For the most part, the main cast of 1988’s Coming to America was comprised of Black actors, whether their characters hailed from the fictional nation of Zamunda or crossed paths with Eddie Murphy’s Prince Akeem Joffer during his stay in New York. That said, Louie Anderson did have a supporting role in the John Landis-directed movie, and as it turns out, the only reason Anderson was cast in Coming to America was because the studio mandated that a white character be included in the story.
This revelation came from Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall when they were visiting Jimmy Kimmel Live! to promote Coming 2 America. When Kimmel asked how Louie Anderson came to be a part of Coming to America, here’s what the actors had to say:
Arsenio Hall: I love Louie [Anderson,] but I think we were forced to put Louie in it. I think we were forced to put in a white person.
Eddie Murphy: Paramount was like, because the whole cast was Black and this was back in the ‘80s. So it was like, ‘We have to have a white person. There has to be a white person in the movie’… So who was the funniest white guy around? Louie, we knew was cool, so that's how Louie got in the movie.
So if Coming to America had progressed without this studio note, Louie Anderson wouldn’t have been included in the feature, and presumably his character, an employee at the McDowell’s fast food restaurant named Maurice who Akeem briefly works alongside, would have been played by a Black actor. But things didn’t unfold that way, and having been impressed by Anderson’s comedy work in the ‘80s, Eddie Murphy thought that he’d be “perfect” for the role.
That being said, it’s not like Louie Anderson was the first and only white actor looked at for Coming to America. Arsenio Hall also disclosed the following during the interview:
It was official, I had a list. They gave me a list with three white guys. They said, ‘Who would you rather work with?’ And I pointed to Louie.
Arsenio Hall wasn’t willing to divulge who these other two actors were, so unless he and Eddie Murphy are feeling more talkative in the future, we’ll probably never learn their identities. But evidently things worked out putting Louie Anderson in Coming to America, as he was brought back to reprise Maurice for Coming 2 America. So while Maurice and Akeem didn’t spend a whole lot of time together at McDowell’s, they’ll soon get the opportunity to catch up when Akeem returns to the United States to find the son he never knew existed.