Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F’s Mark Molloy is now the latest in a long line of filmmakers who Jerry Bruckheimer has recruited from the world of advertising. 

Having written or directed at least four commercials for Apple, the humble Australian filmmaker won’t allow himself to say that he followed in the same footsteps as fellow Bruckheimer discoveries Tony Scott and Michael Bay, but in his ongoing effort to change up the status quo, the celebrated producer has frequently found new talent through commercials and music videos. In the ‘80s, Scott was one of a handful of British commercial directors who took their unconventional styles to the States, and Bruckheimer and Don Simpson’s Top Gun (1986) served as his American debut. The massive success of that film prompted the two producing partners to quickly rehire Scott for Beverly Hills Cop II (1987), a film that Molloy channeled in Netflix’s now well-received legacy sequel Axel F

However, while Molloy initially said yes to the idea of doing a Bruckheimer project without hesitation, he surprisingly followed it up with a series of nos.

“My agent called me one day and was like, ‘Jerry Bruckheimer wants to get on the phone with you.’ And I was like, ‘I want to get on the phone with Jerry Bruckheimer.’ And then Jerry said that he’d love to make a movie together,” Molloy tells The Hollywood Reporter. “He then sent me quite a few scripts, and I actually said no to them all. They just didn’t feel like the right fit for me, but then he sent me Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F. And 20 pages in, I was like, ‘Oh, I’m in. I love this.’”

Molloy isn’t shy about the fact that he wanted to embrace the audience’s nostalgia for the Eddie Murphy-led action-comedy franchise. Filmmakers are sometimes hesitant to admit that they wanted to “play the hits” in their own legacy sequels, but Molloy has no qualms about it, so much so that he did it quite literally on set. 

“As we were shooting, I would play the Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack,” Molloy says. “During a long pan, I’d put the music on and I’d be like, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s going to work,’ or, ‘Can we pan a little bit slower?’ So I really had [the music] in my head the whole time.”

In preparation, Molloy focused on Martin Brest’s 1984 franchise starter, Scott’s 1987 sequel and other ‘70s and ‘80s actioners, but he purposefully steered clear of 2013’s unaired CBS pilot and 1994’s Beverly Hills Cop III. In the case of the latter, Molloy helped engineer a mild swipe at the franchise’s least popular installment, as Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Detective Bobby Abbott remarked, “Not your finest hour,” to Axel in reference to his 1994 escapades.

“I had a lot to do with that. I just thought it would be a really fun little moment for the franchise fans where we wink back at ourselves,” Molloy says. “I’ve never seen [Beverly Hills Cop III], and Jerry hasn’t either. When I came in, I said to Jerry, ‘I haven’t seen Beverly Hills Cop III.’ And he was like, ‘I didn’t do it, so you don’t need to see it.’”

Axel F’s most significant change of pace occurs through Taylour Paige’s Jane Saunders, Axel’s estranged daughter. In the 2013 pilot from writer Shawn Ryan and director Barry Sonnenfeld, Axel’s son, Aaron (Brandon T. Jackson), played with the idea that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. The younger Foley had his father’s gift of gab and survival skills, however, Jane couldn’t be more different than Axel. She’s one of the franchise’s few characters who’s completely immune to Axel’s charisma.

“She’s his kryptonite. She can see through him, and all of his Axel Foley-isms don’t work on her,” Molloy explains. “So that’s what really excited me, and as we were looking to cast that role, it wasn’t about trying to replicate Axel from a comedic standpoint. We’ve already got Eddie Murphy. We don’t need to put Eddie Murphy against Eddie Murphy. And when I saw Taylour Paige in Zola, I saw a spark in her eyes and a strength of character that I thought could go toe to toe with Eddie.”

Below, during a recent conversation with THR, Molloy also addresses a couple of the film’s cameos, before explaining what he misses most about action films from the ‘70s and ‘80s.

So how does an Australian director go from Apple to Axel as their feature directorial debut? 

It’s quite surreal for a start. I’d done a lot of commercial work, and then my agent called me one day and was like, “Jerry Bruckheimer wants to get on the phone with you.” And I was like, “I want to get on the phone with Jerry Bruckheimer.” (Laughs.) And then Jerry said that he’d love to make a movie together, and I said that I would love that too. He then sent me quite a few scripts, and I actually said no to them all. They just didn’t feel like the right fit for me, but then he sent me Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F. And 20 pages in, I was like, “Oh, I’m in. I love this.” And then there were a lot of meetings with a lot of convincing that I was the right man for the job. Jerry just really believed in me, but I had to really talk to Eddie and Netflix to get everyone on board. So that’s how it happened.

Eddie Murphy in Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F

Melinda Sue Gordon/Netflix

In hindsight, what aspect of your pitch likely connected the most with everyone?

When I read the script, it had the DNA of a Beverly Hills Cop film built into it, and it was really confident in what it wanted to be. But as I was reading it, I wanted to go back to the well and bring it to life like an ‘80s action comedy. My big pitch was: “I really love those first two films. I’m inspired by not just those films, but that era of filmmaking, and I want to bring that into a modern day world.” The other big thing that I really loved about the script and that was a part of my pitch was seeing a whole different side to Axel’s character. It’s been 40 years since the first one came out, and there’s this whole emotional undercurrent to the film that shows us a different side to Axel. So I really loved the idea of being able to evolve the franchise with Axel F. You’re still giving people what they want, but you’re also catching them off guard with something they didn’t expect.

In the ‘80s and ‘90s, a lot of filmmakers made the jump from commercials and music videos, including Beverly Hills Cop II director Tony Scott. I don’t hear that story as often these days, but do you think there’s still an active pipeline from commercials to features? 

There’s definitely a couple of others I can think of, but I don’t think it’s as prevalent as it was. There are so many commercial directors going around, too, and I don’t know whether there were that many back in the day. So, to follow — not that I’m following — or be in the same footsteps as Tony Scott is so humbling. From Tony Scott to Michael Bay, Jerry has been a champion of that [transition] the whole time.

Shooting at magic hour is a common trait of Jerry’s films, but it was certainly a Tony Scott staple as well. Was your own frequent use of magic hour in Axel F a nod to him? 

It was not so much about shooting at magic hour, but it was more about the way Tony captured L.A. and Beverly Hills. There was such a sense of character, and so I really wanted to try and capture that same sense of character. But L.A. is not as smoggy as it was back in the ‘80s. There’s this haze that is so prevalent in Beverly Hills Cop II, but L.A. doesn’t have that same layer of haze anymore.

Overall, it seems like Axel F paid homage to the first film more than anything else. Would you agree with that? 

Yeah, I really loved the balance of comedy and action that Marty [Brest] had in the first film. It was built around character even more so than the second film, and that was something that I wanted to do too. There’s some really iconic moments in that first film, and we were looking to use the nostalgia of those moments more so than Beverly Hills Cop II. Beverly Hills Cop II actually revisited some of those iconic moments themselves. (Laughs.)

When it comes to directing Eddie Murphy, do you just clear the runway and roll camera? 

A big part of my job was creating the right environment and space for Eddie to work his magic. I really thought about each scene and the blocking and casting the right actors across from Eddie. We worked a lot on the script to really give Eddie a clear direction of where the scene needs to go, but then we would allow the space for Eddie to then take it where he wants it to go. So a lot of it comes down to preparation, and a big part of my pitch to Eddie was asking the questions of, “Who is Axel Foley now? How have the last 40 years affected him?” So Eddie was really big on that, and we didn’t want to pretend like time hadn’t passed. We didn’t want to act like Axel was still in his twenties. He’s a father now, and a lot has evolved. So I really talked to Eddie a lot about that perspective at the very start, but he has such a keen sense of who Axel was and is now.

Eddie Murphy as Axel Foley and Taylour Paige as Jane Saunders in Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F

Melinda Sue Gordon/Netflix

Eddie and co. shot a pilot just over a decade ago, and it focused on Axel’s son, Aaron Foley (Brandon T. Jackson). Did you ever inquire about the reasoning for why they shifted to a daughter (Taylour Paige’s Jane Saunders) instead? 

No, I never dug into that, actually. I never questioned it. I just got the script and thought it was great. There’s been so much history with this franchise, but I never actually saw Beverly Hills Cop III

Really!? 

Yeah, I’ve never seen it, and Jerry hasn’t either. (Laughs.) When I came in, I said to Jerry, “I haven’t seen Beverly Hills Cop III.” And he was like, “I didn’t do it, so you don’t need to see it.” And I was like, “OK, cool, Jerry. I’m going to let it go then.”

Joe Gordon-Levitt’s character fires a shot at Beverly Hills Cop III with the “not your finest hour” line. 

I had a lot to do with that. (Laughs.)

Eddie, historically, doesn’t mince words when it comes to that film, so was that line wholly embraced by him? 

Yeah! I have never seen the film, but I’ve heard what Eddie has said about it. I even talked about it with a few of the other actors that were in it, and I just thought it would be a really fun little moment for the franchise fans where we wink back at ourselves. I’m not going to take the full responsibility for it, but I was very involved.

By the way, I didn’t mean to suggest that I was second guessing the change to a daughter. Axel’s son in the unaired CBS pilot was a chip off the old block in every way, and I just think there’s more drama in a daughter who doesn’t fall for her absent father’s charm. Jane sees through Axel. 

I love that you saw that, because that’s what I really loved about the Jane character. It really excited me that Axel was about to meet his worst enemy. She’s his kryptonite. She can see through him, and all of his Axel Foley-isms don’t work on her. So it’s a whole new challenge for his character and for us as an audience when you watch them together. It’s like, “What’s Axel going to do here? His charm and his wit is useless against her.” So that’s what really excited me, and as we were looking to cast that role, it wasn’t about trying to replicate Axel from a comedic standpoint. We’ve already got Eddie Murphy. We don’t need to put Eddie Murphy against Eddie Murphy. So I was looking for a real strength of character, and when I saw Taylour Paige in Zola, I saw a spark in her eyes and a strength of character that I thought could go toe to toe with Eddie. So I was really excited to see both of them together on screen in that contrast.

John Ashton as Taggart, Eddie Murphy as Axel and Judge Reinhold as Rosewood in Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F

Melinda Sue Gordon/Netflix

There’s a coda with Axel, Rosewood (Judge Reinhold) and Taggart (John Ashton) that recreates their famous stakeout in the first film. Was that added late in the game? I only ask because codas are sometimes a response to test screenings and the need to add any missing ingredients. 

It wasn’t a late addition, but it wasn’t in the original script. When I think back to watching Beverly Hills Cop for the first time, I just see the three of them in that police car, and that’s the image I had as a fan. So I really wanted to bring that feeling back, and I felt it on set as we were shooting it. When Axel jumped in the back of the car, I was like, “These three guys in that car together after 40 years is exactly where I want to be.” So I wanted to really see that evolution not just as a fan but as a director. In some ways, nothing’s changed, but a lot really has changed.

You really leaned into the music of the franchise, and a lot of legacy sequels, for whatever reason, are hesitant to overly rely on their beloved themes and needle drops. They usually only flirt with them. Perhaps there’s a financial disincentive, but I always hear the line of wanting the film to stand on its own, musically. So was everybody on the same page early on with regard to the music? 

Yeah, we definitely discussed that. For me, the music of the Beverly Hills Cop franchise has so much of the identity and the tone of the films. It’s so critical. We’ve got the score and all of those needle drops in Axel F, which is all a huge part. They take you to a place. I definitely wanted to use the music to create nostalgia, but also help a new audience understand what a Beverly Hills Cop film feels like. So the score was really prevalent, and its use in the film was something we really worked on a lot as to where it comes in and everything like that.

In terms of the needle drops, we were always starting with [Glenn Frey’s] “The Heat Is On.” That never changed from the first script I read, and I had it in my head as I was shooting that scene. Actually, as we were shooting a lot of the other stuff, I would play the Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack. During a long pan, I’d put the music on and I’d be like, “Oh, yeah, that’s going to work,” or, “Can we pan a little bit slower?” So I really had it in my head the whole time. 

Besides nostalgia, we also wanted the music to inform character. Some of those older needle drops in Detroit are for when it’s very much Axel’s world, and then when we move to Beverly Hills, it’s Jane’s world a little bit. We feel a bit of a different influence there. So we used the music as a means to show the contrast between the L.A. and Detroit vibe and also the generational divide.

So who called Channing Tatum to explain his photo cameo with the impound guy?

(Laughs.) I don’t know. I’m sure someone did, but it wasn’t me. That was fun.

There’s a shot of Lumiere Cinema in Beverly Hills, and Michael Mann’s Ferrari and Celine Song’s Past Lives are on the marquee. Did you have to debate whether to keep those titles visible since they tie the film to a specific time period? 

To be honest, we didn’t discuss that at all.

Christopher McDonald has a cameo on a golf course, and one of his most famous roles is, of course, golfer Shooter McGavin from Happy Gilmore. Well, considering that Netflix is now making a Happy Gilmore sequel at long last, did your scene serve as the proof of concept that they needed for a green light?

(Laughs.) I had no idea that they were making Happy Gilmore 2. I was talking with Mary Vernieu, our casting director, about the golfer role that we knew we had, and I said, “I’d love a great cameo.” So we started talking about it, and then we were like, “Christopher McDonald!? Oh, yes! That would be amazing.” And fans love it. I’ve heard the reaction when people see Chris come on the screen, and it’s just a really fun cameo. So there’s no bigger story behind it, apart from me wanting to have some fun.

My favorite scene is the valet scene right after that cameo.

That was an example of me setting the table for Eddie to work his magic, and casting the right person who can improvise and go toe to toe with Eddie was how I could best serve him. Affion Crockett, the valet actor, was so good, and there’s a lot of improvisation in that scene. It was on the page, but it goes far beyond that. Affion actually cracked Eddie on the first take. He cracked Eddie, which was amazing to watch. I was like, “Oh my God, this is going to be so good.” So that’s just creating the right space and putting the right actors together for a lot of improvisation.

You’ve probably been dreaming of directing an action movie for your entire life, and so there must’ve been a point where you said to yourself, “If I ever get the chance, I’m going to include x, y and z.” So what was your version of x, y and z?

What I love about those films from the ‘80s is how grounded they are. There’s a real sense of danger to those films, and I don’t find that very often these days. Everything is so perfect and so choreographed and so over-designed that I sometimes feel a little bit disconnected from any danger. We shot everything in-camera, including all of that helicopter stuff. I wanted to get back to that more visceral sense of, “This could go wrong.” I watched a lot of ‘70s and ‘80s action movies in the lead up to Axel F as reference points, and I love how they feel. You’re on the edge a lot more, and the sense of danger is heightened. There’s also spontaneity and mistakes happening. No one makes mistakes anymore. There’s no mistakes in films anymore, and I love that. In our film, a camera gets knocked off one of the cars, and you can feel the cinematographer holding onto the camera for dear life as they’re going down. So I wanted to have a greater sense of urgency and immediacy, and that’s why we shot everything on location and in camera. It really gives the film and its action a distinct point of view.

I mentioned Apple at the start because I noticed that you directed an iPad commercial in 2018. So I have to ask you about the recent controversy regarding that iPad ad involving the hydraulic press. If someone handed you that treatment, would you have likely suggested that they go back to the drawing board? 

I do a lot of work with Apple, and so I know them very well. But I have to admit, when I first saw that commercial, I was like, “I’m not sure if this feels right.” That was my gut instinct, and yeah, I’ll leave it at that.

Lastly, based on Axel F‘s warm reception so far, as well as Jerry and Eddie’s own interest, what can you say at this stage about a potential Beverly Hills Cop 5?

The big thing is hopefully audiences watch the film and tell us they want another. What this film took was a great script, and that’s what we need again to make the next one.

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Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F is now streaming on Netflix.

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