Bill Murray: The Curious Case of Hollywood's White Whale

Image credit: Jeff Chiu/AP Images

And Now A Word From Bill Murray
He may be elusive, but he's definitely not evasive. The actor opens up about his odd relationship with Hollywood — and how he keeps his priorities in line. — JL

Sitting in Bill Murray's presence is a religious experience, somewhat (we assume) like having an audience with the Dalai Lama. There is an ease about him. Serenity. Zen. And this despite the fact that he's wearing orange suspenders decorated with carpenter tools. In Manhattan for a showing of Get Low at the Tribeca Film Festival in April, the actor spends the first five minutes of our interview wrestling with the curtains so that he can admire the flowers on a Park Avenue balcony. Then he sits down and speaks warmly about how the makers of the film, in theaters July 30, made him an offer he couldn't refuse.

EW You must get flooded with scripts. Why did you choose to make Get Low?
BILL MURRAY Well, first I got a message that this guy, [producer] Dean Zanuck, wanted to speak with me. I spoke with him on the phone and just had a wonderful conversation with him. And I was like, Ah, nuts. Because I'm really lazy. I don't really like to work. Then I got a letter from the director [Aaron Schneider]. It was incredibly self-effacing. He directed a short.
EW Two Soldiers.
MURRAY And he'd won an Oscar for it. As he says, when he was up giving his acceptance speech, they cut to me in the audience on the TV set, so he thought the whole thing was kismet. Then I saw his short, and I really liked that, so all these things just informed against me. I really kept thinking, Aw f ---, something go wrong here, you know?
EW I imagine the chance to work with Robert Duvall was not a deterrent either.
MURRAY I love his Tom Hagen in The Godfather. It's my favorite part. ''Can't do it, Sally.'' I just love the s--- he does in that movie. I've always liked his stuff. I think he's incredibly real and a certain kind of actor that all actors go, ''Okay, I give. That guy, he's better than I am.'' You can't really pass up that opportunity to work with someone who has more stuff than you, because it's part of your education. It was amazing to see how accessible all his emotions are and how he was able to touch all these things in an instant. You realize you have a long ways to go.
EW Let's talk about the way you run your career. You don't have an agent, don't have a publicist —
MURRAY I got you, Jeff.
EW How long have you been working this way, and does it really give you more freedom?
MURRAY Yeah, the phone just doesn't ring. It's nice. You know, when you have an agent, the phone rings all the time, because there's someone there whose job it is to get so-and-so on the phone, and so they dial the number, and they'll let it ring 75 times. That's all they're supposed to do right then: Get that guy on the phone. So you can be in your house and be like, I'm not answering that phone. But it will ring 75 times, and all you can think is, I really don't want to meet the person that lets a phone ring like that.
EW When did you decide to cut out all the middlemen? Was there a moment when you decided that this is how you want to run your business?
MURRAY I kind of made a halfway measure when I said to [my agents], Don't call me, I'll call you. I did that for about six months, and I was like, That ain't bad. I mean, I don't want to say anything derogatory, because [in the 1980s and early '90s] I had the greatest agent. I had [CAA cofounder Michael] Ovitz. He was everybody's monster and he was my guy. He was my monster. It was great. He did things that no one did before and made things happen. [Ovitz left CAA in 1995 to work for Disney.] But I just really only want to work when I want to work. Life interferes, you know. When you're young and all you have is your career, some of your life can be in second place. And then you want your life to take first place, and other people don't see it that way. They see it that your life has to take second place, and it's hard. Life is really hard, and it's the only one you have. I mean, I like doing what I do, and I know I'm supposed to do it, but I don't have anything to bring to it if I don't live my life.

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