The widening gulf between Prince and Morris Day only continued to grow during shooting for Purple Rain–a kind of accidental method acting technique for two old friends cast as bitter rivals. “Prince and I didn’t have to re-create the competitive fire between us,” Day writes in his 2019 memoir. “It was boiling hot. Even when he saw that he needed my humor for the film to work, he stayed on my ass for being a minute late. In one instance when I came on set behind schedule he was beside himself. He actually shoved me. I was about to lay him out when [Time drummer] Jellybean [Johnson] grabbed me just as [bodyguard] Big Chick [Huntsberry] grabbed Prince. The last thing this picture needed was two stars with black eyes” (Day 88).
While it may sound grandiose for Day to describe himself and Prince as equal “stars” of the film, he kind of has a point. Upon Purple Rain’s release in mid-1984, the critical buzz was that Day had stolen the show: The New Yorker’s Pauline Kael, for example, touted him as a “full-fledged young comedian” who “suggests a Richard Pryor without the genius and the complications” (Kael 1984). As a matter of fact, he did have at least some of the complications: In his memoir, Day credits a non-negligible part of his performance to his mounting cocaine addiction. “I’m not advocating drug use for singers or actors,” he writes. “That shit will kill you–and it damn near killed me. But I do have to report that in that dead of winter in 1983, I used my altered state to slip into a role that was both me and not me” (Day 88).