- Golden Globe Awards
Eddie Murphy, 2006 on “Dreamgirls” – Out of the Archives
Eddie Murphy, the 2023 recipient of the Cecil B. deMille award at the 80th Golden Globes, had won Best Supporting Actor in 2007 for Dreamgirls, directed by Bill Condon from the 1981 stage musical. He spoke to the journalists of the Hollywood Foreign Press in 2006 about his performance as a 1960s R&B singer. Murphy plays the father in You People (2023) with Jonah Hill.
Bill Condon said he was inspired by big widescreen Technicolor studio musicals of the 1950s, like Singin’ in the Rain (1952) by Stanley Donen, The Band Wagon (1953) and Funny Face (1957) by Vincent Minnelli, A Star Is Born (1954) by George Cukor. Murphy explained why he was delighted to have been cast in Dreamgirls: “I was excited when they called me about this project because I had seen the original play on Broadway, 25 years ago. What stood out the most for me was when Jennifer Holiday sang “I Am Telling You.” The first time I saw the play I don’t remember anything that happened after she sang that song, the audience goes crazy and then you’re sitting there numb from that song. So I had to go see the play again, I kept going back, I saw it four or five times, I loved the whole thing, I had never seen anything like that on Broadway. Back then it was a big deal because it was a Black play, a Black cast, top-level stuff with great music. So I remember being blown away and inspired by the original cast.”
Jennifer Hudson, the newcomer who played Effie White inspired by Florence Ballard of the Supremes, also won a Golden Globe as Best Supporting Actress. Murphy loved her interpretation of that song: “She turned it out. What Jennifer Hudson brings to Effie is that she has a sensuality about her that’s not in the original. Jennifer Holiday has a great voice, and she could belt it out, but Jennifer Hudson has a sex appeal, and she has a strength, a strong sassiness to her as well. And that song is one of those songs in the Black community that you don’t even go attempt to try to sing them over again, or you’re going to be booed off the stage. That’s like one of those Luther Vandross song, no Black artist even touches Luther Vandross’s music. “I Am Telling You” is one of those songs, and Jennifer Hudson cracked it out of the park, she made it her song.”
Beyoncé Knowles played Deena Jones, based on Diana Ross, the Supremes’ lead singer. She was nominated for a Golden Globe as Best Actress in a musical. Murphy commented: “I absolutely loved the Supremes’ music. I have met Diana Ross before, our meeting was just social, I was at a party at a beach somewhere and she had a house next door. So I was like a fan when I met her years ago, it was a long time ago. I was born in the 60s, so I like everything that was going on musically in the 60s and 70s, from Motown to Marvin Gaye to Al Green. I liked the whole British invasion, I love the Rolling Stones, I’m a big, huge Beatle fan and have been for years and years.”
This is how the actor described his character in Dreamgirls, James (Jimmy) “Thunder” Early: “Jimmy is perpetually on the edge of getting some national exposure, playing the cities, everyone loves him because he’s really one of a kind. He just can’t seem to break through, but he is an R&B originator, bringing the sound that white kids could dance to, like James Brown, Chuck Berry, Little Richard. While the country was still segregated, they were bridging the world of music, bringing Black sound to white America. It wasn’t until later that these performers realized just how much they accomplished.”
The Dreamgirls, called “The Dreams” in the film, were inspired by the Supremes. Murphy revealed which singer was James Early based on: “The original Supremes were in a group called The Dreamettes and they sang back-up for The Primes, who were two original singers from Motown’s The Temptations, Paul Williams and Eddie Kendricks. So what the filmmakers did was to take stuff like that and mix everybody’s story up, but everything is loosely based on them. My character is based on more than those two people, in my mind this is the guy that everybody borrowed from and that nobody knows about. He’s the unknown guy that James Brown and Elvis Presley and Little Richard and all those guys took a little bit from. That’s who he was to me.”
These are the singers that the actor watched to shape his performance, but among them there was not Sam Cooke: “To prepare for this movie I watched a bunch of videos of James Brown, Little Richard, Otis Redding, Jackie Wilson, Samuel Davis, Sam & Dave, so I could learn how to move. I took tiny little pieces from everybody, so I could keep the work within that time period; I had the character moving the way people moved back then, as opposed to dancing like I would feel now. When Bill Condon wrote the screenplay, he borrowed from everybody’s story in the 60s, everything that happens in this story is loosely based on a bunch of different people. That’s why you might have felt it reminded you of Sam Cooke, but he was not one of my references that I watched. I didn’t watch him, because he was like a ballad singer and I had to dance, to move, so I watched the guys that were known for their energy and movement.”
In the movie Jimmy’s stardom fades as The Dreams’ stardom rises, and as a result he falls into depression, which he copes with through drug abuse. But the successful comedian said he never experienced that kind of setback in his career: “I’ve had times when things haven’t worked creatively and when movies didn’t work, they were flops, but I’ve never felt like I hit a wall and this was the end. I never got to where I felt like I didn’t have options and I couldn’t fix any problem that I had, or whatever perception may have been put out there because of a movie that I did. So I never felt frustrated like this guy was feeling, like I was at the end of my wire ever, as an actor, I was faking it all. As an artist I don’t have a reference for being lost and frustrated and not knowing what I am going to do next. I never had that, I got on Saturday Night Live when I was 18 years old, I was 20 years old when I did 48 Hrs.