The zen of Bill Murray
TORONTO—Sitting through the premiere of his latest film, “St. Vincent,” Bill Murray was unexpectedly moved. “I thought, ‘I better not be crying when the lights come up,’ Murray recalled recently. “That would be bad for my image.”
His image—deadpan and dry, but always game, ever-adventurous—has swelled over the years. Who by now doesn’t know that directors seeking his services must leave a message on an 800 number that he checks infrequently, and pray for a response? Or that he signed up for “Garfield” because he thought the Coen brothers were involved, mistaking the name of screenwriter Joel Cohen. And who hasn’t heard of some serendipitous encounter with Murray—a drop in at a bachelor party, a cameo at karaoke?
These are the stories that have built the myth of Bill, one that’s so satisfying, because of its authenticity. He grants that many are after “the Bill Murray experience,” as he calls it, something he doesn’t mind, except for the autograph hounds outside his hotel who make him want to “go through a sheep dip.”
Aftermath of a stroke
For an actor that has worked irregularly, “St. Vincent,” is his most challenging part in years. It’s a technically demanding role that includes a coarse Brooklyn accent and portraying the aftermath of a stroke.
He gruffly but tenderly mentors a shy boy-next-door (Jaeden Lieberher, whose mother is played by Melissa McCarthy), teaching him an upper-cut, not to mention how to play the trifecta.
The film caps a flurry of activity for Murray: A month in Hawaii for a Cameron Crowe movie and a Barry Levinson film that, he says, “could be mind-boggling.”
While popping jelly beans in a hotel room, Murray reflected on his newfound ambition, his Oscar hopes and how he stays relaxed.
This might be your biggest part since Jim Jarmusch’s “Broken Flowers” in 2005.
It is large and ambitious. I’ve just been taking the jobs I like. I haven’t had any plan, really. I thought to myself, “I haven’t had a leading part in a while!”
Playing a stroke victim rehabbing with slurred speech would scare me if I was an actor.
Scared me, too. I hate that not-having-your-faculties acting. That’s like acting school. I don’t want to go to acting school, ever. That was like doing ordinals, or cleaning paint with a small razor blade. It’s the worst kind of work. Yet, I didn’t have a stroke. Life could be worse. I’m not complaining. I could be the guy with the stroke!
This film could have easily slid into sentimentality, something you’ve made a career out of avoiding.
Sentimentality is a symbol that we’ve left the planet. OK, bye-bye. Let me know when you come back, because you’re no longer here!
It reminds me of being at a funeral, like my dad dies, and the grief is just overpowering—and all anyone can say to you is, “Well, he’s probably up there in heaven, bowling with Uncle George.” Don’t go away!
You’ve long avoided separating yourself from the public.
Most people are OK. The range of experience is the same for all of us. I just have a lot more of them.
Harvey Weinstein will surely push you for an Academy Award nomination for this.
Oh, God, yeah. That’s what Harvey does. He’s not going to like me, but I’m not going to get on the pony and ride from town to town. Movies are magic, or they’re supposed to be something like it. Leave it alone. If you’re telling people how it works, you’re a jerk. Although, it’s fun to win the prize, because you get the chance to get up onstage and be funny! AP
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