Eddie Murphy’s return as Prince Akeem Joffer in “Coming 2 America” (streaming now on Prime Video) brings the comedy franchise back to the fictional Zamunda, home to the royal family and its future heir.
Much of the Zamunda setting was recreated in Georgia, with the palatial palace brought to life courtesy of rapper Rick Ross, who opened the doors of his estate on the outskirts of Atlanta to the film’s production team.
Says production designer Jefferson Sage: “Our big problem was, where do we find a house that had the scale of the possibilities for a very lavish palace?”
Sage and his team scouted multiple locations before zeroing in on the Ross estate, which would serve as the bones of the lush royal palace.
The 45,000 square-foot mansion in Fayetteville, Ga. sits on 235 acres and was previously owned by boxer Evander Holyfield. With 12 bedrooms and a dining room that seats up to 100 people, it had the scale director Craig Brewer and Sage were looking for.
“That entrance foyer with the big two-story interior and double-winding staircase was perfect,” says Sage. “Off of that, there were two beautiful big rooms with giant windows and 18-foot ceilings. We used five key spaces that we turned into Zamunda.”
Those spaces were converted for the film’s primary sets, including the King’s bedroom and the dining room. The primary bedroom in the palace was Ross’s own. The rapper says 1988’s “Coming to America” may be his all-time favorite movie and that he was chuffed to see Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall walking through his estate.
“They changed the wallpaper in the dining room so I asked them to keep it up there,” Ross laughs. “They also created that huge dining room table for a dining scene that seats 50-60 people, and they left that for me as a gift. It’s humungous.”
Set decorator Douglas A. Mowat deserves credit for enhancing Ross real-life rooms. To transform the primary bedroom, he went with the existing color — warm white — but brought in blues and silvers to “make the room pop and give it more dimension.” Mowat took the lead by adding silver leaf to the canopy above the bed.
Sage made sure to honor the original film by keeping a similar color palette, “but we altered it a bit,” he says. “We took the bones of the original set with the idea that they renovated and upgraded regularly.”
Elsewhere, Sage built the ballroom and throne room on external soundstages, but the architecture of the mansion served as the basis for the design. “We did that so it would always feel like the same building,” Sage adds.
The Ross mansion had a white interior with a gold ceiling trim throughout, so when it came to those external sets, Sage accented and embellished gold-leafing throughout. “We used so much gold leafing that we bought out the country’s supply for at least two months,” he cracks.
He relied on visual effects to enhance the silhouette of the film. During one sequence, a campanile bell rings, and while the actual set was small, Brewer and Sage inserted the shot into a swooping vista of the Zamundan palace and residence. “That was our moment to sell the place as a bit of fantasy and show where they live and bring out the fairytale quality of it all,” says Sage.
Creating the iconic My-T-Sharp barbershop for a sequence was Sage’s favorite. He sought out all the information on the original set created by Richard Macdonald. He researched and studied the pictures on the wall, honing in on the signed photos of the baseball stars and boxers. Adds Sage: “We went to great lengths to find as much as we could, and we got just about everything. The sense of going back to that set is a tie-in to the original and brings the two movies together.”