Imagine That Director Karey Kirkpatrick: 'You Don't Think of Eddie Murphy as Shy, But He Is'
If you've cued up a children's DVD over the past few years that wasn't made by Pixar, chances are that Karey Kirkpatrick had something to do with it. His screenwriting resume is a veritable master class in family entertainment: Chicken Run, James and the Giant Peach, and Charlotte's Web are just a few of his efforts, and after making his directorial debut with Over the Hedge (just the year after he wrote the screenplay for The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy), he's moved on to his first live-action directing gig with the Eddie Murphy comedy Imagine That. Movieline talked to Kirkpatrick about Murphy's mystique, the film's soundtrack (for which the director himself recorded several Beatles covers), and the film he's planning that will mark a big departure from his usual family-friendliness.
I think there's this image of Eddie Murphy as this private guy who's completely surrounded by bodyguards. How do you connect with that, how do you make him vulnerable when you're working?
Well, he is present. What's funny is that at the end of the movie, we were doing a cast party and I'm a musician, so I put together a band to play at the wrap party. Thomas Haden Church was going to do a number, and a couple of guys from the cast were going to do stuff, and I went to [Murphy] and said, "Hey, you wanna come do a number with us?" And he said, "No, man. I'm too shy to do that." I mean, you don't think of Eddie as shy, but he is. Between "action" and "cut," he's a quiet guy. Like, I've never worked with Robin Williams, although I know people who have, and between takes I know he's still that same amped-up guy. Eddie's not like that. It's kind of amazing to watch, actually, when you say "action" and this switch flips.
You know what I would liken it to? Have you ever been to the Philharmonic? It's got some of the best musicians in the world, and I like to watch the ones that aren't playing. What are they doing? They're just sitting there in command of their instruments. It's even more remarkable when you go to watch the scoring of a movie with a seventy-piece orchestra, and people are literally doing crossword puzzles out there. They'll pick up their violin and rip through their passage with precision, and then back to their crossword puzzle. That's what it's like working with Eddie.
Imagine That falls into that genre of movies where there's a workaholic protagonist who has to ease up to either fall in love or reconnect with his family. But c'mon, you're a Hollywood director! You must be working pretty hard too...how do you balance those time demands with having a family?
It's the biggest challenge of my life, which is why I took the movie. I felt like I had something to say on the subject because I live it every day. How do I do both jobs? Well, the only answer I can come up with is that I wake up each day and think, "Who am I going to disappoint today?" [laughs] Someone's always going to be disappointed if they're not getting 100% of you, but I err on the side of, "Well, if I disappoint a studio executive, chances are I'm not going to put them on a therapist's couch in twenty years talking about me." So I'd better err on the side of my children.
So you feel you live by your movie's ethos, then?
I think part of it is that I know a few people who have teenagers that are having troubles, and they've sort of acknowledged that they know they're part of the problem because they weren't there when they needed to be there. There's no undoing that, and I don't want to go through that. You can't please your children all the time, but I certainly don't want to have a kid turn to me in high school and say, "You were never there." There's no job I have that's more important.