Best known as a stand-up and for voicing characters in shows like BoJack Horseman and Family Guy, Jermaine Fowler’s recent rise through the ranks has been impressive. His latest role sees him star as Lavelle Junson – the illegitimate son of Eddie Murphy’s Prince Akeem in Coming 2 America, the much anticipated sequel to 1988’s Coming To America – and it’s his biggest yet.
We caught up with Jermaine on a Zoom call from the US to talk big film jitters, Black Panther Easter eggs and why working with Murphy “means everything” to him.
Coming 2 America was 33 years in the making – how did you cope with the pressure?
“As actors we get really in our heads sometimes, especially in a movie of this size and of this magnitude. But we all knew what was at stake so the butterflies went away after the first couple of days.”
How was it working with a legend like Eddie Murphy?
“I’ve watched and admired everything he’s done for years – Raw and Delirious are two of my favourite stand-up specials. So to know that he watched my audition tapes and felt like I was the right choice meant a lot.”
How hands-on was he with this film?
“This movie is Eddie’s baby. He was very hands-on with the script development, the scenes, the wardrobe, the story arcs… He makes everything look so easy. He worked so hard, and he’s been doing this since he was 19.”
Did you geek out and ask him a load of questions?
“There were definitely times when I wanted to know a couple of things about certain [David] Letterman interviews that he did, or what it was like filming Harlem Nights. I was also really curious about what it was like working with Martin Lawrence on Life. The blooper reel in that film always made me laugh when I was a kid so I wanted to know if there really was a bee flying near him in that one particular outtake.”
And was there?
“Haha. I’m keeping those for myself. They’re my little nuggets. I waited so long to work with Ed that I wanna keep certain things for myself.”
Tracy Morgan plays your uncle in the film – were you a fan of his before Coming 2 America?
“I’ve been a fan of everything Tracy’s done since Martin. I love small cameos, and when you can turn them into a big cameo it’s even better – like Kevin Hart in 40 Year Old Virgin and Craig Robinson in Knocked Up. With Tracy, his cameo in Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back always made me laugh so much. I told Tracy that. I even did his line from it (‘I don’t know what the fuck you just said, little kid, but you special, man. You reached out and you touched a brother’s heart’) and he said to me: ‘I don’t really remember none of that, man.’ It was the perfect response.”
Do you think he’s underrated as an actor because he’s known more for his whackier roles?
“I do. I would love to see him do something dramatic. In fact, he showed us a clip of a movie he’s financing that’s really, really dope. He wants to play Louis Armstrong in a biopic and I believe he can do it. He sounds exactly like him and looks exactly like him, and I was blown away by it. If he can truly pull that off I think it’ll put Tracy on another level altogether.”
Were you given the opportunity to improvise much during filming?
“Absolutely. In fact, it was invited. You can’t have a cast of damn near 10 comedians and not have improvisation, right? It was an extremely important part of the film, and a lot of the stuff I improvised made the final cut.”
“One bit in particular I was very proud of that made Eddie laugh was the line where I said Arsenio [Hall] was dressed like a slave from the future. That was improvised. It was funny because Arsenio’s character Semmi was getting me. He’s this cantankerous, bitter African dude who just doesn’t like me and he was saying some really mean shit. So I was like, fuck this dude. Fuck Semmi. I was so mad. After I said it and we finished the take, Eddie repeated the line and laughed. I felt good about that one.”
There’s a scene where you perform Prince’s ‘Gett Off’…
“That was such a fun but nerve-wracking scene. Craig [Brewer, the film’s director] said, ‘Hey, look, I got this idea where you’re gonna rap ‘Gett Off’ by Prince.’ I said, what’s ‘Gett Off’? I’d heard almost everything but I’d never heard that. And he was like, ‘You’ve never heard of ‘Gett Off’?’ I think it was right there that I lost Craig’s respect. So I downloaded the song and I was like, ‘Oh shit, Prince is rapping. What the fuck?’ I had no idea that Prince had bars. I didn’t know Prince could spit.’ But of course he can, he’s fucking Prince!”
When Lavelle first arrives in Zamunda he gets a haircut similar to Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger in Black Panther. Was that intentional?
“Yeah, it was. That was kind of my idea. I wanted to pay a little homage to Black Panther and give a nod to Michael B. and how much I love Killmonger. There were a few Easter eggs here and there, and a few little homages.”
Was Black Panther a big inspiration for Coming 2 America?
“With all due respect to Black Panther – and I love Black Panther – Coming To America came before it. And what Coming To America did was set a standard for Hollywood in general that was lacking any representation. Black Panther really took that and brought it to a different level. It innovated a lot as far as the scale of how Black things could be. But generationally, one came before the other and it was Coming To America. I would love to see a Coming 2 America and Black Panther crossover; that would be dope. A Zamunda and Wakanda crossover film would be awesome, with Eddie and Michael B. Jordan finally doing a film together.”
‘Coming 2 America’ is available to watch now on Amazon Prime Video