Image Credit: C Flanigan/FilmMagic.comIn a feature story in this week’s issue, Entertainment Weekly asks Bill Murray about his elusive, unpredictable ways and uncovers exactly what it takes for filmmakers to get him into their movies nowadays.
Bill Murray is Hollywood’s White Whale. There have always been sightings of the enigmatic actor, and a generation of young filmmakers came in to the biz with the Quixotic dream of eventually landing him for their passion projects. Wes Anderson (Rushmore) pulled it off. So did Sofia Coppola—though it took her months to get him to call her back before he even read Lost in Translation. Today, in lieu of an agent or publicist, Murray makes do with a 1-800 number, where producers, studio heads, and journalists can leave their messages at the beep. “Getting in touch with Bill Murray remains one of life’s greatest mysteries,” says Rob Burnett, executive producer of Late Show with David Letterman. “The plus/minus on that return call can be anywhere from 24 hours to six months. That’s just how it is.”
What’s odd is that Murray is often hiding in plain sight. There he is, toying with the gallery at Pebble Beach. There he is, playing himself in a web-short about hyper-vigilant fact-checkers. There he is, rooting for his beloved Cubs at Wrigley Field, or tending bar in Austin, or reading Emily Dickinson poems to beefy New York construction workers. Heck, he once showed up at Monmouth Park, the New Jersey racetrack where I worked while in college, and signed my brother’s program with the baffling but beautiful line, “Forty percent discount after 6 p.m. — Bill Murray.”
There’s a scene in Groundhog Day where Murray’s calendar-challenged Phil Connors plays chicken with an approaching train and then says, “I’m not going to live by their rules anymore!” Murray has done the same thing in his own career. He has his own code, and woe to the costar, the grip, or the studio executive who violates it. During the filming of Groundhog Day, producers pleaded with Murray that he hire a personal assistant to facilitate better communications between the studio and their star. Murray acquiesced, sort of, hiring a deaf-mute who spoke only American Sign Language. Don’t worry, Murray explained, I’m going to learn sign language. “That’s anti-communication,” says Groundhog Day director Harold Ramis. “You know, ‘Let’s not talk.'”
If Murray hasn’t decided to teach you a lesson, however, he might just do you the honor of turning your pet project into something transcendent. Just ask Coppola; or Dan Beers, a director who landed Murray for his web-short in exchange for a 12-inch hunting knife; or Ruben Fleischer, the Zombieland director who couldn’t believe Murray said yes to a crucial cameo after Mark Hamill said no.
The phone calls keep coming because, let’s be honest, there’s no such thing as “someone like Bill Murray.” There’s just Bill Murray, and in 2010, the 59-year-old is as cool as Steve McQueen and as beloved as Johnny Carson. So he has that going for him. Which is nice.
What’s you favorite Bill Murray public appearance? Do you have any idea what “Forty percent discount after 6 p.m.” means? And are you impressed that I lasted 420 words before I touretted an obligatory Caddyshack line?
For more about Bill Murray, pick up a copy of this week’s Entertainment Weekly.