We usually have to wait until around the end of the year to discover who’s hosting the Oscars, but today — more than five months before the Feb. 26 ceremony — we learned that Eddie Murphy would emcee the awards show. To figure out how Murphy got the prominent gig and how the comic actor will fit into the telecast, EW talked to the show’s two producers: film director Brett Ratner and TV events veteran Don Mischer.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How quickly did this all come together with Eddie hosting?
BRETT RATNER: I got the job a few weeks ago, and I just started thinking about who would be great to host. I was told that 20 people would say “no” to me before I would get a “yes.” I mentioned it to Eddie, and he said, “That’s a great idea!” So for those who think I was planning this, it was not something that was planned. It just happened that I’m making a movie [November's Tower Heist] with him. We had a great time working together. We have a great relationship — he probably wouldn’t have done [the Oscars] if we didn’t have that relationship. From what I understand from Don, who does a lot of these live event shows, Eddie is constantly saying “no.” He’s very elusive, but I think he thought it was a great idea to do it together.
You’re announcing the host earlier than normal. Was it a deliberate decision to find a host so early?
BR: No, it just happened that I had the conversation with him over the [Labor Day] holiday. He said “yes” and nowadays, with Nikki Finke in our world, there are no secrets anymore.
DON MISCHER: This all happened in like three days over the weekend.
When did you first call Eddie?
BR: I didn’t call. I was with him on Saturday [doing publicity for Tower Heist], and I talked about it with him. Then I called Don and said, “I think this is going to happen.” Don wasn’t very encouraging…
DM: Because many times people who do what I do have tried to book Eddie Murphy. It’s tough to get him to agree to do a show. He seldom says yes, so I said to Brett, “Don’t count on it.”
BR: Then I called [Academy president] Tom Sherak and said, “Look, I’m not going to keep talking to [Eddie] about hosting. I think it has to become official and the Academy has to do it the right way.” They called Paul Bloch, [Eddie's] publicist. And then the next thing you know, on Sunday, I get a press release emailed to me on my BlackBerry. I’m like, “Wow, I guess this is happening!” And then today we announced it.
Sounds like Eddie didn’t need much convincing.
DM: When it comes to hosting the Oscars, you cannot twist anybody’s arm to do it. The first thing we as producers know is that if somebody steps out on that stage at the top of the show, they have to be completely comfortable. They have to want to be there. They got to be committed, and they got to feel good about it.
BR: And this is Eddie’s world — performing not only in front of a live audience as he did on SNL, but in front of a crowd like he did with Raw and Delirious. No one’s better at this than him.
Raw had 223 f-words in it. Can Eddie do stand-up comedy and keep it PG-rated?
BR: I just did Tower Heist with him, and he was funny as hell and didn’t say one bad word. Yes, he’s a surprising talent, and he’s going to surprise people and be irreverent. But he also knows how to not only entertain the crowd, but how to move people. He’s a storyteller — that’s what makes him so special as a comedian. It’s a different type of comedy. If you watch his [stand-up] shows, regardless of the curse words, he told great stories.
Don, how does having a single host like Eddie Murphy affect the way you’ll approach directing the show?
DM: It’s doesn’t affect that a whole lot. I think having Eddie as a single host makes the most sense. He’s such a comedic genius, and it’s hard to imagine him paired with somebody. Brett and I want to really keep the show moving, keep the banter down to a minimum, and keep it very quickly paced. With someone who’s got the wit, charm, and comedic ability that Eddie’s got, it can be funny but really move quickly.
Did you guys even consider having two hosts?
BR: No, we were talking mostly about having one, single comedian. Our goal is make a show that’s much quicker paced and ends within a reasonable amount of time. When there are two hosts, the opening gets longer because they got to share the material.
Billy Crystal had indicated that he’d like to host again. Will he still be involved?
BR: I would be honored to have him be a part of this. He was great last year. I was home, and I got excited when I saw him [on the show].
DM: Hopefully we’ll come up with something that would interest him.
In 2007, Eddie walked out of the Kodak Theatre after losing [to Alan Arkin for Best Supporting Actor], and some may wonder whether that makes him the right person to host the Oscars. Was that a concern?
BR: Well, he had to go to the bathroom really bad [laughs]. But he has such love and admiration for the Academy. I think it’s one of his dreams to win an Oscar. I wasn’t there, so I don’t know, but maybe it’ll be a part of the opening monologue. Who knows?
Brett, in the press release, you said that Eddie is going to bring “tremendous heart to the show.” Can you elaborate?
BR: The heart comes from having a host who really has such love for not only their job, but for what they’re there honoring. All [Eddie and I] talk about is movies. All we talk about is great moments in film. Eddie probably watches a few movies every single day. That makes it poignant when you have somebody who has such love and respect for something, instead of someone who’s just going up to tell jokes. He was at my house for my birthday, and I had Al Pacino and Warren Beatty there, and he was so in awe of them. And I was like, “But you’re Eddie Murphy!”