Thanks to reader Jon for pointing us to this Bill Murray interview that is far more revealing than any he’s done lately (he never does them at all). ¬†Reading through it, it’s easier to understand why Murray isn’t Mr. Popular in Hollywood. ¬†One has to be Marlon Brando or Katharine Hepburn good for the AMPAS to put up with people who have attitudes. ¬†When Bill Murray was up against Sean Penn, Penn took the lead because Clint Eastwood sort of forced him to do the monkey dance. ¬†And he did it well. ¬†He put on a suit and shook a lot of hands, gave a lot of speeches – his above-it-all ‘tude was just not there. ¬†Bill Murray, on the other hand, showed up but he didn’t really do the monkey dance. ¬†I can see how this would be irritating after a while. ¬†If you’re an actor you pretty much have to do the other part of the job. ¬†It can’t just be you on your own private island. ¬†Somehow, Murray has done this and earned himself a nifty indie street cred in the process.
He’s clearly a pain in the ass. ¬†But hard to not like the guy, ¬†I guess, no matter what. ¬†Here is Murray on why he did Garfield, “not for the dough!”:
No! I didn’t make that for the dough! Well, not completely. I thought it would be kind of fun, because doing a voice is challenging, and I’d never done that. Plus, I looked at the script, and it said, “So-and-so and Joel Coen.” And I thought: Christ, well, I love those Coens! They’re funny. So I sorta read a few pages of it and thought, Yeah, I’d like to do that. I had these agents at the time, and I said, “What do they give you to do one of these things?” And they said, “Oh, they give you $50,000.” So I said, “Okay, well, I don’t even leave the fuckin’¬†driveway for that kind of money.”
Then this studio guy calls me up out of nowhere, and I had a nice conversation with him. No bullshit, no schmooze, none of that stuff. We just talked for a long time about the movie. And my agents called on Monday and said, “Well, they came back with another offer, and it was¬†nowhere near $50,000.” And I said, “That’s more befitting of the work I expect to do!” So they went off and shot the movie, and I forgot all about it. Finally, I went out to L.A. to record my lines. And usually when you’re looping a movie, if it takes two days, that’s a lot. I don’t know if I should even tell this story, because it’s kind of mean.¬†[beat] What the hell? It’s interesting. So I worked all day and kept going,¬†“That’s the line? Well, I can’t say that.” And you sit there and go, What can I say that will make this funny? And make it make sense? And I worked. I was exhausted, soaked with sweat, and the lines got worse and worse. And I said, “Okay, you better show me the whole rest of the movie, so we can see what we’re dealing with.” So I sat down and watched the whole thing, and I kept saying, “Who the hell cut this thing? Who¬†did this? What the¬†fuck was Coen thinking?” And then they explained it to me:¬†It wasn’t written by that¬†Joel Coen.
And on his acting style:
I have developed a kind of different style over the years. I hate trying to re-create a tone or a pitch. Saying, “I want to make it sound like I made it sound the last time”? That’s insane, because the last time doesn’t exist. It’s only this time. And everything is going to be different¬†this time. There’s only now. And I don’t think a director, as often as not, knows what is going to play funny anyway. As often as not, the right one is the one that they’re¬†surprised by, so I don’t think that they have the right tone in their head. And I think that good actors always‚Äîor if you’re being good, anyway‚Äîyou’re making it better than the script. That’s your fucking job. It’s like, Okay, the script says this? Well, watch¬†this. Let’s just roar a little bit. Let’s see how high we can go.
Bill Murray is great at comedy, and he’s not bad at the serious stuff. ¬†He is REALLY GIFTED with comedy, however. ¬†No one ever really likes to play the buffoon for very long, though. ¬†Sooner or later, the funny guys reveal a much sadder guy underneath. ¬†They learned throughout their life to make fun of themselves and allowed people to freely laugh at them. So when they get a little power they stop wanting to be “that guy.” ¬†Woody Allen, Bill Murray, Steve Martin – they just want to be taken seriously. ¬†But then, when they do let the funny back in and out, their loss is our gain.