Eddie Murphy Nearly Physically Assaulted John Landis While Making ‘Coming to America’

If Landis wouldn’t respect Murphy, then fear would have to do
Eddie Murphy Nearly Physically Assaulted John Landis While Making ‘Coming to America’

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Coming to America remains one of Eddie Murphy’s biggest hits, and it’s a comedy he could have directed himself. Instead, he decided to help out director John Landis, the man behind Blues BrothersNational Lampoon’s Animal House, and one of Murphy’s first smashes, Trading Places. “I figured I’d give this guy a shot because his career was fucked,” Murphy told Playboy in 1990. “But he wound up fucking me.”

Landis’ career went off the rails after three actors died during a scene he directed for Twilight Zone: The Movie. Two of the actors were children whom Landis hired in violation of California’s child labor laws. Landis and members of his crew were charged with involuntary manslaughter, and although all were acquitted, the tragedy deservedly damaged Landis’ standing in Hollywood. 

Murphy gave Landis a comeback shot with Coming to America, but things were tense from the beginning. “John always resented that I hadn’t gone to his Twilight Zone trial,” Murphy said. The comic believed Landis deserved at least some of the blame for the catastrophe “so my principles wouldn’t let me go down there and sit in court. That’s just the way I am. If somebody in my family was guilty of something, I wouldn’t sit there for them in a courtroom and say, ‘You’ve got my support.’ Fuck that.”

It seems like a weird violation of those principles that Murphy insisted on Landis, crediting the director for the most fun he’d ever had making a movie. But on Coming to America, the fun was over. “After (Landis) got the job, he brought along an attitude,” Murphy explained. “He came in with this ‘I’m a director’ shit. I was thinking, Wait a second, I fucking hired you, and now you’re running around, going, ‘You have to remember: I’m the boss, I’m the director.’”

The two had several off-camera arguments, but things came to a head when the movie’s writers showed up on set working on a script for another Murphy TV project. When the writers told Landis they were waiting for the deal to go through, the director started screaming, “Don’t be afraid to ask Eddie Murphy for his money. You go up and ask for your fucking money!” It didn’t get any better when Murphy himself arrived on set. “He said, ‘Eddie! Your company is fucking these guys out of their money! Guys, don’t be afraid to go up to Eddie and say, Fuck you!’”

Murphy had had enough, “playfully” grabbing Landis around the throat. The comic asked one of his guys, Fruity, what happens to people who put Murphy’s business in the street? “They get fucked up,” was Fruity’s reply. Murphy says he was half-joking, but then “Landis reached down to grab my balls, like he also thought it was a joke — and I cut his wind off. He fell down, his face turned red, his eyes watered up like a bitch and he ran off the set. Fuckin’ punk.”

Things got even worse from there. Hours later, Landis showed up at Murphy’s trailer and instead of apologizing, the director revealed that he thought Murphy was untalented and he was only helming Coming to America for the money. “All this fucked-up shit,” Murphy recalled. “Called me ignorant, an asshole.”

Murphy laid down the law. “The next time you fuck around with me, I’m gonna whip your ass,” he told Landis. “You’re gonna have to give me either some fear or some respect. I want one of them, because this is my shit and you’re working here. If the only way you can fear me is knowing that the next time you fuck up, you’re gonna get your ass whipped, fine.”

That beatdown never happened as Landis cleaned up his act for the rest of the production. But “if he had fucked up again,” Murphy said, “I would have beat the shit out of him.”


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