Bill Murray talks about his life on The Life Aquatic
The press conference. This is the room of canned answers. The room of generic quotes. But someone didn’t tell that to Bill Murray. In a seventeen minute press conference, Murray gives a performance that’s as comedic, sweet, warm, and human as any of his greatest movie moments. Or maybe “performance” is the wrong word—maybe this quick-witted, sensitive demeanor is just who he is.
For example: a greedy reporter, over the protests of ten other journalists, asks seven questions in a row. Murray answers each one—showing superhuman patience—and then dryly says to him, “Next I’m going to answer the question from the lady in the back, but then the rest of the questions are for you.” The room explodes into laughter. Later, when he’s asked what will happen first, his beloved Cubs winning the World Series, or him wining the Oscar, he replies, without a second’s pause, “The Cubs winning the World Series. It’s certainly more important.”
Wearing a Blues Brothers t-shirt and a black leather vest, Murray answers questions about his star turn in The Life Aquatic. And, along the way, he dazzles and charms a vicious mob of reporters.
I think this is the first time you've smoked pot onscreen since Caddyshack.
Bill Murray: Well, I haven't been keeping track of it, but yeah.
Is that sense memory?
Bill Murray: They usually give you this herbal-dust stuff, that's horrible and it makes you cough—it's not very pleasant, so you want to make sure you nail the first take.
Is this the toughest film you've ever done?
Bill Murray: Yes. This is by far the hardest film I've ever done. It's the most physically demanding, the most emotionally demanding, both personally and professionally. And I think the most ambitious.
Would you have done it if it was not a Wes Anderson movie?
Bill Murray: [Pauses.] I don't know. If you read the script, and you didn't know who was in charge, you'd be much less confident. I sure as hell wouldn't leave the country and go over there [to Italy] with just anybody. You've gotta have some faith in who's in charge.
Do you see this is the "serious phase" of your career?
Bill Murray: My "blue period?" [Room laughs.] I think they're all serious phases of your career, if you're taking it seriously. It doesn't matter if you're doing sort of high-profile dramatic pieces, like epics, or not. That's just sort of a perception. I've taken it all seriously—the work part of it, anyways. You can't take the response to it so seriously. It's pleasant when [the response] it's good, but you can't get all bent out of shape when it's not so pleasant. I like the job. I like the actual shooting of movies. I like when the camera rolls.
What did Wes Anderson say to you to convince you to take the role?
Bill Murray: At this point he doesn't say much. He told me about this thing years ago, when we were making Rushmore. He doesn't tell me much about it at all. I have a lot of faith in him. We've become friends, and I don't need a lot of explanation for things. If I feel I need something at this point, I ask.
The rehearsal for this movie is that we went out on a boat. I said, "I want to rehearse." And he said, "What?" And I said, "Yeah, just tell me the story." And he was like, "Oh, God." So he just read me the script, right on the boat. And I just sat there, sunbathing on a speedboat, and he read the script to me. It was kind of like a fairytale, like a night-night bedtime story. We didn't even finish the script, but after we got [off the boat], I though, well, that's enough.
Coming from the world of improv, do you find it restricting to not be able to improvise on a Wes Anderson movie, or do you enjoy sticking closely to the script?
Bill Murray: I don't mind. I still get to improvise—I improvise whenever I feel it's important, or whenever I think that something's there. It's nice to have a script that's so well-written that I don't have to improvise. I mean, I used to have to re-write whole movies; this is kind of nice.
Angelica Houston called you melancholy—
Bill Murray: She called me melancholy?
Melancholy, but fascinating. Lots of your characters are so lovable, though; how do you come up with these lovable characters?
Bill Murray: Well that's the trick, isn't it? How do you do it? Well, you have to be able to show that you have these feelings. If you're really playing the game of life, you have these feelings—you get them—and it's how do you come back to them? What happens when you have a melancholy feeling? Melancholy is kind of sweet sometimes, I think. It's not a negative thing. It's not a mean thing. It's just something that happens in life, like autumn.
How long since you been back to Chicago?
Bill Murray: I went for a four-game [Cubs] series with the Marlines this summer.
What are the Cubs chances this year?
Bill Murray: I think they're going to go all the way.
How important was the Oscar nomination to you?
Bill Murray: I think it's going to be kind of an annual thing, where once every 25 years I get nominated.
Do you still keep in contact with Scarlett Johansson, and what do you think about the change that she's gone through since Lost in Translation?
Bill Murray: Her change? [Room laughs]
Well, have you kept in touch?
Bill Murray: It's funny, you just don't keep in touch with people that often. You know, my wife would feel funny if I spent too much time with a twenty-year old woman…
Did you keep your Speedos from this? The powder-blue Speedo?
Bill Murray: I don't know where all that stuff went, honestly. They sort of held it in the name of a re-shoot, but I haven't seen anything from it.
How cold were you out there?
Bill Murray: I was freezing. It was very cold.
What hurt Steve Zissou's feelings more, do you think: Ned wooing Jane, or the fact that she told him he was too old?
Bill Murray: He probably felt he was too old, but the representation of his youth in his son—that's really the clincher, really the killer. A girl telling you that you're too old—well, she's a bull-dyke, right? But your son hitting on the girl that you have a crush on—you can't scratch and claw over him, so that's tough.
[Reporter from Paris]: You traveled around the world with [Lost in Translation.] Do you feel that people have a different perspective of you in Europe than they do over here?
Bill Murray: I think people only know me from the movies in Europe. So they see me as a film actor. Here, people saw me on television doing wacky comedies….
So do you think you get more respect over there?
Bill Murray: Well, I think if they only know me from my movies, then yes. In TV, you do all kinds of things. Once you've been on the David Letterman show, it's just a different sort of thing. I'm just more of a citizen here. There, anyone who makes it to a foreign shore, almost by definition, is a little bit more important in some artistic sense, because they've already succeeded, and their influence has crossed an ocean.
But do you enjoy that? Because when you're in Europe, people only ask about your movies, and they don't ask about your standup or anything like that?
Bill Murray: I kind of liked it over there. I like talking about movies. I think that film culture is just older for some reason; it permeates the culture in Europe a little bit more than it does over here. [To reporter]: Are you French, are you from France?
Bill Murray: Oh, tres bien. You're French is excellent. [Room laughs again.] When I lived in France, I went to the cinema-tech every day. It was different. In Paris, you can go to two different cinema-techs, everyday. That's different here. They don't have that kind of thing here, even in New York or Los Angeles. They're mad for film over there.
My newspaper, which is for Spain, named you as the Best Actor of the year for Lost in Translation, which was released this year in Spain.
Bill Murray: Oh, Thank you.
Why do you think that that kind of role made such a strong impression either in Europe, or over here with so many nominations—do you think that "big heroes" are not in vogue anymore?
Bill Murray: That's a great question. Why was that film so noticed? For me, the film is so interesting, because it shows a personal decision that everyone of us has to make sometime, where you bump up against someone that is not your mate, that's not your wife, your husband, your spouse, your lover, and then something happens between you. How do you behave in that situation: what do you do? I read a definition this year that a hero is someone that does something that he really doesn't want to do. And the thing that this guy wants to do is have someone ease his pain, 13,000 miles away. Make him feel special, make him feel loved, make him feel like a man. Make him feel unique. But he didn't do that. He really didn't do it. And that made him a hero. He's a different kind of hero. It's the kind of hero that every person can be in their life. Not everyone can be Indiana Jones, and not everyone can be a Ghostbuster. But everyone can make that decision to not do that thing that they really want to do, which is, "I want you to kiss me now."
To what extent do you find yourself as interested in looking back at your own career, or your own legacy, as Bob Harris or Steve Zissou?
Bill Murray: I'm not sure I understand the question . . .
These are two characters who find themselves looking back at their own legacies, and they're both in the entertainment world sort of; do you find yourself that way at all, or are you not at all interested in that kind of introspection?
Bill Murray: It's not exactly that they're looking back, so much. They've had success in the past, and I think they're concerned about whether they're going to have success in the future. Where it's going to come from. Where their next meal-ticket is going to come from. Where they're going to get the thing that makes them feel good. With Zissou, he goes back to the ocean, because he loved the ocean, and he figured out a way to make a life out of the ocean. But in order to keep going back to the ocean—to the sea—he needs to have a documentary to make. It takes money to do it.
With Bob Harris, for him, he likes to be an actor. But in order to keep acting, he's got to stay known, sort of, so he has to do a commercial so that he can make some money, and live his lifestyle, and be sort of famous somewhere—to just keep going.
For me . . . I've had lots of things to do. And I sort of thought of this a few years ago: "Do I want to be a really big movie star?" And I decided, I didn't want to be a big movie star. I decided that I want to live my life, and see what happens there. And at the same time, I'd take these jobs where you don't really get paid a lot of money, but you work with people that are good, and you do what you want to do. And I figured, "Well, you know, maybe one of these will hit one day." And I'll get what I need in terms of being noticed. And damned if this last movie didn't really do that. And it did. But I made have a dozen, seven or eight movies in between that were all good . . . but they just didn't all work at once like that.
I like working that way. I don't like feeling the pressure of having to be the biggest star in the world. I like trying to help this movie, and to talk about it, but I don't want to get stuck being desperate, being that guy in the bar, drinking, going, [mumbles] "Where did I go wrong . . ." I don't' want to be that guy. It's okay. I've had a great run. And if I changed careers, that would be an adventure, too.
What would you do if you changed careers?
Bill Murray: I don't know. I've been thinking about it, though. I thought, would it be really bold to say, "Hey, I did that. And I had some success with it. But is there anything else I could do?" I've I'd like to write.
Bill Murray: I think I'd like to write a play. I always thought I'd want to write plays.
Are your kids funny, Bill? Do they take after you?
Bill Murray: My kids are funny, yeah.
Do you guys do skits and stuff?
Bill Murray: We do improvisational theater, and . . . [Room laughs again]
Bill, what's going to happen first, the Cubs winning the World Series, or you winning the Oscar?
Bill Murray: The Cubs winning the World Series. And it's certainly more important.
Dont't forget to also check out: The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou