‘Sopranos’ Star David Proval Recalled Coaching Eddie Murphy on His 1st Movie

By the time David Proval joined the cast of The Sopranos, he’d been working as an actor for over 25 years. His run in the business started in ’73, when he played Tony in the Martin Scorsese film Mean Streets. In that picture, he co-starred with Harvey Keitel and Robert De Niro.

Though that might sound like the ideal way to break in as an actor, Proval was already 31 when Mean Streets hit theaters. After that, he continued logging small film and TV roles until he landed the lead in the Paul Williams picture Nunzio (1978).

But Universal backed away from promoting Nunzio, and the film never had a chance to reach audiences. That discouraged Proval, who went three years until his next screen appearance. Around that time, he worked a bit as an acting coach. And one day he got a call to coach a young actor named Eddie Murphy for his first film role.

David Proval coached Eddie Murphy for ’48 Hours’

David Proval and Robert De Niro in Mean Streets
David Proval and Robert De Niro perform a scene from ‘Mean Streets’ in 1973. | Michael Ochs Archive/Getty Images

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On the Talking Sopranos podcast, Proval recalled the post-Nunzio period of his career. “I was coaching classes, and I dropped out for a while,” he said. “I coached somebody who knew [Eddie Murphy], and they were doing this 48 Hours.”

At the time, Murphy was midway through his run on Saturday Night Live (1980-84). But 48 Hours represented his first major movie role. According to Proval, it wasn’t working out for the producers of the picture. “Murphy wasn’t delivering,” he said.

He didn’t make a good impression on his acting coach, either. “I didn’t like him at all at first,” Proval recalled. “He’s an obstinate kid, he comes in saying, ‘Hey, I got an album out. If they don’t like me, I’ll go [do my comedy].'”

Proval wasn’t impressed, and he had an idea to producers. “I said to them, ‘Why don’t you get Gregory Hines? He can act.'” Proval recalled. But they wanted Murphy in 48 Hours because of his popularity on SNL. So Proval got to work.

Proval declined an offer from Murphy to coach him a 2nd time

Steve Van Zandt and David Proval from 'The Sopranos'
Steve Van Zandt & David Proval attend an Emmy Awards after party. | SGranitz/WireImage

Though things didn’t start off great, Proval saw that Murphy had something. “I started working with him, and he was smart enough to listen,” he said on Talking Sopranos. “He’s a smart guy. He knew exactly what I was talking about.”

When Murphy went to work on another film, he gave Proval a call. “He asked me to coach him again, and I said no,” Proval recalled. But it wasn’t anything personal. “Showing up on a set as a coach … I’m an actor. People start dealing with you like you’re somebody’s brother-in-law. I didn’t like the feeling.”

Proval quit coaching a long time ago. By the mid-’80s, he started working on the big shows of the era. He appeared in Cagney & Lacey, Miami Vice, Fame, and Knight Rider. Then he got back into movies. As for Murphy, his star continued its steady rise. Beverly Hills Cop (1984) was only two years away.