why Eddie Murphy never blinks.
It's been a long day for Brian Robbins -- so long, in fact, that the Meet Dave director managed to miss his own premiere. Knee deep into production on A Thousand Words -- his third collaboration with star Eddie Murphy -- a visibly fatigued Robbins displays little interest in the after-party revelry that surrounds him. When the subject turns to his favorite actor, however, he suddenly comes to life.
Robbins' relationship with Murphy originated decades before he first worked with the legendary funnyman, on last year's blockbuster comedy Norbit. "Going back to the SNL days, I was an unbelievable fan," Robbins recounts. "When 48 Hours came out, and then Trading Places...I walked around quoting every line from those movies for years and years."
Robbins went from quoting Murphy's lines to feeding them to him when he was offered the Norbit gig. Brushing aside rumors of the actor's volatility, he leapt at the chance to work with a comedy icon. "The opportunity to work with him was a no-brainer," says Robbins. "A lot of people were like, 'You're going to make an Eddie Murphy movie? Are you sure? He's tough.' And I was like, what could possibly be tough?"
His optimism paid off. Robbins and Murphy soon forged a tight bond on-set, together guiding Norbit to a box office tally of close to $100 million. Joining together a second time, as Robbins might put it, was "a no-brainer."
The fruit of their latest partnership is Meet Dave, a quirky family comedy about a miniature race of aliens who travel to Earth in a spaceship built in the shape of full-size human being (played by Murphy, of course).
In the role of the spaceship, Murphy relies primarily upon his skills at physical comedy to embody the awkward mannerisms of a vessel operated by a small army of would-be Lilliputians. "We talked a lot about his robotic and non-expressive movements," explains Robbins. "But on the very first day, he did this thing which made it all come together: he decided he wasn't going to blink -- ever."
"He doesn't blink in the entire movie," Robbins boasts. "And for long takes. That stare -- that vacant stare -- made it all work."
The physicality of the role turned out to be a dress rehearsal of sorts for A Thousand Words, in which Murphy plays a man who learns he has 1000 words to speak before he dies. "A Thousand Words is a curse movie," Robbins explains. "It's about a guy who doesn't shut up, and then he gets a curse put on him and he's gotta shut up. So then you have Eddie Murphy, one of the most gifted verbal comedians of our generation, who stops talking at the end of the first act of the movie and becomes basically Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin for the rest of (it)."
Robbins estimates that Murphy goes speechless for as long as 30 minutes in the film. "It's an awesome challenge to him as a comedic actor, something he's never done before." says Robbins. "I think people are going to look at it the same way they looked at Dreamgirls and go, 'Wow. Eddie Murphy's doing that?'"
Meet Dave opens nationwide this Friday, July 11th.