Eddie Murphy On Why He Turned Down ‘Star Trek IV’: He Wasn’t Interested In “Talking Jive To Spock”

As Paramount Pictures was developing its fourth Star Trek feature film, the studio pursued the idea of bringing in their biggest star at the time, Eddie Murphy. The former SNL star was just coming off his hit movie Beverly Hills Cop, the top-grossing movie of 1984. In a new talk show appearance, Murphy offered some more insight into why he eventually turned down the chance to be in Star Trek, despite being a fan.

Why Star Trek IV didn’t have Eddie Murphy

Eddie Murphy, who considers himself a Trekkie, was initially interested in appearing in the Star Trek movie, meeting with producer Harve Bennett and director Leonard Nimoy early on as the project was being developed. Drafts of a script were then written, featuring a character written specifically for Murphy.

In previous comments about why he eventually walked away, Murphy said it was because of the opportunity to make the film The Golden Child, which he thought at the time would be better for his career. However, in an appearance this week on Jimmy Kimmel Live, Murphy offered a different explanation. When asked about his brush with Trek, Murphy said:

Yeah, you know which one it was, it was the one where they go to San Francisco and they get the whales… I was going to be the one that they met when they got to San Francisco, and I was like, “No, I want to go and beam up and be on the ship,” so I didn’t do it.

Kimmel supported this idea, saying “You have to be on the Enterprise for Star Trek,” to which Murphy said:

Yeah, they had me like talking jive to Spock.

Eddie Murphy in Beverly Hills Cop

In the early drafts written by Steve Meerson and Peter Krikes, Murphy was to play a college professor who believed in aliens and ended up encountering the Enterprise crew. After he dropped out, Murphy’s character was combined with a couple of others— including a marine biologist Dr.  Gillian Taylor, played by Catherine Hicks.

Catherine Hicks (R) as Dr. Gillian Taylor in Star Trek IV

In the end, Star Trek IV performed well without Murphy, coming in at #7 at the box office for 1986 and making almost twice as much as The Golden Child. Later, Murphy said of his decision (via The Fifty-Year Mission: The Complete, Uncensored, Unauthorized Oral History of Star Trek)”I think I might have been better off doing Star Trek IV.” Murphy bounced back, of course, making more successful movies for Paramount. In fact, Murphy recently shot his fourth Beverly Hills Cop movie, which comes out on Netflix later this year.

Find more Star Trek history at TrekMovie.

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I do love Eddie Murphy, but I think we dodged a bullet. Gillian Taylor is such a fun character, and her chemistry with Kirk is great. Star Trek IV is damn near perfect as is, and I think Murphy’s presence would have damaged it.

Agreed 100%. The key to ST IV working was to make the TOS cast the funny ones, and Gillian played it straight for the most part. Also, it helped the story to have a female character with something significant to offer- as the resident whale expert, she helped drive the story forward at key points. A great script.

I agree that having a significant female character who is a cetacean biologist was pretty cool and effective. Murphy would have both stolen the show and probably have made it too hokey for words. He’s a funny guy but his characters are soooo over-the-top it would have been jarring. Not that TOS didn’t have a few of those (Trelane, Harry Mudd); however, I am happy the movies did not have that for comic relief.

I’ve always felt the same as well, Dune. I think it was a little too ‘gimmicky’ to have him in there and would have distracted from the story. Certainly would have gotten more butts in seats, though.

Read that wrong. For a minute I thought Eddie Murphy was in Dune. That DEFINITELY would have broken the 4th wall for me. 😀

Agreed. I think Murphy would’ve been too distracting to the point he could take you out of the movie. I just imagine it would be Murphy cracking jokes and sounding like Axel Foley the whole time.

Gillian Taylor was perfect and a fun character. To this day I still laugh every time she says ‘farm boy’.

I think the same about Tom Hanks in First Contact. I would have never been able to look at Hanks and see Cochrane. I would have just seen Hanks. and it totally would have took me out of the story.

That’s what happens when you have movie stars. Character actors can blend in. When you get too big, that’s harder to do for a lot of actors.

Whole heartedly agree. Eddie Murphy is a larger than life character, and while great in so many things (Trading Places and Coming to America are damn near perfect movies), I just can’t imagine his persona fitting well into Star Trek. I imagine the results may have been akin to Richard Pryor’s character in Superman III (albeit Richard Pryor was far, far, far from the only issues with that movie).

Yeah, I agree with you Lorna. I think it could have really gone off the rails with Murphy. He is brilliant, but it may have been too much. There may have been to much give to him as a big name comedian and it may have hurt the film. Catherine Hicks did a great job. Her character was straighter and the humor came through from the original ST characters. They didn’t need Murphy at all.

I can’t help but think back to Superman III where they added Richard Pryor as a lead character. In addition to the stupid plot, I think Pryor character was a bad idea and his presence hurt the film. It was one of the elements that completely undid what Richard Donner established, which was for Superman to be taken seriously. They made a camp picture instead. It was like Batman Forever, and, worse, Batman and Robin, which added big names in a camp setting.

I think that could’ve happened with ST IV. That could have been a worse blow to the franchise than ST V was.

Sounds like a wise decision by Eddie Murphy too, sounds like he knew his worth and wanted the full Trek experience not just the earth citizen comic relief professor. I have a lot of respect for making confident decisions about their career like that. I would never have thought the movie was initially written without Dr. Gillian Taylor. Reminds me to rewatch Trek IV some time.

Murphy was extremely smart at that time to turn it down. He actually wanted to play a character involved with the Star Trek universe instead of just playing his own persona, which was the mistake Superman III made with Richard Pryor.

But when it comes to someone who is/was such a big name, no one in a contemporary audience is ever really going to see them as that character anyway…it’s like Ed Sheeran being in Game of Thrones, or Jimmy Fallon in Band of Brothers*, it just throws you out of the fiction. I’m glad Murphy wasn’t in Star Trek as any kind of character, I don’t particularly like him, but playing his own persona on Earth would have made more sense than trying to make him part of the proper Starfleet/futuristic world. They could have just changed the dialog.

*Fallon did a really good job, but who doesn’t watch that scene and laugh at Jimmy freaking Fallon showing up with more ammo???

I thought  Ed Sheeran was fine on Game of Thrones

I didn’t even pick up on Ed Sheeran in GOT, but I see your point. One solution in Star Trek though is to bury them under alien make-up. Then, at some point the audience goes, “Wait, isn’t that TOM HANKS!!!” or whomever. Even than, it just comes off more as a gag.

I don’t even think it’s actually a problem. Daniel Craig was a stormtrooper in the Force Awakens and nobody cared much at all.

So long as he keeps that ugly mug covered, it isn’t a problem.

One of many mistakes on Superman III.

Everything in Superman III was an epic fail.

Not when superman goes bad.
Great work from reeve

That part, which was really silver-agey, was good.

Reeves was great as Superman in Superman III.

So were the sfx.

Pryor and the silly story and the full on campiness is what killed that film.

Plus, killing the Superman-Lois relationship didn’t help at all.

Superman III essentially killed the Superman films for years. It lead directly to Superman IV which was the death blow and never ever should have been made. Reeves even knew, while filming it, that it was terrible.

The more I think about this, the more that I feel that Superman III and IV track directly with Batman Forever and Batman and Robin.

Both sets of films started out with 2 strong films, and then diverged into camp, killing the franchises for a time.

Margot kidder got in trouble with the producers for defending Richard donner so her role was reduced

Yeah that was the other problem. They just wanted Eddie Murphy to play Eddie Murphy and up to that time the guy just played himself in every movie. And they obviously wanted him for this movie specifically because it wasn’t just a comedy, but a contemporary comedy so he can just do his thing and joke it up. I think Murphy wanted to be an actual Starfleet officer and treated so, but no one really saw him as anything but a comedic actor at that time.

Oh yuck so true. Superman III was a dumpster fire because of Pryor and it wasn’t Pryor’s fault he just wasn’t right for the movie.

This and Sean Connery set to play Sybok are two of the biggest “what ifs?” In Trek.

Wasn’t Robin Williams also close to appearing on TNG at one point?

Berlingoff Rasmussen was written for Robin Williams.

Right, thanks.

Tom Hanks as Cochrane is up there too.

Was just going to say this. James Cromwell was good, but Tom Hanks as Zephram Cochran would have been great casting.

…I would’ve liked to see Hanks in there too. Big fan of Cromwell, though. Btw, there’s a nice segment of CBS Sunday Morning on him featured today. His role in First Contact was not included, fyi.

I think him playing astronaut anti-hero, so soon after “Apollo 13” released would have made that a big mistake. He would have done a great job with the jolly drunk aspects of the character though. The man’s got range!

I thought (think) Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson would be good as Robert and Sarah April, but that ship has sailed (at least for SNW).

It was written in the hope of getting Connery. Not sure it went much further than that. Not sure if Connery ever even knew about the movie.

Edward James Olmos and Jurgen Prochnow as possible Kruges, along with Terence Stamp. Toshiro Mifune as Nogura or the Klingon adversary in the unmade PLANET OF THE TITANS. Jack Palance as Gorkon in TUC. Klaus Maria Brandauer or Max Von Sydow as Sybok. Marlon Brando as Soran. Tom Hanks as Cochrane. Gene Hackman as Dougherty. TREK is rife with casting ‘what ifs.’

And that doesn’t even get into tech crew choices. NEMESIS was originally supposed to be shot by Dante Spinotti, the cinematoghapher of LA CONFIDENTIAL, and the Orci / Kelvin Trek’s DP was going to be Claudio Miranda (TOP GUN MAVERICK, LIFE OF PI, tons of Fincher stuff.) Geiger doing FIRST CONTACT.

For me the most important ‘what ifs’ revolve around storytelling choices. If they’d only kept the TOS crew as renegades after TSFS, they could have done wonders with storytelling that wasn’t dependent on all the baggage of Starfleet and Federation and really focused on the characters. That’s the biggest wrong turn for me. Also, not following up on the E-B crew after the nexus incident, showing how the political paranoia of TSFS/TUC played out at the end of century 23.

I also remember reading about Edward James Olmos being a possibility for the Picard/Captain character in TNG.

Wouldn’t have gotten far. First time he encounters an alien he dies of a heart attack. 😉

connery, Sha Ka Ree

While I can let me say, fwiw, that I agree with everything that everyone has said thus far on this subject. But I’ve been meaning for a while to compliment whoever at Trekmovie does the photoshopping for the accompanying graphics for the articles. This one prompted me to finally do so. They almost always bring a smile.

Agreed! It’s such a nice touch and above-and-beyond. Many sites would just post a Eddie Murphy headshot and call it done.

I think at one point there was talk about what happened when Richard Pryor was cast in Superman III – one of the greatest comics of all time but NOT a good fit for Superman. The casting just did NOT work and Pryor’s style, which was hilarious, just did NOT work in Superman III.

Wasn’t Arnold Schwarzenegger considered for the role of Ruafo in Insurrection? That could’ve been interesting. . The other actors who are mentioned for the various roles would’ve been great too

Yup I remember reading that on the IMDB trivia section. At the time I thought it was a joke.

And Frakes was attached to direct Total Recall 2 with Schwarzenegger coming back.

But expensive above line cost for the film, just like wanting connery or hanks

It’s not that Murphy is incapable of gravitas on screen. Check out Mr. Church if you get the opportunity. Drama, excellent film. I just don’t think that’s what they would have written for him for TVH.

Remember what happened with ‘superman 3’ and richard pryor….

Bad movie, but it’s not Pryor’s fault. He did what they gave him to do, and he did it well.

it still worth it for bad superman and the bit when the sister is turned into a cyborg.

‘i asked you to kill superman and you couldn’t do that one simple thing….’

love murphy but this might have been distracting and the film i think is better off being great all on it’s own. nic cage is a big fan too. get them both. tarantino directs. pine, kelvin… all in.

guest stars in a ST movie are a tricky thing to cast.
an a lister is not always the right choice

I often wonder when an actor comes out decades later and changes their story about this sort of thing. On the one hand, they could have been trying to be diplomatic at the time, but with decades behind them and more success since, they can be more frank about it.

On the other, I have to wonder how much their memory has held up. Human recollection is extremely mutable. It’s just as likely he came to believe that he turned it down because a dislike of the script because he liked the sound of it better than choosing The Golden Child over a critically acclaimed hit. And after you tell yourself something like that for years, you start to believe its the truth.

Funny enough, this recently happened in reverse with Ally Sheedy, who had long rumored to have rejected a major role in the original Top Gun.

Recently, she said she’d always believed she had turned down a big role, but the truth was she never really remembered, and just went with the story that had cropped up over the years. Now, thinking about it more closely, she thinks it’s more likely she auditioned but just didn’t get the part.

Not that any of it matters, but it’s interesting to think about.

I saw the Kimmel interview, too. I’m thinking back that, yes, there was the discussion of Murphy playing the scientist role. Everyone has to remember that IV was meant to be a lighter movie and as it turned out opportunity for some good comedic moments. I’m thinking if Murphy had been cast there would have been accomodation made for him while maintaining the tone of being a Star Trek movie. Remember, he is a fan, too and would not want to ruin it by upstaging things. That being said and with his box office popularity, we could have seen maybe a $200M+grossing movie and an even wider audience being that Eddie Murphy WAS in it. Thats my 2c.