Daniel Petrie Jr is the son of Daniel Petrie and the brother of Donald Petrie, both film directors. Dan's first success was as the writer of the smash hit BEVERLY HILLS COP (1984), which won him an Oscar nomination. He followed it with the highly-regarded THE BIG EASY two years later. Dan has directed six films, including TOY SOLDIERS (1991), which he also wrote, and he also wrote and produced the hit comedy TURNER AND HOOCH (1989). Dan has been both a President and Vice-President of The Writer's Guild and is now VP of The Writer's Guild Foundation. On top of all this, Dan co-owns the independent film company Enderby Entertainment with Rick Dugdale. I spoke with Dan about his experiences writing BEVERLY HILLS COP.
NB. The road to BEVERLY HILLS COP stretches back to at least 1977. Both Don Simpson and Jeffrey Katzenberg believed they had come up with the initial idea. Danilo Bach's first script was entitled 'Beverly Drive'. According to Jerry Bruckheimer, Mickey Rourke was put on a holding contract to play the lead at one point.
My interview with Dan on THE BIG EASY.
How did you get involved with BEVERLY HILLS COP?
BEVERLY HILLS COP was much different from THE BIG EASY. It was not my idea, it was an assignment. I had just sold 'Windy City', which eventually became THE BIG EASY, and I was 'The New Flavour of the Week'! Since it had sold quickly to the first producer who had seen the script, that producer took the position that no-one in town was able to read the script. But that's like an invitation for everybody to read it! Things get Xeroxed in mailrooms and sent around. A week before I was the kind of writer who had to beg to get people to read my script, but after "Windy City' sold, everybody in town read it, even though they weren't supposed to. Amongst the people that read it were the executives at Paramount where BEVERLY HILLS COP was being developed.
How did BEVERLY HILLS COP become much more of a comedy?
During the period of writing 'Windy City' and some other things, I had had a little office with very cheap rent that I wrote my scripts in. But I had no money. My budget for lunches for the week was $20. The office was at the corner of Little Santa Monica and Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. So I had the whole experience of being a guy with no money for two years but still working in an office in the heart of Beverly Hills. Every day I would see something funny. I would walk down the street and look in an art gallery and wonder "Are people really going to pay money for this?" I would see what people were wearing, what the very high fashion boutiqes were selling, and it all seemed so funny to me. So when I was told the existing scripts were about a cop who comes from Pittsburgh (later Detroit) to Beverly Hills to investigate a crime, it immediately occured to me that it should be comedic. In the three previous scripts there was some humour but they were more straight-ahead police thrillers. When you tell the plot of BEVERLY HILLS COP it sounds like a police thriller and doesn't necessarily sound funny! Paramount was surprised when they got my script and it was much more comedic. They found it funny, and were surprised and pleased.
When did Eddie Murphy come on board?
The first actor who was seriously involved was Sylvester Stallone. He was going to play the lead but he re-wrote the script and made it more of an action movie again. That had the natural effect of raising the budget to a level that was higher than Paramount wanted to spend on the picture. Paramount asked Stallone if he was willing to do my script or alternatively he could take the stuff I had written for him and all of the stuff that he had written and make another movie out of it, so long as it wasn't about a cop who came from out of town to Beverly Hills. By that time, the movie was so different that he was able to do that and he was extremely gracious about it and took that suggestion. He used almost all of his material and incorporated it into his film COBRA (1986). Actually, Stallone had renamed our lead character Axel Cobretti in his BEVERLY HILLS COP script.
Now they were a month before shooting and we didn't have a lead. Fortunately, Eddie Murphy was available.
Did Murphy's casting entail further rewriting?
Yes, right up until the day that production started. Interestingly, they weren't changes for him. The only change that he requested was that the character's age be his age. He was only 23 at the time. The fact that Eddie was an African-American didn't mean any adjustments to the script because the race wasn't described in the script. He made an enormous contribution to the script, not through writing, but improvising. He was so inventive in his scenes. But in other scenes he would lay back and be the straight man and give the comic stuff to the other actor in the scene, which was great.
Did you spend much time on set?
Not at all. I visited the set, but that was about it.
Was Martin Brest attached to BEVERLY HILLS COP from the time you got involved?
No, he came on after Stallone came aboard. There were no other directors connected with the film, although there were people who considered it or they were contemplating going to.
What qualities do you think Martin Brest brought to the movie?
So many, really. He knew what he had with Eddie, which was lightning in a bottle and was able to get the most out of him.
Can you remember seeing BEVERLY HILLS COP for the first time?
Vividly. It was at the Main Theater on the Paramount lot. They had brought in an audience to show the rough cut to, and it got a huge response.
What was the impact of BEVERLY HILLS COP on your career?
It was huge. It started an association with the heads of Paramount at the time. Later, they all left to go to different studios. Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg went over to Disney just before BEVERLY HILLS COP was released and Disney made an overall exclusive deal with me. So I wound up working with Disney for the next decade, which is the reason why I never got to work on the sequels. I am also not involved in the potential new TV series. A brilliant writer, Shawn Ryan, creator of 'The Shield', is working with Eddie and CBS to develop that show.
I spoke with Dan by telephone on 24th August. I would like to thank him for sparing his time.
Paul Rowlands is a Japan-based writer. After completing a BA Humanities course (majoring in English and Science) at the University of Chester, he moved to Japan in 1999. He writes for the James Bond magazine, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, has had articles published on Press Play and other sites, and has had an almost lifelong obsession with cinema, something the advent of DVD only increased.