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Oscars 2010: Eddie Murphy as Richard Pryor in Bill Condon's biopic

February 27, 2009 | 12:15 pm

The first time Eddie Murphy worked with writer-director Bill Condon he earned a nomination for best supporting actor at the Oscars. That was for playing a fictionalized version of singer James Brown in "Dreamgirls" back in 2006 (he lost to Alan Arkin, "Little Miss Sunshine"). Now the two are reuniting to make a movie about Murphy's longtime idol — the late Richard Pryor.

Fox Searchlight — which shepherded "Slumdog Millionaire" to eight Oscars this year — is reportedly picking up this $25 million project. Eddie Murphy has long revered Richard Pryor, paying homage to him in his stand-up routines and casting Pryor in his directorial debut "Harlem Nights" in 1989. The life of the comic was fraught with drama — drug and alcohol abuse, broken marriages, illnesses — and could make for a powerful piece.

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Bill Condon won an Oscar in 1998 for his script of "Gods and Monsters," which explored the troubled life of 1930s film director James Whale. Star Ian McKellen lost the lead actor Oscar race to Roberto Benigni ("Life Is Beautiful") while supporting actress contender Lynn Redgrave lost to Judi Dench ("Shakespeare in Love"). Condon earned another Oscar nod for his adapted script for 2002 best picture champ "Chicago" (he lost to Ronald Harwood, "The Pianist").

Condon's next movie as a writer-director was "Kinsey," another biopic. Laura Linney earned a 2004 supporting actress nod as the wife of the famed sex researcher. She lost to Cate Blanchett ("The Aviator"). Condon's most recent film — "Dreamgirls" — earned eight Oscar nods, winning for supporting actress Jennifer Hudson and sound mixing. However, it deserved much more academy notice considering it won best comedy/musical picture at the Golden Globes and was nominated for the top prizes bestowed by the producers, directors and screen actors' guilds. Condon was snubbed for both his adapted script and direction and, while "Dreamgirls" earned the most nominations over all, it got snubbed in the best-picture race.

Condon and most of his "Dreamgirls" team suffered their slights from the academy graciously. Not Eddie Murphy, who fared better than his boss Condon. At least Eddie got nominated. But that wasn't enough. When he lost to Arkin, he reportedly stormed out of the ceremony.

These days Eddie Murphy is in dire need of a critical hit after a losing streak of films that have won him only Razzie awards. Last year, he set a new Razzie record, becoming the first star  to reap three of the four worst-acting trophies in a single year. All were for for his multiple roles in worst-picture nominee "Norbit" — as the nerdy title character (worst actor), Asian role Mr. Wong (worst supporting actor) and 400-pound shrew Rasputina (worst supporting actress).

At the most recent edition of the Razzies, Eddie Murphy escaped with only two nominations for the comedy misfire "Meet Dave." He lost his bid for worst actor to Mike Myers, creator and star of worst picture winner "The Love Guru." And he was eclipsed as worst couple by Paris Hilton and her co-stars from "The Hottie & The Nottie."

Eddie Murphy had been nominated for Razzies in the past: in 2002 as worst actor ("Pluto Nash") and worst screen couple (shared with "Showtime" costars Robert DeNiro and Owen Wilson) and he even "won" worst screenplay for "Harlem Nights." But those were all just playful jabs at a popular megastar who could use some humbling. Nowadays the Razzies really mean it and think that  Murphy deserves a true pummeling.

His upcoming kid flick "Imagine That" might escape their Razzie wrath. However, "A Thousand Words" — which reunites Eddie Murphy with "Meet Dave" helmer Brian Robbins — could be just the kind of high-minded serio-comic fare that earns him even more of these dubious honors. Murphy plays a fast-talking agent who so alienates one of his clients — a guru (thankfully not played by Mike Myers) — that he is cursed to die after speaking another 1,000 words.

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