Jennifer Hudson:
The Ultimate Dreamgirl

        The absence of a grin.  For over two decades, the world has become accustomed to Eddie Murphy's comedy acting, his fast-talking, electrifying humor and portrayals.  The worldwide box-office king of the 1980's faded away in the mid 1990's, yet has always been on the radar.

        Off screen he has been through the ups and downs of life, the same as anyone else, but on screen in Bill Condon's "Dreamgirls" which opens on Friday, December 15, Murphy's role as James "Thunder" Early is as palpable, sympathetic and real as the superstar actor's comedy is hilarious and side-splitting.  Modeled after James Brown, one of Mr. Murphy's idols, James "Thunder" Early is a mix of unpredictability, charm, desperation and humor.  Though there is a somber side to Early, the lead singer who fronts the Dreams early on in "Dreamgirls", there are traces of the comic hi-jinks that many "Saturday Night Live" Eddie Murphy fans will instantly come to recognize.

        If James Early is any indication, Eddie Murphy could well be on the nominees list for an Academy Award in January.  The Academy has by now presumably forgiven Mr. Murphy for saying many years ago that "for too long black people have been riding in the caboose" when it came to winning an Oscar.  The statement was made on an Oscars telecast during the late 1980's -- and at that time Murphy received both a lot of criticism for making the remarks, and no further invitations to the Academy ever since -- even though Lou Gossett, Jr., Sidney Poitier, and Hattie McDaniel, listed here in reverse chronological order -- were the only three blacks that had won Oscars in more than 50-plus years of Academy Awards history. 

        With performances as stunningly good as the one that Mr. Murphy gives in "Dreamgirls" there is every expectation that he could be receiving a call early on the morning of January 23, 2007.  In a sense, it is the kind of performance that audiences have been waiting to see for a long time.  There's a brooding intensity, a deep core within Early that we see being rattled on screen, in little more than a look, a glance, a stare.  Murphy plays this character very quietly, but Early's feelings come across profoundly during the film. 



      The normally reclusive Murphy is quoted in the film's production information notes as saying of his character: "Jimmy is perpetually on the edge of getting some national exposure, playing the cities."  Still, it is a struggle for Early.  "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." 

       Instrumental in the tone of Eddie's character James Early was the film's director Bill Condon.  Condon inserted a gap between Mr. Murphy's teeth so as to mute his grin, in effect remove it from him completely.  Condon, who had Murphy in mind to play Early from the very beginning, admitted that "I never thought we could actually get him, but like me, Eddie had seen the original 'Dreamgirls' [Broadway musical] over and over.  And he loved the challenge of doing something that doesn't even remotely connect to anything he's done before.  This is a role you've never seen him play.  He's not hiding behind any prosthetic or mask.  It's Eddie Murphy, but playing this character who is really somebody very separate."  Jamie Foxx says, "Eddie's the type of guy that can really do it all." 

       Eddie Murphy has the ability to turn his character on and off like a light switch.  The reports on the set of "Dreamgirls" was that he would show up and be surprised to do something that he hadn't expected that the day's shoot had called for -- but once he did it -- he nailed it.  Sometimes, according to Jennifer Hudson, Mr. Murphy would be so quiet, and then all of a sudden, "out of nowhere, you're saying, 'who's that guy, and where did he come from?'"

        In the role of James Early, Eddie Murphy strikes like lightning . . . and Thunder.

-- Omar P.L. Moore










"Jimmy's got soul, Jimmy's got soul, Jimmy's got S-O-U-L -- SOUL!!!"

(Photos: David James/Paramount Pictures)

                                                         JAMIE FOXX      BEYONCE      JENNIFER HUDSON     DANNY GLOVER

                                                                                                      "DREAMGIRLS" HOME


originally published on December 12, 2006


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