“Getting The Low Down From Bill Murray”
The unpredictable comic genius
known as Bill Murray, who often makes producers
and directors jump through many hoops before he
agrees to work with them, definitely has a soft
When a writer recently told
Murray that her comedy loving husband was extremely
ill and that Murray’s movies, including
Groundhog Day and Caddyshack,
not only made him smile, but laugh, the actor
did not hone in on the compliment.
Instead, he started a serious
conversation about the man’s illness and
gave a heartfelt wish for a speedy recovery. In
other words, he hoped the man wouldn’t need
his antics to cheer him from his bedside in the
Murray, the comic legend, can
be quite impossible to track down. Several years
ago, tired of the relenting phone ringing for
various film projects, he literally cut the cord.
He parted ways with his agent, never had a publicist
and didn’t want to be managed. His philosophy
simple put: “They will find me.” And
if they don’t then he can continue living
his personal life, which is what he has preferred
Now, Murray is starring in Get
Low, a beautiful, quirky film, with an amazing
bluegrass and Olde Country soundtrack, from Sony
Pictures Classics that teams Murray with screen
legends Robert Duvall and Sissy Spacek.
Get Low is a magical
and moving blend of American folk tale, fable
and real-life legend, which will be released on
July 30. Spun in the Southern storytelling tradition,
it is about a mysterious 1930s Tennessee hermit
who famously threw his own rollicking funeral
party . . . while he was still alive.
Robert Duvall and Bill
Murray in Get Low
One day Felix Bush (Robert Duvall)
rides into town with a shotgun and a wad of cash
and asks the local undertaker (Bill Murray), to
make him a funeral. But not the usual kind when
a man has passed away. Instead, Felix wants “a
living funeral” where anyone can come and
tell stories about him and he can be there to
take it all in. The result is a comic, poignant,
at times haunting tale about the snowballing nature
of deep secrets that affect every aspect of your
life, heartbreak, and the desire for redemption.
The film was an eight-year labor
of love for producer Dean Zanuck (Road to
Perdition), and is directed by Aaron Schneider,
a first time feature director who won an Oscar
for his short film, Two Soldiers.
During a recent chat on a cool
early summer day in Manhattan a rather rumpled
Bill Murray talked about Get Low, not
working too much, and staying elusive. He was
easy-going, thoughtful and gracious throughout
this in-depth chat.
Bill Murray in Get
H.B. Forman: When I saw the
screening of Get Low, everyone loved
it – which doesn’t usually happen.
While you were doing it did you get that feeling
that this was going to be something great?
Murray: I’ve developed this mantra
where I say I’m not a worrier so I don’t
worry about it. As far as the jobs go, I sort
of realized a long time ago that I’m just
going to do the ones I like and one of them is
going to hit.
Forman: This seems
like a sound philosophy.
Murray: It’s just the way it is for
me. People feel like they’ve got to have
great success to pay for my house or whatever,
you’ve got to have this success thing rolling,
and I just said to myself, ‘I’m going
to do the ones that I like, and something’s
going to hit,’ and they do.
H.B. Forman: You’ve been
at this a long time – does this wisdom come
Murray: In a way it does. You always know
it’s pretty good; I don’t think we
do bad ones anymore. We’re sort of through
the reef in a way; we sort of broke through the
reef. You know the difference and you sort of
know what’s good.
H.B. Forman: So how does this
work in the movie business?
Murray: Now, whether or not a movie is
financially successful you can’t have any
control over, and that makes a career. You make
a movie that’s a good movie and no one sees
it; it happens all the time. You make a movie
with a studio and everyone quits or gets fired
six weeks before it gets out, so the movie doesn’t
happen. Or you can make something that everything
goes well and it’s a big, big thing. But
as far as knowing it was good; we knew the script
was really good and we knew the other guy, the
old guy, his thing was ridiculous.
H.B. Forman: What is it like
to work with the legendary Robert Duvall?
Murray: Yeah it’s really kind of
mesmerizing because he’s so powerfully present.
It really touches the walls. It’s really
powerful; it passes through your body.
Forman: When you get in the funeral parlor
and when you start seeing that Felix the one that’s
really controlling it; the hermit has got this
Murray: Well, it’s really good writing
and the guy [Duvall] is so good. He really has
that effect because he knows what the intention
of every line is; he knows that script inside
out. It’s like a radiant heat; you just
get this heat of it all in your body and he really
informs you and you really get the information
physically. It’s a really powerful thing.
Forman: Did you [and Duvall] talk about
it or did you just go in and do it?
Murray: Talk is for losers. Shut up and
work. Turn the camera on; let’s go.
Just hit your mark and show up on time.
H.B. Forman: What was it like
driving those old cars?
Murray: Driving the old car was really
fun. It’s about an 8,000-pound Hearse and
when you got going like 40 it was like a train;
it would take you 300 yards to stop the thing.
It was kind of scary. We did a little stunt driving
and the guy who owned the car would run after
us. He’d really say “Not through the
woods!” He thought we were going to go really
just into the woods.
H.B. Forman: Do you keep souvenirs
from a movie like this?
Murray: I wanted Robert’s clothes.
I may have gotten something ,but I don’t
know, I didn’t check. But those pieces were
H.B. Forman: What do you mean?
Murray:They were all rare. And I told you,
we had this great costumer, and she like traded
funeral plots to get that stuff. That was all
going right back to her; there’s nothing
like that. Although I did get some T-shirts out
of the deal.
H.B. Forman: What is the most
significant motivation for the quest of Duvall’s
character? Is it about life and death?
Murray: I’d say that’s right.
He didn’t know how to do penance; he couldn’t
get it out of himself, he couldn’t speak
the words. So he went off and became a hermit
for 40 years.And now that anger and that toughness
about him, he was so angry that even flagellating
himself like this and doing his penance, it still
didn’t feel good.
H.B. Forman: How else do you
see Felix Bush?
Murray: He wasn’t over it yet and
all he could think of was what if everybody said
horrible things to him. As far as my guy goes,
well Frank gets to see, and I think all the characters
in the film and even the audience get to see,
what if this were myself? This is me; I’m
going to be there, he’s just ahead of me
in the row. What have I done with my life and
what about my regrets and how can I change the
sort of behavior that’s made me the kind
of guy or girl who would take a long car ride
with all the money in the car and think about
maybe not coming back, and yet I can’t up
on myself yet, I’m going to come back and
H.B. Forman: So he does change?
Does your snake-oil salesman of a character, Frank,
really becomes a nice guy due to this?
Murray: Well, I think everyone is affected
by this; I think Felix is affected and I’m
affected. Certainly Sissy’s character has
this staggering revelation, which is really the
news, and is probably most devastating to her
more than anyone else. And do have to come to
some sort of peace with that, even though the
pain of it is jarring and disturbing and everything,
the idea that some mystery, some question that
you never had answered was answered.
H.B. Forman: Your character
and Sissy’s characters seem to be like the
proverbial fit like a custom made leather glove
or something. It just seems shaped and I understand
Murray: Well, that’s the deal. I
think I speak for any good actor, or one that
thinks that he is or she is, and you get the script
and your job is to do it every day and make it
better than the script. So that’s what you
do. It’s like a winning streak; you do it
every single day. But the writer, this Charlie
Mitchell, and Chris Provenzano did the original;
he was there every day, always really encouraging.
His writing is really, really fine; really fine
H.B. Forman: You were pretty
Murray: We had a great costumer on this
movie, one of the best I’ve ever worked
with, named Julie Weiss. Everyone’s clothes;
Bob’s clothes are unbelievable. Everyone
had amazing clothes. And you had amazing hair
H.B. Forman: Back to the work
aspects of acting. What are the advantages of
doing business in your elusive way, without an
agent or manager?
Murray: Well, when I had an agent they
have people there whose job is to reach you on
the telephone. I never had an answering machine
in my house or anything like that so if someone
would say. “Get me Bill Murray on the phone,”
that person would dial my number and let the phone
ring 90, 100 times.
H.B. Forman: This would take
place during dinner?
Murray: Not just during dinner. It would
happen during any hour of the day.
You think, ‘I’m not getting that and
the phone would just keep ringing for minutes.’
And you’d think why would I ever want to
talk to anyone that would let the phone ring that
long? So first I got this 800 number and that
was really the key to it; it just eliminated that
H.B. Forman: There was an
interesting point made that you’re superstitious
about signing things, especially contracts. How
did you handle that earlier in your career? Now
that you’re who you are I can understand
how people would go along with you. But when you’re
just starting out how do you get people to agree
to you not signing stuff?
Murray: They just want you to work. It’s
not superstitious, there’s just a bunch
a bureaucrats going “sign your contract,”
and I’m like “Sign your contract?
You have me confused with your mother or something
like that. I’ve got to go to work tomorrow;
I don’t have time to be reading this stuff.”
I just show up and work; my word is my contract.
H.B. Forman: In all the comedic
things that you’ve done have you ever done
stand up comedy?
H.B. Forman: Was it ever interesting
Murray: No. When I lose my mind I will
do stand-up comedy.
H.B. Forman: Why is that?
Murray: Because they all just seem so unhappy;
they seem miserable. We used to go to the clubs
and see them and they all just seem miserable.
H.B. Forman: That is true.
Murray: It was like golly, I’m glad
I don’t do this. But I mean if you were
at the end of your life and you couldn’t
move or you were immobile, they could roll you
out in Vegas and you could do a show. I don’t
think it’s that impossible.
H.B. Forman:Tell me more.
Murray: It’s really about hating
the audience. It’s weird. It doesn’t
H.B. Forman: So you just went
right into improv? That was your start, improv
Murray: It wasn’t just comedy; you
learned how to improvise in any sense.
Even comedy is playing straight so you learned
how to exchange and you learned a lot about rhythm.
You always had to be available and don’t
try to do the same thing twice.
H.B. Forman: I saw you on David
Letterman recently and you called Ghostbusters
3 your worst nightmare. I was wondering why.
Murray: They started saying Ghostbusters,
they want to do it. And it’s really the
world of sequels and bringing these things back
again. And then some wiseacre had Hey, we’ve
got a couple of new writers that are going to
write something. And I thought well, maybe there
will be some writers, and there was always this
joke, half-truth, half-joke thing of well I’ll
do it if you kill me off in the first reel. That
was my joke.
So supposedly someone was writing a script where
I actually got killed in the first reel and became
a ghost, and I thought that’s kind of clever
anyway. But then these guys that were supposedly
the writers who were going to do it, they wrote
a film that came out and people saw the film and
went we’re not going to do it after all,
are we? So it’s just kind of a dreamy thing.
They want to create a new generation of ghostbusters;
they’d just like us to pass the torch.
H.B. Forman: If it happened
it wouldn’t actually be a nightmare for
you right? It’s a great thing in your past.
Murray: Well, it’s true. We made
a great movie and then we made another one.
We went to the well twice and it’s almost
impossible to do the second movie as well; only
horror movies get better as they go along, because
they have more money to spend on crazy effects.
I actually thought the other day, it’s become
so irritating, but I actually heard young people
that saw the movie when they were kids, and I
thought maybe I should just do it; maybe it would
be fun. Because the guys are funny and I miss
Rick Moranis; he was a really big part of it.
H.B. Forman: Do you know what
you’re doing next? Any projects lined up?
Murray: I have things that are in the pipeline
that are sort of done.
H.B. Forman: Thank you.
Murray: It has been a pleasure. I hope
your husband recovers quickly.
H.B. Forman: I appreciate