Thirty-five years ago, Eddie Murphy was a rising comedian with a promising future in the world of stand-up comedy. Quickly becoming one of the biggest stars of Saturday Night Live, the kid from Brooklyn took a chance with his career in 1982 and tried his hand at acting in a film about a gruff detective who needs the help of a wise-cracking convict to catch a killer. 48 Hrs. showed the world that Murphy had range and became the doorway to a storied career that still has legs.
1. IT WAS EDDIE MURPHY’S FIRST FILM ROLE.
At age 19, Murphy became Saturday Night Live's youngest-ever cast member (Anthony Michael Hall beat that record in 1985, when he was cast at the age of 17). As his career continued to grow outside of stand-up comedy, Murphy decided that we wanted to give serious acting a shot and got the opportunity two years later at the ripe age of 21. “I do some funny things in the movie, but for all intents and purposes it’s a serious movie,” Murphy told Entertainment Tonight. “From being associated with Saturday Night Live, the public, quite naturally, they’re expecting you to do a comedy the first movie that you do. And I will be doing comedy, the next film that I do will probably be a comedy, but I thought it would be hip to come out and do a serious picture.”
2. NOT BEING FUNNY ALMOST GOT MURPHY FIRED.
While sitting down with James Lipton on Inside the Actors Studio, the comedian revealed that, unbeknownst to him, there were talks behind the scenes of 48 Hrs. about firing him for not being funny in the film. In the same interview, he also shared that his acting coach for the film was David Proval, who would go on to play Richie Aprile on The Sopranos.
3. NICK NOLTE AND EDDIE MURPHY WERE NOT THE STUDIO'S FIRST CHOICES.
According to The Telegraph, several actors turned down the roles of Detective Jack Cates and Reggie Hammond before Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy signed on. Mickey Rourke, Clint Eastwood, and Jeff Bridges were reportedly offered the detective role, while Gregory Hines, Richard Pryor, Howard E. Rollins Jr., and Denzel Washington all ultimately passed on playing the convict.
4. IT BEGAN AS A KIDNAPPING STORY.
48 Hrs., as the world knows it, is a story about an odd couple of cops trying to catch a killer, but that's not how it was originally written. In a 2009 interview, director Walter Hill shared the story of how he became involved with the project and how it changed over time. "[Producer] Larry Gordon had an idea for a crime movie set in Louisiana where the governor’s daughter is kidnapped, and has dynamite taped to her head, and the bad guys are going to kill her in 48 hours," Hill explained. "The family assigns a top cop to rescue her—one aspect of the story was the cop getting one of the kidnapper’s old cellmates out of jail to help him."
The story was rewritten a few times and tailored for Clint Eastwood, who eventually turned it down.
5. MURPHY’S PERFORMANCE WAS INSPIRED BY BRUCE LEE.
Having never been in a serious role, Eddie Murphy did not know how to be angry on camera, so he mimicked actor and martial artist Bruce Lee. “There’s a scene in 48 Hrs. where I’m coming down the alley and there’s all this neon and I’m supposed to be intense, but I had no reference,” Murphy told Byron Allen in an interview for the 25th anniversary edition DVD of Eddie Murphy: Delirious. “So I was doing my Bruce Lee impression, and I still do it until this day. When I’m mad on screen if I pull my gun out, it may not look like Bruce Lee because I look nothing like him, but on the inside, my face, all the sh*t I’m doing with my eyes ... it’s all my Bruce Lee impression.”
6. THE FILM EARNED MURPHY A GOLDEN GLOBE NOMINATION.
In 1983, 48 Hrs. was nominated for a single Golden Globe award—for Eddie Murphy as “New Star of the Year.” He lost to Ben Kingsley for his portrayal of the titular character in Gandhi.
7. THE FILM WAS BIG FOR RACE RELATIONS, ACCORDING TO NOLTE.
In a 2010 interview with The A.V. Club, Nick Nolte claimed that the 1982 crime-comedy was a game changer as far as the issue of race relations was concerned. “In 48 Hrs., Eddie and I are racially slurring at each other and showing our anger,” Nolte said. “The only films before 48 Hrs. [to do that], if I’m correct, were Lilies Of The Field and In The Heat Of The Night. After civil rights, there was this long period of very awkward attempts at communication between the whites and the blacks. The whites didn’t know if ‘brother’ was the right thing to say or not. It was just really awkward. I think more than anything, that was the underneath appeal of 48 Hrs.”
8. ONE SCENE MADE EDDIE MURPHY A STAR, SAID ROGER EBERT.
In his review of the film, Roger Ebert wrote that the now iconic bar scene, during which Murphy and Nolte swap roles to get information out of a group of rednecks, is when Murphy solidified himself as a real movie star. “You know why it worked then and the reason why it wouldn’t now?,” Murphy asked rhetorically in a 2011 interview with Rolling Stone. “My significance in film—and again I’m not going to be delusional—was that I’m the first black actor to take charge in a white world onscreen ... Black-exploitation movies, even if you dealt with the Man, it was in your neighborhood, never in their world. In 48 Hrs., that's why it worked, because I'm running it, making the story go forward.”
9. 48 HRS. LED TO ANOTHER SNL MILESTONE FOR MURPHY.
Having already been the youngest cast member years prior, Eddie Murphy was also the first Saturday Night Live cast member in history to host the show while he was still on it, but that was not the plan. On December 11, 1982, Nick Nolte was supposed to host, but he was sick and had to back out at the last second. "When Nick got here, and got off the plane, he vomited on my shirt," Murphy said in his opening monologue, "and we realized Nick was too sick to do the show. And that's too bad, because Nick was gonna be in some real great stuff tonight." He added that because the audience came to see someone from the film, he was going to be the host, and he famously kicked off the episode with the line: "Live, from New York, it's The Eddie Murphy Show!"
10. BY THE SEQUEL, BOTH MEN GOT MAJOR PAY INCREASES.
According to Epix, as the newbie, Murphy was only paid $450,000 to do the first film, while the more experienced Nolte was paid $1 million. After the success of films like Trading Places (1983), Beverly Hills Cop (1984), The Golden Child (1986), Beverly Hills Cop II (1987), and Coming to America (1988), Murphy’s paycheck for Another 48 Hrs. (1990) jumped to $7 million, while Nolte got a relatively smaller bump to $3 million.