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Arsenio Hall is back with ‘Coming 2 America’
It’s been 33 years since Hall and Eddie Murphy ventured from Zamunda in the beloved original comedy. The sequel streams Friday.
Arsenio Hall gets how fans revere 1988’s “Coming to America.” h The gregarious host of the ’90s staple “The Arsenio Hall Show” jumps into one explanatory story in which he and Eddie Murphy – Zamunda’s Prince Akeem and his loyal servant, Semmi – made a royal visit to their local Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf just after announcing their “Coming 2 America” sequel (streaming Friday on Amazon Prime). h “As we’re leaving, this guy says, ‘I heard you’re doing a sequel. Don’t (expletive) it up,’ ” Hall says over Zoom, showing the impossibly youthful smile that beamed into America’s homes. “What is that about? It’s like, let us do the movie. It didn’t bother Eddie, but it kind of scared me. People are so invested. Like the movie is important to them.”
Just as Akeem and Semmi were told in the original film that it was foolhardy to leave Zamunda for Queens to seek a suitable life partner, the duo had been advised against revisiting the movie three decades later. The Zamunda-set sequel brings Murphy, 59, and Hall, 65, back in a variety of now-iconic roles.
It was not an easy choice. Murphy was fine letting leaving the movie untouched.
“It’s become a cult thing. The first time I got a call from Beyoncé’s office, she was having a ‘Coming to America’ party, dressing as the characters. They wanted me to come and surprise Jay-Z. Alicia Keys did a party like that,” Hall says. “We were in this mind-set that the movie was great, leave it.”
But longtime friend Murphy (Hall is godfather to the comedian’s oldest daughter, Bria) started thinking about a second movie four years ago, throwing ideas out to Hall. Some
were keepers (Akeem has an unknown son in Queens!), some needed work (casting Tracy Morgan, 52, as the son).
“I’m like: ‘Tracy is a genius. But Eddie, you and Tracy look the same age. He can’t be your kid in Queens,’ ” Hall says with a laugh. “So he thought about it and decided to make him the uncle.”
During a screening of his 2019 comedy “Dolomite Is My Name,” Murphy told director Craig Brewer and Hall that the “Coming 2 America” gig was officially on, marking a welcome screen comeback for Hall.
“There’s a chemistry between Eddie and Arsenio that is unparalleled,” Brewer says. “And I didn’t know I missed Arsenio, until I started seeing Arsenio on my screen.”
And what a return. Continuing the tradition of multiple characters, Hall plays Semmi while also disappearing into roles as barber Morris, the flamboyant Rev. Brown and a new character, ancient shaman Baba.
Murphy had eyed the Baba part but dropped out when he found the role required six hours in the makeup chair and painful contact lenses. On the set in Atlanta, Murphy playfully taunted Hall, saying he was going home to “chill out” at 10 p.m. before Hall’s night shoot had even begun.
“Eddie says, ‘Are you crying?’ “Hall recalls. “I said, ‘No that’s the contacts and my allergies.’ He’s like ‘No, you’re crying because you’ve been sitting here for six hours. Call me tomorrow.’ And he leaves.”
But bringing the scene-stealing, impish character to life was worth it, despite the layers of nasty prosthetics.
“I love seeing it now,” Hall says. “But doing it was (challenging). And that stuff never comes off. You wake up in the morning and there’s little brown glue boogers behind your ear and stuff on the pillow.”
One Semmi scene was never going to make a return: that shirtless, playboyin-the-hot tub moment from the original movie. Call it a concession to the passing of time.
“I worked out and lost 17 pounds for that scene,” Hall says. “This time around, at 65, I ain’t losing 17 pounds to take off my shirt. At 65, no man should take off his shirt. Even alone. I shower with a T-shirt on.”
Semmi continues to take abuse in the sequel (“He’s the punching bag of Zamunda”). But there’s character growth as he nobly attempts to take up warrior arms against rival General Izzi (Wesley Snipes). In another scene where Baba spits on Semmi (“So I actually spit on myself,” Hall says), a stand-in was brought in to take Bab’s wrath.
“And when I changed to Semmi, the guy doing the Baba stand-in, he didn’t really spit (on me),” Hall says. “So I love show business.”
Beyond spit-avoidance, “Coming 2 America” has left Hall eager for more showbiz love, especially now that Arsenio Jr. (his son with one-time partner Cheryl Bonacci) is off at college.
“I started doing stand-up again on the road,” Hall says. “Hopefully this movie will throw some acting my way. I could be Mayim Bialik’s neighbor on TV.”
Hall is even ready to face his Coffee Bean sequel doubter. Just as long as big tipper Murphy comes along.
“I tip like 5 bucks when I get a coffee. But Eddie, he tips. He gives the kind of tip that when I come in alone, they don’t even want to let me in the room,” Hall says. “If it’s just me, they don’t want to open up the door.”