Is there an Eddie Murphy role that isn’t memorable? Hell, even Norbit was nominated an Oscar. From Buckwheat on Saturday Night Live to Dr. Doolittle, the veteran comedian has embodied some of the most beloved characters to ever hit the screen. Not the least of which is Coming to America’s Prince Akeem. As an African prince who relocates to Queens, New York to find the perfect woman to hold down the throne, Murphy’s hilarious performance(s) turned a silly little film into a certified comedy classic.
1. PAULA ABDUL CHOREOGRAPHED THE OPENING DANCE SCENE AT THE PALACE IN ZAMUNDA.
In an interview with Rolling Stone, the Laker Girl-turned-pop star listed her Coming to America scene as one of the top moments of her choreography career. “This was one of my moments of having to really prove myself, because I was still pretty new in my career as a choreographer,” Abdul said. “John Landis, the director, wanted the person that choreographed Janet Jackson. I was still a Laker Girl. “I went in and he looked at me and said, 'What are you, a teenager?' And I said, 'Yes, I am!' He basically was telling me, 'What do you know about African dancing?' And this is my whole thing when becoming a choreographer: 'I'll just tell everyone yes, I know exactly what I'm doing, and then I'll figure it out later.'”
2. THE NAME “ZAMUNDA” IS AN ALTERED VERSION OF A FAMOUS WRITER’S NAME.
As noted in the DVD commentary of the film, screenwriters Barry Blaustein and David Sheffield named the kingdom of “Zamunda” after Bob Zmuda, Andy Kaufman’s writing partner and close friend.
3. DIRECTOR JOHN LANDIS AND EDDIE MURPHY CLASHED ON SET.
Despite working together previously on Trading Places, director John Landis and Murphy had a less than amiable professional relationship. “On Coming to America, we clashed quite a bit because he was such a pig; he was so rude to people,” Landis told Collider. “We had a good working relationship, but our personal relationship changed because he just felt that he was a superstar and that everyone had to kiss his ass. He was a jerk. But great—in fact, one of the greatest performances he’s ever given.”
4. IN 1989, CBS FILMED A PILOT FOR A TV VERSION OF THE MOVIE, STARRING TOMMY DAVIDSON.
However, according to a report by Fusion, it never aired because it was “terrible.” Other cast members included Paul Bates and John Hancock.
5. MCDOWELL’S WAS ACTUALLY A WENDY’S IN QUEENS.
The real-life location of the McDowell’s is along Queens Boulevard, where a Wendy’s used to be located (it’s since been demolished). In fact, McDowell’s even has its own Yelp page.
6. TOBE HOOPER MAKES A CAMEO AT THE MCDOWELLS’ PARTY.
Only true horror fans might’ve spotted this: Tobe Hooper, the famed horror director behind The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Poltergeist—and a dear friend of Landis’—appears in the McDowells’ party scene.
7. IT WAS CUBA GOODING JR.’S FIRST FILM.
According to IMDb, his character is known as “Boy Getting Haircut” in the famous barbershop scene.
8. JAMES EARL JONES AND MADGE SINCLAIR, THE KING AND QUEEN OF ZAMUNDA, ALSO VOICED THE KING AND QUEEN IN THE LION KING.
The duo must’ve truly impressed Disney, because the on-screen couple landed the coveted gig of voicing Mufasa and Sarabi, respectively, in the 1994 animated masterpiece.
9. DON AMECHE AND RALPH BELLAMY CAMEO AS THE HOMELESS MEN AKEEM GIVES MONEY TO.
As a tribute to Landis’ Trading Places (1983), the movie that put Murphy on the map, Don Ameche and Ralph Bellamy reprised their Trading Places characters for Coming to America.
10. THE FILM PAYS TRIBUTES TO ROOTS WITH A “KUNTE KINTE” REFERENCE.
In the barbershop scene, the Jewish man calls Akeem “Kunta Kinte,” a reference to Roots. In fact, John Amos, the actor who starred in Coming to America as Lisa’s father Cleo, played Kunta Kinte in the groundbreaking 1977 miniseries.
Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for CinemaCon
From the seven seasons he spent as the star of NBC’s The Office to leading man roles in comedy classics like The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Steve Carell has become one of Hollywood’s most in-demand funnymen. But he has proven his dramatic chops, too, particularly with his role as John du Pont in Foxcatcher, which earned Carell an Oscar nomination for Best Actor in 2015. Even if you’ve seen all of his movies, there’s probably a lot you don’t know about the Massachusetts native, who turns 55 years old today.
1. HE THOUGHT HE WANTED TO BE A LAWYER.
Steve Carell attended Ohio’s Denison University, where he received a history degree in 1984, and had planned to move on to law school. But when it came time to apply, he found himself stumped by the first question on the application: Why do you want to be a lawyer?
“I had never considered acting as a career choice, although I’d always enjoyed it,” Carell told NJ.com in 2011. “I enjoyed hockey and singing in the choir, and I didn’t think of them as potential careers, either … But I began to realize I really loved acting, and telling stories. Reading a book, watching a movie, going to a play, it’s transporting, and very, very exciting. And to be a part of that, creating things with your imagination, whoa."
2. HE WORKED AS A MAILMAN.
Shortly before he moved to Chicago and performed with The Second City, Carell worked as a postal carrier in the tiny town of Littleton, Massachusetts. Because the post office didn’t have its own mail vehicles, Carell had to use his own car. He kept the gig for just four months, then took off for the Windy City. “And months later, I found mail under the seat of my car,” he admitted. Carell also said it was the hardest job he has ever had.
3. HE WAS HIS WIFE’S TEACHER.
No, it’s not as risqué as it sounds. Carell met his wife, Nancy Walls, through an improv class at Second City; he was the teacher, she was one of his students. “I beat around the bush [before asking her out] and said something stupid like, ‘Well, you know, if I were to ever ask someone out, it would be someone like you,’” Carell told Details of his earliest attempts at flirting. “It’s so stupid, but it was all self-protection. She was the same way: ‘If somebody like you were to ask me out, I would definitely go out with him. If there was a person like you.’” The couple married in 1995 and have appeared in several projects together.
4. THE COUPLE HAD TO BREAK UP (ON CAMERA) ON THEIR 17TH ANNIVERSARY.
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images
For Lorene Scafaria’s underrated 2012 end-of-the-world dramedy Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, Steve and Nancy played a married couple who split up when it’s announced that an asteroid heading toward Earth will obliterate the planet in three weeks. Their break-up scene happens very early on in the movie, and they ended up filming it on their 17th wedding anniversary.
“She gets to leave me right at the beginning,” Carell told Parade. “They used the take where her shoe came off in the car, and she bolted across that field with one shoe on. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her run that fast. We shot the scene on our 17th anniversary. [The director] got us a cake and the crew sang ‘Happy Anniversary’ to us. It was very sweet, a very special night."
5. HE AND HIS WIFE AUDITIONED FOR SNL TOGETHER; ONLY ONE OF THEM MADE IT.
In 1995, the same year they married, both Carell and Walls auditioned for Saturday Night Live. Walls made it but Carell didn’t, which must have made for one awkward celebratory dinner. But it all turned out well in the end; Carell went on to become a household name and has hosted the show on two occasions.
6. HE WAS ONE HALF OF “THE AMBIGUOUSLY GAY DUO.”
Though he missed out on the chance to become a regular SNL cast member, there was a silver lining: He was free to say “yes” to taking a role on The Dana Carvey Show, a sketch show that SNL alum Dana Carvey created for ABC. Though it was short-lived, the show was full of amazing comedic talent; in addition to Carvey and Carell, the show featured Stephen Colbert, Bob Odenkirk, and Robert Smigel and a writers room that included Louis C.K., Charlie Kaufman, and Robert Carlock. The show marked the debut of Smigel’s recurring animated sketch, “The Ambiguously Gay Duo,” which followed the adventures of Gary and Ace, who were voiced by Carell and Colbert, respectively. After the show was cancelled, Smigel brought the “Duo” over to Saturday Night Live.
7. HE OWNS A GENERAL STORE IN MASSACHUSETTS.
While many A-list stars run side businesses—restaurants, wine companies, clothing lines, etc.—the Carells' second gig is a little less glamorous. In 2009, they bought the Marshfield Hills General Store in Marshfield, Massachusetts—where they spend their summers—in order to preserve it as a local landmark.
“The main impetus to keep it going is that not many of those places exist and I wanted this one to stay afloat,” Carell told The Patriot Ledger. “Just generally speaking, there are not that many local sort of communal places as there used to be ... I think it’s nice for people to actually go and talk and have a cup of coffee and communicate with one another."
8. HE PLAYS THE FIFE.
Yes, Carell has got some musical talent and can actually play the fife. It’s a skill he acquired early in life, and shares with several of his family members. And it came in handy when he joined a reenactment group that portrayed the 10th (North Lincoln) Regiment of Foot, a line infantry regiment with the British Army.
9. HE WAS NOT THE FIRST CHOICE TO PLAY MICHAEL SCOTT IN THE OFFICE.
Though Michael Scott, the clueless manager of paper company Dunder Mifflin’s Scranton, Pennsylvania branch in The Office, is still probably Carell's best-known role, he wasn’t the first choice for the part. Paul Giamatti was reportedly the first choice, but he declined. Hank Azaria and Martin Short were also in the running. Bob Odenkirk was actually cast in the role because Carell was committed to another series, Come to Papa. But when that show was cancelled after just a few episodes, the role of Michael Scott was recast with Carell. (Odenkirk appeared in one of the series’s later episodes, playing a boss who was eerily similar to Carell’s Scott.)
10. WHEN CARELL LEFT THE OFFICE, THE CAST AND CREW “RETIRED” HIS NUMBER ON THE CALL SHEET.
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When Carell left The Office after seven seasons to focus on his film career, the cast and crew continued one tradition in his honor. “Steve was No. 1 on the call sheet because he was the lead of the show,” co-star Jenna Fischer told TV Guide. “And when he left, we retired his number. No one, ever since he left, was allowed to be No. 1."
11. HE WAS IN TALKS TO PLAY RON DONALD ON PARTY DOWN.
Before Party Down made its premiere on Starz with Adam Scott playing failed actor Henry Pollard, it was supposed to be an HBO series with Paul Rudd in the lead. And Rudd was pushing for Carell to play bumbling catering manager Ron Donald, as The Office didn’t get off to a great start and looked to be in danger of getting cancelled. Ultimately, HBO ended up abandoning the project, which Starz scooped up—with Scott as Pollard and Ken Marino as Ron Donald.
12. JAMES SPADER REALLY WANTED TO PLAY BRICK TAMLAND IN ANCHORMAN.
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Though it was The 40-Year-Old Virgin that turned Carell into a leading man on the big screen, his role as oddball meteorologist Brick Tamland in Anchorman brought him a lot of attention. But if James Spader had his way, Carell would never have appeared in the role at all. In a 2013 interview with Baller Status, director Adam McKay shared that before the film was even cast:
“I get a phone call and I hear that James Spader is obsessed with Brick's character. I say ‘James Spader? That is insane, will he come in and read?’ They say, ‘No, he's not going to come in and read; he's James Spader!’ James Spader and I end up talking and he called it about the Brick character. He thought it was one of the funniest character he ever read and we weren't even sure if it was going to work. He literally said, ‘I will do anything to get this role.’ Eventually, we were just like, ‘This is James Spader; he is too good for this role.’ But, he was right about how funny it was. The movie studio even questioned us and said how bizarre Brick is, and it wouldn't work. I felt bad we didn't cast James, but Carell was so good.”
Spader proved his comedic chops in 2011, when he was cast as Robert California, Michael Scott’s replacement on The Office (who quickly manages to convince the company owner to appoint him as CEO).
13. UNIVERSAL STUDIOS' EXECUTIVES WERE CONCERNED THAT CARELL WAS COMING OFF AS A SERIAL KILLER IN THE 40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN.
Though it turned out to be one of 2005’s biggest hits, getting the tone right on Judd Apatow’s The 40-Year-Old Virgin proved to be a fairly difficult task. At one point, executives at Universal Studios expressed their concern to Apatow that Carell might come off as a serial killer to viewers.
"There is a fine line," producer Mary Parent told the Los Angeles Times. "Men and women alike could look at him and if he's too much of a sad sack, they will think, 'Dude, get a life.’” Apatow ended up adding several lines about the fact that Carell’s character could be a serial killer.
14. HE LEARNED MAGIC FROM DAVID COPPERFIELD.
In 2013, Carell played a magician in The Incredible Burt Wonderstone. In order to get the role just right, he went straight to the top: David Copperfield. The famed illusionist taught Carell and co-star Steve Buscemi a trick called “The Hangman,” and they were both sworn to secrecy. “I actually had to sign something that I would not divulge,” Carell told The Hollywood Reporter. “So that was kind of cool.”
15. HE OFFERED PRINCETON'S 2012 CLASS SOME TIPS FOR SUCCESS.
In 2012, Carell delivered a speech to Princeton University graduates—which included his niece—during Class Day. He ended his talk by offering some tips to the grads:
“I would like to leave you with a few random thoughts. Not advice per se, but some helpful hints: Show up on time. Because to be late is to show disrespect. Remember that the words 'regime' and 'regimen' are not interchangeable. Get a dog, because cats are lame. Only use a 'That's what she said' joke if you absolutely cannot resist. Never try to explain a 'That's what she said' joke to your parents. When out to eat, tip on the entire check. Do not subtract the tax first. And every once in a while, put something positive into the world. We have become so cynical these days. And by we I mean us. So do something kind, make someone laugh, and don't take yourself too seriously.”
At a time when shows like The Wonder Years, Growing Pains, Murphy Brown, Designing Women, Dallas, and Dynasty still ruled the airwaves, the debut of Roseanne in the fall of 1988 introduced a new kind of family to television audiences and a new kind of matriarch. Praised for its portrayal of blue-collar America, the Emmy Award-winning series also broke new ground in terms of its envelope-pushing (for the time) storylines. And now it's ready to make a comeback.
On May 16, 2017, ABC announced that Roseanne will return for an eight-episode run in 2018. In the meantime, here are some things you might not know about the series that made Roseanne Barr a star.
1. THE SUCCESS OF ROSEANNE JUMPSTARTED THE TREND OF GIVING COMEDIANS THEIR OWN SITCOMS.
TV producers Marcy Carsey and Tom Werner were interested in developing a sitcom about a working mother. When they saw Roseanne Barr’s outspoken “domestic goddess” comedy routine on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson in 1985, they offered her a show. Barr wasn’t the first performer to transition from stand-up to TV, but her ABC show was an immediate hit. By its second season, it was number one in the Nielsen ratings and remained in the top four for six of its nine seasons.
As a result—and coupled with the success of Seinfeld—networks started offering more development deals to comedians, including Tim Allen (Home Improvement), Brett Butler (Grace Under Fire), Ellen DeGeneres (Ellen), and Ray Romano (Everybody Loves Raymond), to name a few.
2. THE SHOW WAS ORIGINALLY TITLED LIFE AND STUFF.
Roseanne creator, head writer, and executive producer Matt Williams said the benign title established the sitcom as an ensemble piece. But Barr argued that the show should be called Roseanne, since she was the lead character and the show was based on her life. (Williams left the show after season one.)
3. THE SHOW’S EXTERIOR SHOTS ARE OF EVANSVILLE, INDIANA, NOT ILLINOIS.
Why Evansville? It’s where co-executive producer Matt Williams grew up. The house used for the facade of the Conner home went up for sale, plaid couches not included, in early 2013. It was taken off the market less than a month later.
4. JOHN GOODMAN AND LAURIE METCALF WERE CAST WITH ULTERIOR MOTIVES.
Roseanne Barr had never acted before, so the producers hoped that surrounding her with a strong supporting cast would give her a crash course in acting. Barr and Goodman also had great chemistry and squabbled like a married couple from their first reading together. Goodman was the first and only actor to audition for the role of Dan Conner.
5. MACAULAY CULKIN AUDITIONED FOR THE ROLE OF D.J.
Had Culkin been cast, it would’ve been his big break (it would be another two years before Home Alone was released). Instead, Michael Fishman got the role, replacing Sal Barone from the pilot (who, in addition to hitting a growth spurt, didn’t get along with Sara Gilbert, who played his sister Darlene). “I wanted Michael Fishman because he looked like my family and he was a little Russian boy,” Barr told Entertainment Weekly. “He was so not like all the other little Hollywood bastards.” Added Fishman: “The network wanted one person, the production company wanted another person, and she wanted me. In many ways, I’m one of the first battles she won.”
6. ROSEANNE WAS A CRITICAL DARLING, BUT IT WAS NEVER NOMINATED FOR AN EMMY FOR BEST COMEDY SERIES.
Laurie Metcalf won three consecutive Emmys for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series for her role as Roseanne’s sister Jackie beginning in 1992 (in 1993, Barr won Outstanding Lead Actress). But the show never managed to nab a Best Comedy Series nomination. And while John Goodman’s portrayal of Dan Conner earned him the Outstanding Lead Actor nomination seven years in a row, he never took home an award.
7. IT WAS ONE OF THE FIRST PRIMETIME SHOWS TO FEATURE OPENLY GAY CHARACTERS.
Despite network protests, Barr insisted on featuring gay characters as friends, family members, co-workers, and neighbors. (Barr’s own brother and sister are gay.) In season eight, Roseanne’s former boss Leon (Martin Mull) married his partner Scott (Fred Willard)—a scene that wouldn’t be so unusual today, but was very controversial back in 1995. (It actually aired later than its usual time slot because of its “adult humor.”) A year later, Roseanne’s mother came out of the closet. Spoiler alert: In the bizarre “it was all a dream” finale, it was revealed that Roseanne’s sister Jackie was a lesbian. And of course, there was the scandalous kiss between Barr and guest star Mariel Hemingway.
8. ROSEANNE LAUNCHED JOSS WHEDON’S CAREER.
Joss Whedon began his television career as a staff writer on Roseanne. Whedon was only 24 years old when he wrote four episodes of the show’s second season, which Splitsider later dissected, looking for early glimpses of Whedon’s style:
“While John Goodman is a national treasure who can make any material work, Whedon’s take on his character stands out: Dan is goofier and more removed from the action, and notably less agitated than when written by other writers ... In these episodes, Dan Conner transforms into the Whedon proto-male a.k.a. the ‘Xander:’ an affable, quipping observer defined more by the women around him than by any strong internal life.”
A few other big names in television honed their skills on Roseanne, including Amy Sherman-Palladino, creator of Gilmore Girls and Bunheads, and Chuck Lorre, co-creator of Two and Half Men and The Big Bang Theory.
9. ALL THREE OF BARR’S EX-HUSBANDS MADE GUEST APPEARANCES ON THE SHOW.
Roseanne was inspired by life with the comedian’s first husband, Bill Pentland, and their three children. Pentland served as an executive consultant for three seasons, wrote two episodes, and played one of Dan’s buddies in an early episode. In 1990, Barr divorced Pentland after 16 years of marriage. Four days later, she wed comedian Tom Arnold, who had a recurring role as Arnie Thomas. Then in 1995 Barr married Ben Thomas, her former bodyguard, and gave him two bit roles as a cop. They remain his only acting credits.
10. THE FICTIONAL LANFORD LUNCH BOX INSPIRED A REAL-LIFE RESTAURANT.
Three years after they married, Barr and Arnold opened Roseanne and Tom’s Big Food Diner in Eldon, Iowa, near Arnold’s hometown. It served the same loosemeat sandwiches as the Lanford Lunch Box, the restaurant Roseanne opened with her sister, mom, and friend Nancy (played by Sandra Bernhard) in season five. The diner closed in 1995, a year after Barr and Arnold divorced.
11. ROSEANNE’S THEME SONG CHANGED DRAMATICALLY IN ITS LAST SEASON.
After using an instrumental version for eight seasons, Roseanne got a new theme—courtesy of Blues Traveler's John Popper—for its ninth (and final) season. The change foreshadowed an even more bizarre finale that would leave many viewers puzzled.
12. ABC REQUIRED THE CONNERS TO VISIT DISNEY WORLD.
It seemed incongruous for the Conners to visit The Happiest Place on Earth, but in season eight they did just that ... twice. That’s because the ABC-Walt Disney Company merger in 1995 required family shows to feature Disney World or Disneyland. Boys Meets World, Step by Step, Full House, and Family Matters all had at least one Disney Park episode.
13. IN 1990, BARR GOT A SPIN-OFF DEAL FOR A SATURDAY MORNING CARTOON.
Little Rosey was an animated series presumably about Roseanne—the real person, not the character—as a child. Barr didn’t voice her character in the first season, which may have been one reason the show didn’t take off. She agreed to voice Rosey in the second season, but the show was suddenly cancelled and replaced by Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Barr claimed that ABC gave her cartoon the axe because they were offended by her rendition of the National Anthem at a San Diego Padres game.
14. BARR HAS PREDICTED WHERE THE CONNERS WOULD BE TODAY ... AND IT ISN'T A HAPPY ENDING.
In 2008, Barr told Entertainment Weekly, “I’ve always said now that if they were on TV, D.J. would have been killed in Iraq and [the Conners] would have lost their house.” Barr divulged more potential plotlines in her blog a year later, including Becky’s job at Walmart, David and Darlene divorcing, and Roseanne and Jackie opening the first medical marijuana dispensary in Lanford. I guess we'll see how accurate those predictions were when the series returns in 2018.
15. ROSEANNE HAS ALWAYS WANTED TO COME BACK TO PRIMETIME TV.
When Roseanne ended in 1997, ABC considered a sequel about the main character’s life as a widow. It never materialized, but Barr has since had a talk show, a reality series, and a few sitcoms in the works. In 2011, she filmed a pilot called Downwardly Mobile about life in a trailer park, but it wasn’t picked up by NBC. In 2013, Barr was in talks with NBC again for a 10/90 sitcom deal—an agreement in which the network orders a straight-to-series run of 10 episodes and then orders 90 more if the show’s successful. The deal never came through. It looks like it took returning to her roots to finally make that comeback happen; in May 2017, ABC announced that Roseanne would return to primetime in 2018.
16. THOUGH THE ORIGINAL SERIES ENDED WITH DAN DYING, HE'LL BE ALIVE IN THE REVIVAL.
We're not exactly sure how this plotline will play out, but when Roseanne makes its return to television, Dan Conner will be alive and (presumably) well. ABC president Channing Dungey recently confirmed that the new season will conveniently ignore some of the major events that occurred in the series' finale.
“I can confirm that Dan is still alive,” Dungey said at TCA, though she didn't elaborate on how that will play out. Nor did she say whether any more of the last season's revelations would be ignored for the reboot. However, she did confirm that the network is currently in talks with The Big Bang Theory star Johnny Galecki about reprising hs role of David on the series.