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This Sept. 9, 2012 photo shows Bill Murray, a cast member in the film "Hyde Park on Hudson,"  poses for a portrait at the 2012 Toronto Film Festival in Toronto. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP) Bill Murray

encounter

A Day Spent Packing With Bill Murray in His Hotel Room

“I’ve met you before. Where was it?” Bill Murray asked at the Toronto International Film Festival premiere of Hyde Park on Hudson. He plays a wheelchaired FDR hosting King George VI (the one with the speech impediment) at his upstate New York home on the eve of World War II. Waiters at the party passed out hot dogs, the common food FDR had served the royals. Murray passed out Twizzlers from his suit-jacket pocket. “Want one?”

We actually hadn’t met formally, but this May, he’d grabbed me out of a crowd at Moonrise Kingdom’s Cannes Film Festival premiere party to join him, his teenage co-stars, and about twenty others, including Tilda Swinton, in a rollicking, high-kicking dance circle. “Oh, yeah, it was with the kids to ‘Zorba the Greek.’ That was great,” he recalled. “We ran around in circles, and then it all went bad the next day.” How so? “Stage moms. I’m Bill,” he reached out his hand. “What were you doing in Cannes?”

“I write for New York Magazine,” I replied.

“Ah, well, nobody’s perfect.” He asked if I was coming to his press junket the next day; I told him I wasn’t. “See you tomorrow!” he replied. Was it an invitation? A challenge? Just him being polite? The only thing to do, of course, was show up.

“Oh, it’s you!” he said the next day in the hallway of his hotel, where he’d just finished the junket and was cheerily signing a fan’s Stripes poster, even blowing on the ink for him. “Okay, tell me your name again.”

“Jada.”

“I knew it. I was going to say Wanda, but I knew that wasn’t right. All the Wandas I’ve ever met are crazy. Bonkers.”

“Excellent-crazy?”

“No, the other crazy. Yeah, the not-so excellent crazy. If you were Wanda, I would’ve gone like, ‘Excuse me just a second, I’ve got to find the fire escape. I’m out of here.’” He walked away and disappeared for long enough that I wasn’t sure if he was coming back. Then he emerged, grinning, from around the corner and introduced me to his friend Marcus O’Hara.

O’Hara, brother to the actress Catherine, is an old pal of Murray’s from Second City and exactly what you’d hope Bill Murray’s friends are like. He has floppy white hair and a bushy gray mustache and wore a button-down shirt with a floral vest printed on it, like a bohemian Colonel Sanders. Also pink thick-framed glasses. He said he was a dancer. (He’s actually a promoter.)

“Have you got something I have to put in my suitcase?” Murray asked the hallway at large. “That’s the key question.” Murray had “just minutes” to leave for the airport. “I’ve done most of the prepacking, the power-packing, and then I’ve got a little bit more, and then I’m done.” Power-packing? “It’s like power-napping. It pretty much involves throwing it. Throwing it at it and zipping it up and seeing if you have the compression power to close the suitcase.” He was feeling good about the packing situation but a little concerned because the studio rep charged with getting him home to South Carolina kept saying she had gifts for him, and other people were asking if he’d gotten some big swag bag meant for him. “Is there a new car? Is there a toaster in it? I don’t know. I’m afraid.”

O’Hara, at least, had brought CDs: a gift of acceptable size. “This,” Murray said, “is a sensible man.”

We stepped into the elevator, which was already filled with several men in bright-red jerseys. Murray recognized the logo: “Are you on the Chicago soccer team?” They were set to play Toronto the next day. “Do we hate them?” Murray asked. Yes, we do, replied player Arne Friedrich, originally from Germany. The elevator arrived at Murray’s floor. “All right, kill them,” he told the team. “Beat them. No serious injuries, but definitely give them trouble.”

He walked into his room with O'Hara and me and stepped on an envelope. “Oh, I got mail!” he said. “Someone from the Hollywood Foreign Press? Who knows what it could be. Who knows?! Well, we could see.” He opened the envelope — a DVD from an Italian lady — as I peppered him with questions, thinking that at any second I’d be kicked out. He offered me a gigantic glass bottle of water, a box of chocolates, and a single Twizzler. Three emptied shots of 5-hour Energy sat on the nightstand. “Well, that can be really fatiguing to do those five hours of journalism at a time, so I say, ‘I need five hours' worth of energy,’ and I don’t like to drink coffee through the whole thing for five hours, so I just sort of did that to, you know, disembody,” he explained. His suitcase, sherbet orange and hard-shelled, lay open on the bed, colorful checked shirts strewn about it but mostly not in it. He wasn’t kidding about his packing technique.

There was a knock on the door. It was Friedrich, who’d regretted not asking Murray for a picture earlier when he had the chance. They talked about Eric Clapton and Berlin. “I’m about to go shoot a movie with Wes Anderson in Germany,” Murray said. “If you see me in Germany, I’ll be working on a movie.”

Friedrich left and Murray reentered the room. “That’ll be nice,” he said about Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel. “I haven’t been to Germany in a long time.” He particularly liked shooting Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom. “Those kids were a hoot. Those children” — he adopts a Mary Poppins voice — “They loved me” — now back to normal — “They were really nice kids, and, uh, to be a kid on one of those movies, how great is that? They had the time of their lives.” He shook his head. “They think it’s all going to be like that, every movie’s going to be like that.”

He looked around for a BlackBerry Curve he’d been gifted so he could ask the studio rep how it worked. “Wheeerrrre? Where did I put it?” he sang. Instead, he found another envelope. “This is my welcome letter. I just got it. Do you smoke cigarettes? Here’s a really thin one.” It was a crumpled Davidoff cigarette that looked like it had been bouncing around in his pocket for at least one wild and crazy night. I asked him if he made it, because odd things come out of your mouth when you’re around Bill Murray. “No, I wish I were that talented,” he said, amused. “Someone gave me that. I want you to have that.”

The studio rep hovered near me, indicating it was time to leave. I began my exit, but Murray motioned for me to stay. “There’s a little hysteria,” he said, then continued packing very slowly.

We talked about Hyde Park on the Hudson, and I asked how he would host the Queen if he met her. (At first he mishears: “Hose the queen?”) Would he serve hot dogs? “I don’t think so. Although, actually, I make a better hot dog than Franklin Roosevelt could. I can make a Chicago-style hot dog where you use celery salt and sliced tomatoes and pickle and sliced onions. It’s really … I mean, that’s a serious hot dog. That’s a really serious hot dog. I can really make a great hot dog. Maybe I would do that. I make them for other people because they don’t know what that means, to have a Chicago hot dog.”

He offered me another giant glass bottle of water. “It’s a really cool bottle.” It was enormous, with a half-inch-thick rim, and I had come by bike. I should have taken it. Instead, I remarked that it was extremely heavy. “Well, it’s full of water,” he said and smiled. “That’s where almost all the weight comes from.” He declared he was going to pour out the water and take it with him.

Why was he giving everything in his hotel room away? “Well, I hate to waste it. And, you know, everyone gets thirsty.”

The studio rep emerged again. “I just need to make sure you’re packing,” she said.

“I know, I know. This is packing, is it not? This is packing.” He wasn’t really packing. Italian goon accent: “What? This isn’t packing? I’m not packinggggg?” Posh British accent: “Ah you packing?

Murray ripped open a box from Focus Features CEO James Schamus. “It’s cash! My God, it is cash!” he exclaimed, then got to the actual present. “What the heck?” He pulled out what appeared to be an antique glass candy dish, the type you’d leave on your drawing-room table to serve mints to the queen. Inside was a limited-edition wooden carving of FDR’s face, No. 967 out of 1,000. “What do you put in this thing?”

I mentioned my candy dish theory. He switched into a horror villain voice: “Candy??? Hard candy, little girl.”

He had an epiphany. “Stamps. You could put stamps in there.” In the movie, FDR used his stamp collection to woo his mistress, Daisy (played by Laura Linney), actually a distant cousin, but not the distant cousin he married, Eleanor (played by Olivia Williams). Was Murray aware of FDR’s ladies’-man reputation? “It wasn’t like he had exotic dancers. He had his kind of quiet, unassuming cousin. He wasn’t a flashy haberdasher, particularly. That didn’t necessarily suit him. You don’t want someone that’s so outward, really. You want someone that’s able to receive something.”

Murray has no such alluring collection. “I’ve got a few baseball cards. I don’t know who you’re pulling with those.” Now, how to pack the jar? “Marcus,” he said, turning to his friend, “you were a Boy Scout, I suppose. A successful one, I can tell.”

“I joined everything and got kicked out of everything,” O’Hara said, handing Murray a long rubber band, which pleased him very much.

“You and me both,” said Murray.

O’Hara: “I was not a quitter. I was a fire-er. I got fired or kicked out.”

Murray: “I got kicked out of altar boys. I got kicked out of Boy Scouts. I got kicked out of Little League and reinstated.” What did he do? “Oh, I got in a fight with some kid. Altar boys, you just gotta be late.”

O’Hara: “I lost more points at a [Boy Scouts] jamboree than anybody in history. I did every single thing you could do. I was just a clown. They were following me and writing up and taking so many points off of our troop. I was a one-man wrecking crew.” Murray nodded approvingly.

The studio rep handed Murray his BlackBerry Curve, which she’d found somewhere in the suite, and told him it was a prepaid phone. “They don’t even make those anymore,” Murray said, marveling. “That’s what mine is, and when I got it reloaded, the guy’s like, ‘Where did you get this? We don’t even make that anymore.’”

Murray inquired after O’Hara’s other sister, the singer Mary Margaret. “His sister is just, like, staggering,” he told me. O’Hara started listing off her critical acclaim and bragged that she was in a film at the festival, Museum Hours. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m selling my sister.”

Murray, in a Mexican accent: “My sister. She clean.

Mary Margaret had asked her brother to get Murray’s e-mail address, since last time he wrote it down for her she couldn’t read it. “My e-mail address? I doubt I gave her an e-mail address,” Murray said. Marcus clarified; Murray had actually given her a bunch of phone numbers. That sounded more like it. “Eh, what’s the difference? She never calls,” said Murray. “What’s your last name, Jada?”

“Yuan.”

“Like Y-U-A-N?”

“Yeah. It’s Chinese.”

Muy bien. How did you get that name?”

“My dad.”

“Just lucky, I guess.” He started speaking Korean — garbled, I’m told (roughly translated: “I love you. Lend me some money”). “That’s all I got, Asian-wise.”

He told O’Hara to take me to his sister’s movie: “Marcus will take care of Jada.” As I left, Murray was packing up two gallon-size Ziploc bags of toiletries. I reached out to shake his hand. He brushed it away and gave me a hug. “We’ll see you in London at the next big one,” he said, referring to the movie’s British premiere. “You can’t miss that one. That’s the big one,” he said. Otherwise we’d have the New York Film Festival. “See you in New York!”     

*This is an expanded version of an article that originally appeared in the October 1, 2012 issue of New York Magazine.

Photo: Chris Pizzello/AP