Amazon Studios releases Coming 2 America on March 5th, 2021 on Amazon Prime.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Between entertaining the audience and provoking them emotionally, what was the process like of tweaking those elements in the editing room?
Craig Brewer: It was a challenge because, especially in a time when we couldn't test screen it with an audience in the traditional way that we would test a comedy. It was always a question amongst the team: "How much zaniness can we lean in? How much can we pull back on? Where is our world going to be grounded? Where can we have absolute lunacy? What jokes are there for a functional homage to the original? What are the ones that are kind of superfluous and maybe don't need to be in there and would probably only entertain only a select few for only a couple of seconds? " That was probably one of the biggest challenges of the whole movie. It was a very difficult editorial process because of that. You want to try things, you can't try things, and you also have the burden of both needing to be of the world of John Landis 1989 and also be free of it at the same time. The one thing that I said to everybody, "Laughter, as I've learned with Dolemite is My Name, can get tiresome after a minute." If you don't have some real humanity coursing through your movie, you're going to lose people because they actually want to be involved in accessible human emotion. We have an opportunity with this movie that's now more than three decades after the first movie and we ourselves are three decades older than when we saw the movie. We have the same kind of themes in our life that are happening in the movie, so if we don't tap into that, we're missing a great opportunity to have some emotions and soul in Coming 2 America.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What does campiness mean to you? What attracts you to it? How do you capture it as a director?
CB: Wesley Snipes and I had a conversation about this and I told him that one of my favorite interviews with Steven Spielberg is about Kubrick where Spielberg is talking about how he was invited to Kubrick's house for dinner after he saw The Shining and didn't like it. He had to sit at dinner with Kubrick where Kubrick knew exactly that Spielberg didn't like it. Kubrick asked Spielberg, "Who are the top actors of all-time?" Spielberg was like, "Jimmy Stewart and Spencer Tracy." Kubrick replied, "Well, where's James Cagney on your list?" Spielberg said that Cagney was not on his list and then Kubrick went into this big, long explanation as to why he thinks that Cagney is one of the greatest actors of cinema. I thought about that conversation a lot when I was working with Wesley Snipes in Dolemite is My Name and Coming 2 America. I was like, "Hey man, I want to get out of your way. Every time you go to me and ask me if you went too far, I'm only going to maybe take a little butter off of your toast." I really want that largeness. I sometimes wonder if I'm on a different planet because I'll look at Prince in Purple Rain and I think it's one of the greatest performances of all time. I really do. It's not just being loud and ultra-expressive. There's something about when actors and actresses are allowed to bring this essence of what makes them who they are. Some people can say that Nicholas Cage has that. People who perform on a camp level provide us an opportunity to see those kinds of performances that we just don't get to see all that much. No one did that better than John Landis. I just recently watched Blues Brothers again for the umpteenth time. It's one of the most important movies of my life. He somehow lived in this world of where you have two young actors who are not necessarily there to be filling you full of humor, but when one of them is half-eaten and rotting while talking to his best friend about how he has to kill himself and they're in this porno theater--even the porno movie itself has this odd humor going on in it. You kind of go, "This is just a wild world, but, like when watching a Kubrick movie, I'm entertained and I can't stop watching it." I would say that Kubrick is one of the first camp filmmakers as well. A Clockwork Orange is pretty campy in places. The same can be said about "Dr. Strangelove and even Eyes Wide Shut. I can't help it. I was raised on movies like 'Gator Bait and Black Samson---movies that some people go like, "That's kinda hokey." And I'd be like, "Watch your mouth!" That's kind of where I fall in my appreciation of those kinds of off-tilt movies and performances.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What was the process like to decide how much to trust what the audience remembers from the original film? How important do you think a plot really is when it's the emotions contained inside the plot itself that sticks with audiences the most throughout the years?
CB: That's kind of interesting and specific to Coming to America because people have a lot of emotions about this movie. They really do, and I do too. It's a good question, too, for cinema because there are some movies that I have feelings about that I then go back and revisit as an adult and I'm like, "Wow, okay. I get it. Flash Forward was maybe a little bit too 'arch'" You look at a movie like The Black Stallion. I was like, "This movie is greater than I've ever imagined at the time." I usually loved the first half of the movie when they're on the island, but I think I'm really into this whole moment with Mickey Rooney now as an adult. Some movies let you down when you go back to rewatch them and some movies actually elevate from where you've been. Coming 2 America is a little bit of a trickier thing, especially when you're doing a sequel. The one thing that I'd say was an advantage for us while making this movie is that it was more than 30 years later. Being more than 30 years later, I'm different and the audience that grew up with it is different. I was a teenager and now I have teenage kids. Akeem is now different. I can kind of explore the themes that he's going through and have a lot more accessibility as a parent myself with teenage kids. It would sometimes lead to decisions about comedy and tone. Some things in the Zamundian world worked and some things didn't. Where things would fall apart is that they didn't feel as though they were of this world, but then some things I was allowed to go full bore with craziness, like I could have a music number where Oha is singing a Prince song and everybody's just dancing. As long as Akeem goes like, "Ok, well, this is expected." Royalty, when presenting a new princess, would obviously bring dancers and a band and musicians--like we did in this first movie, so then it would make sense. It was constantly this stretch of the world and what were the rules within that world.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What do you think are the basic elements that turn a comedy into a classic? What do you think made Coming to America become a cult classic?
CB: Its accessibility, more than anything. I remember being in the audience and watching Knocked Up, I could feel this energy around me. The men and women in the audience were responding in a way that was visceral. I remember being in an audience with Three Men and a Baby---same thing. Women were cackling just watching Ted Danson cleaning the baby with a turkey baster. There's something so accessible to that. But then again, I remember my dad and my friends' fathers going to see City Slickers, and they watched that movie over and over again. It not only made them laugh, but tapped into something that they were personally feeling as middle-aged men. Coming to America is a cult movie. People dress as Prince Akeem and do McDowell's pop-up stores and everything. I think that Coming to America, for so many people, was this celebration of Eddie Murphy, first of all, but in a way that we had not seen him before. That's one thing that I have to remind people of in a historical context that Eddie was thrilling us every Saturday night. His moment at Saturday Night Live was must-see. When he made 48 Hours, it was like suddenly this Nick Nolte movie was handed over to this guy. It was undeniable, but he had this certain attitude. Same with Beverly Hills Cop and Trading Places. Coming to America was very different. He had an innocent about him. He was playing a character that wanted to love America---even the things that were the most awful about America. Since then, it has been recognized as this cultural touchstone, not only in the African American community. That's a huge breakthrough just in movies at the time--a movie with an all-black cast that was resonating around the globe. My grandmother's favorite movies were Dirty Dancing and Coming to America. There's something about certain movies that the jokes still make you laugh, but it's because you have some sort of invisible connection to the movie that you can't quite explain. I can watch the nuns beat up Jake and Elwood Blues in The Blues Brothers over and over and over again. I will still just gut-laugh every time I see it. It's because when I was 13, my father, who's no longer with me anymore, and I watched it on video and we just died laughing at that scene. It's still funny to me, I think, because it was funny to my dad and we had this human connection to it. I think that that's what makes them last.