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H.B. Forman Talks with
Bill Murray of Get Low
Four Seasons Hotel
New York City
April 26, 2010

Written by H.B. Forman
Photos Coutesy of Sony Pictures Classics


Opposite Photo: Bill Murray in Get Low

“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 side.

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 near future.

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 all along.

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 Low

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?

Bill 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.

H.B. Forman: This seems like a sound philosophy.

Bill 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 with experience?

Bill 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?

Bill 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?

Bill 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.

H.B. 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 whole plan.

Bill 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.

H.B. Forman: Did you [and Duvall] talk about it or did you just go in and do it?

Bill 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?

Bill 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?

Bill Murray: I wanted Robert’s clothes. I may have gotten something ,but I don’t know, I didn’t check. But those pieces were really rare.

H.B. Forman: What do you mean?

Bill 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?

Bill 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?

Bill 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 try again.

H.B. Forman: So he does change? Does your snake-oil salesman of a character, Frank, really becomes a nice guy due to this?

Bill 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 they weren’t.

Bill 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 writing.

H.B. Forman: You were pretty dapper there.

Bill 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 too.

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?

Bill 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?

Bill 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 completely.

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?

Bill 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?

Bill Murray: No.

H.B. Forman: Was it ever interesting to you?

Bill Murray: No. When I lose my mind I will do stand-up comedy.

H.B. Forman: Why is that?

Bill 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.

Bill 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.

Bill Murray: It’s really about hating the audience. It’s weird. It doesn’t suit me.

H.B. Forman: So you just went right into improv? That was your start, improv comedy?

Bill 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.

Bill 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.

Bill 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?

Bill Murray: I have things that are in the pipeline that are sort of done.

H.B. Forman: Thank you.

Bill Murray: It has been a pleasure. I hope your husband recovers quickly.

H.B. Forman: I appreciate it.





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