Bet You Didn’t Know: Secrets Behind The Making Of “The Nutty Professor”
If you ask some folk, mainly white folk, Eddie Murphy’s star had dimmed by the early to mid ’90’s. Folks weren’t feeling Beverly Hills Cop III, they thought Harlem Nights, Eddie’s directorial debut was narcissistic and there were some who even took issue with Coming to America, when we all know it was, and still is, a classic. But The Nutty Professor was too good to deny and folks started calling it his comeback role. While I would argue, Eddie never left, get into some of the behind the scenes secrets from The Nutty Professor.
As you know The Nutty Professor is a remake of the 1963 Jerry Lewis film of the same name. Being a self-proclaimed television addict as a child, Murphy watched all of Lewis’ movies and idolized him in a way. In an interview with “Inside the Actor’s Studio” he explained how he initially came up with the idea to do this movie and how it came together.
“I had gotten to where I wanted to do some other character stuff again. I was watching one of those daytime chat shows and there was a cartoon of a person losing weight. And you kept seeing this big body breaking away til it was a little skinny body in the middle. And I put that idea with Jerry Lewis’ old idea. I went and I pitched it to a couple of people. Nobody was interested in it. It floated around a little bit. Then I pitched it to Brian Grazer and he liked it. Got in touch with Jerry Lewis and he liked the idea of it.”
Jerry Lewis liked the idea so much that he served as a producer. He was allegedly supposed to make a cameo in the film but was turned off by the number of fart jokes in the final script. So he declined.
Though Eddie initially wanted John Landis, (Coming To America) to direct the film, the job ultimately went to Tom Shadyac. Nutty Professor was Shadyac’s third movie and from there he went on to direct films like Liar Liar, Patch Adams, Bruce Almighty and Evan Almighty. Basically, if you’re a comedian at the top of their game and you’re looking to make a blockbuster, then Shadyac is your man.
Though Jada had been on our radar for a long time, many in mainstream America considered The Nutty Professor to be her breakout film. Pinkett doesn’t necessarily see it that way. In an interview with MovieLine, she said,
“That was a fun movie. Even though my character didn’t do much–she basically smiled and looked pretty–that was very different for Jada. I think people are really starting to see me in a different light and I need to start seeing myself in that same light. Leading Lady. Whoa, OK.”
They really were. During the same time she was offered a role in Independence Day with her then boyfriend Will Smith. But she was already committed to The Nutty Professor.
From early on in the film, it’s not hard to empathize with Sherman. He’s smart, kind and is looking for love like all the rest of us. He was such a believable person that when Eddie Murphy was wearing his Sherman makeup, complete with the fat suit, people, who knew he was Eddie Murphy, treated him differently.
“You know it’s interesting when I’d be on the set in my face people would treat me a certain way. Eddie comes on the set, ‘Mr. Murphy hi.’ But when I come on the set as Sherman the girls would be like ‘Shermie!’ hugging and squeezing me and the crew would be nice to me. It was like I was whole different person.”
The Comedy Club
And since we feel like we know Sherman so well within the first couple of scenes, it’s heartbreaking to watch him sit in the comedy club and be heckled by the performer on stage. This is very intentional. In fact, it was so important to Murphy that it was one of the first scenes he wrote for the film. He told the Milwaukee Journal that this scene was actually bigger than the movie, it was a cultural critique.
“That guy is a parody of a contemporary comic, the kind that comes out with his pants hanging down and starts attacking people in the audience but doesn’t actually have an act.”
We don’t have to name names, y’all know which type of folks he’s talking about.
As you know Dave Chappelle memorably played the role of the cruel comic “Reggie Warrington.” Rumor has it his character was named after the Hudlin brothers Reginald and Warrington who directed Murphy’s earlier film Boomerang. While he was playing a jerk to Murphy’s character in that role, Chappelle, during his interview with “Inside the Actor’s Studio, spoke about how being on set with Murphy changed the course of his life.
“Eddie would drop these jewels on me when we’re working. He’s a real wise dude. He was the guy that was like, ‘you gotta start writing.’ he was like the way you tell jokes, you think in pictures and you can write. You should start doing it. And that was the big Nutty Professor breakthrough.”
The Dinner Table Scene
Knowing that Eddie Murphy played practically every member of the Klump family, with the exception of this boy you see here, it left many wondering how he did it. He explained during the Actor’s Studio interview.
“I would do like a character each day. And I’d have a tennis ball and I talked to the tennis ball. And the next I would have what I did the day before in my ear and I would talk to the tennis ball and look around. It was like making a big jigsaw puzzle.”
If you ask me, my favorite person at the dinner table was Grandma Klump. She was feisty, raunchy and never one to shy away from a fight. The older generation might have recognized Grandma Klump from another famous, female comedian who shared her spunk. Moms Mabley. Murphy, again in Actor’s Studio interview, (You should just watch the whole thing.) said that she was his inspiration.
“She did one movie called ‘Amazing Grace’ and if you watch that movie you’ll see where the whole old lady in Nutty Professor. ‘Oh he just stole it from this sh*t.” Her inflections, the way she’s talking everything.”
But the characters couldn’t come to life properly without the assistance of makeup. And that’s where Rick Baker comes in. Having worked to create aliens, monsters and other fantasy characters, he said creating The Klump family was the most challenging because the audience had a point of reference. We see heavyset people all the time and know what they should look like.
There’s no way I could do the process justice by trying to describe it here, just watch this video here. It explains it all. You’ll be amazed.
Baker’s work ended up winning him an Academy Award for “Best Makeup.” While the movie proves that Baker was certainly deserving, there were many who felt like Eddie’s comedic work warranted an Oscar nomination as well. One writer for Entertainment Weekly put it like this: “If the Oscars overlook Murphy for a Best Actor nod, it’ll be further evidence of the Academy’s bias against comics — and blacks.”
The movie received rave reviews for the most part. After a string of what critics considered terrible or egotistical films, Nutty Professor, was undeniably funny. But according to Roger Ebert a part of the movie’s charm was that it had something else to offer.
“…a movie that’s like a thumb to the nose for everyone who said [Murphy had] lost it. He’s very good. And the movie succeeds in two different ways: it’s sweet and good-hearted, and then again it’s raucous slapstick and bathroom humor. I liked both parts.”
The movie is so solid, top to bottom that you really don’t want it to end. So it was a nice treat to see that as the credits are rolling we get to watch more of the Klump family at the table, or rather Eddie Murphy breaking character as he laughs at his own jokes. There’s one part in the outtakes where Jada points to Eddie–as he’s in the suit dressed as Sherman’s brother– and says that Eddie is saying some wild stuff. But nobody really knew what that wild stuff was… Well, in that MovieLine interview, she clarified.
“Eddie was being nasty.” she says. “He said, ‘I bet you got a hot ass. I would love to have a hot-ass sandwich.’ I was laughing because he was being crude.”