Why Coming 2 America’s Arsenio Hall Was Initially Hesitant To Play Multiple Characters In The First Film

Semmi (Arsenio Hall) and Akeem (Eddie Murphy) look confused in Coming 2 America (2021)

Arsenio Hall and Eddie Murphy make up one of the greatest movie duos in the history of cinema (and you can thank Keenen Ivory Wayans for that). The two have done excellent work on multiple occasions, but 1988’s Coming to America is arguably the greatest showcase of their chemistry and comedic talents. One of the most impressive aspects of the film is the fact that they both performed multiple characters in the movie. While both actors knocked it out of the park, Hall, who recently re-teamed with Murphy for Coming 2 America, revealed he was initially hesitant to play multiple roles.

Arsenio Hall was always down to do Coming to America with Eddie Murphy but, as he revealed on The Kelly Clarkson Show, he didn’t know he was going to have to perform multiple characters. The veteran comedian then went into why he became nervous at the prospect of doing so:

You know, Eddie’s the GOAT, and we know he’s famous for characters on Saturday Night Live. At first, there was no barbershop, it was just a fish out of water idea. Then Paramount and John Landis come and say, ‘We need you guys to do characters.’ And I said, ‘Well, I don’t do characters. Eddie will do characters.’ They wanted us to be some of the people we met in Queens. And Eddie said, ‘Yo, I was watching you do stand-up the other night at the Comedy Store.’ He said, ‘Sometimes when you talk, you go into people’s voice. If you say Tracy Morgan, you eventually go into Tracy Morgan.’ So he said, ‘Just come up with voices, some of those voices.’ He talked me into it. It kind of gave me confidence. I think the problem was I didn’t want to do characters next to Eddie Murphy because I knew how good he was at it, but it worked out great.

It sounds like Arsenio Hall wasn’t just intimidated about doing characters -- he was nervous about doing them alongside Eddie Murphy. Longtime Saturday Night Live fans will tell you that Murphy is a master of impersonations, so Hall’s trepidation is understandable. However, the comedian really doesn’t give himself enough credit in that regard, and it’s great that Murphy could spot his ability and ultimately encouraged him to take on multiple roles.

One of the reasons Coming to America has become so beloved among fans is due to Arsenio Hall and Eddie Murphy’s memorable characters. Aside from playing Semmi and Prince Akeem, they also play two of the Mighty-T Sharp barbers. Murphy also portrays the iconic singer Randy Watson, and Hall plays the eccentric (and womanizing) Reverend Brown. And on top of that, Hall briefly appears as a woman Akeem and Semmi meet in a bar.

Given how embedded their characters are in the original film, fans were likely more than happy to see them reprise the roles in the sequel. Arsenio Hall even took on an additional character that Eddie Murphy was originally going to play. While the two likely won’t reprise those characters in the future, let’s hope they will get another chance to work together and play multiple roles in another film.

Coming 2 America is currently available to stream on Amazon.

Erik Swann
Senior Content Producer

Erik Swann is a Senior Content Producer at CinemaBlend. He began working with the publication in 2020 when he was hired as Weekend Editor. Today, he continues to write, edit and handle social media responsibilities over the weekend. On weekdays, he also writes TV and movie-related news and helps out with editing and social media as needed. He graduated from the University of Maryland, where he received a degree in Broadcast Journalism. After shifting into multi-platform journalism, he started working as a freelance writer and editor before joining CB. Covers superheroes, sci-fi, comedy, and almost anything else in film and TV. He eats more pizza than the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.