It’s a question that’s baffled Bill Murray fans for most of the past decade: Why did the actor, usually so discerning in picking his roles, agree to provide the voice for the title character in 2004’s universally hated Garfield? He couldn’t have needed the money that badly, right? In a delightful interview with Dan Fierman in the new GQ, Murray finally clears everything up: He did the movie because he confused Garfield writer Joel Cohen with Coen brother Joel Coen, and consequently thought he’d be making the Miller’s Crossing of half-animated, Breckin Meyer–starring kids’ movies about lasagna-loving house cats.
From the interview:
Well, how about Garfield? Can you explain that to me? Did you just do it for the dough?
No! I didn’t make that for the dough! Well, not completely. I thought it would be kind of fun, because doing a voice is challenging, and I’d never done that. Plus, I looked at the script, and it said, “So-and-so and Joel Coen.” And I thought: Christ, well, I love those Coens! They’re funny. So I sorta read a few pages of it and thought, Yeah, I’d like to do that. I had these agents at the time, and I said, “What do they give you to do one of these things?” And they said, “Oh, they give you $50,000.” So I said, “Okay, well, I don’t even leave the fuckin’ driveway for that kind of money.”
And it’s not like you’re helping out an indie director by playing Garfield.
Exactly. He’s in 3,000 newspapers every day; he’s not hurtin’. Then this studio guy calls me up out of nowhere, and I had a nice conversation with him. No bullshit, no schmooze, none of that stuff. We just talked for a long time about the movie. And my agents called on Monday and said, “Well, they came back with another offer, and it was nowhere near $50,000.” And I said, “That’s more befitting of the work I expect to do!” So tehy went off and shot the movie, and I forgot all about it. Finally, I went out to L.A. to record my lines. And usually when you’re looping a movie, if it takes two days, that’s a lot. I don’t know if I should even tell this story, because it’s kind of mean. [beat] What the hell? It’s interesting. So I worked all day and kept going, “That’s the line? Well, I can’t say that.” And you sit there and go, What can I say that will make this funny? And make it make sense? And I worked. I was exhausted, soaked with sweat, and the lines got worse and worse. And I said, “Okay, you better show me the rest of the movie, so we can see what we’re dealing with.” So I sat down and watched the whole thing, and I kept saying, “Who the hell cut this thing? Who did this? What the fuck was Coen thinking?” And then they explained it to me: It wasn’t written by that Joel Coen.
And the pieces fall into place.
[shakes head sadly] At least they had whats-her-name. The mind reader, pretty girl, really curvy girl, body’s one in a million? What’s her name? Help me. You know who I mean.
Jennifer Love Hewitt?
Right! At least they had her in good-looking clothes. Best thing about the movie. But that’s all ugly. That’s inappropriate. That’s just… [laughs] That’s why, when they say, “Any regrets?” at the end of Zombieland, I say, “Well, maybe Garfield.”
Fair enough. But this doesn’t explain why he returned for the 2006 sequel, Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties, which was also not made by the Coen brothers.
Elsewhere, Murray says that Harold Ramis’s Year One might have killed Ghostbusters 3, since it was written by Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg (who were to write GB3) and “people who [saw it], including other Ghostbusters, said it was one of the worst things they had ever seen in their lives.” So, to conclude, Bill Murray is a terrific interview subject.