When it seemed like all the news had run out on Friday night, Bill Murray showed up on Reddit for a surprise AMA to promote his new film Monuments Men. But his responses weren’t run-of-the-mill promotional plugs – Murray gave a handful of honest and thoughtful answers about everything from Groundhog Day to his opinion of the current SNL cast to the whereabouts of his former deaf/mute assistant, not to mention a hilariously lengthy explanation of how the whole Garfield thing went down. It’s an interesting read and candid glimpse into the ever-elusive comedy legend; click through to read some of Murray’s most interesting responses.
On the current SNL cast:
They’re good. I don’t know them as well as I knew the previous one. But i really feel like the previous cast, that was the best group since the original group. They were my favorite group. Some really talented people that were all comedians of some kind or another. You think about Dana Carvey, Will, Hartman, all these wonderful funny guys. But the last group with Kristen Wiig and those characters, they were a bunch of actors and their stuff was just different. It’s all about the writing, the writing is such a challenge and you are trying to write backwards to fit 90 minutes between dress rehearsal and the airing. And sometimes the writers don’t get the whole thing figured out, it’s not like a play where you can rehearse it several times. So good actors - and those were really good actors, and there are some great actors in this current group as well I might add - they seem to be able to solve writing problems, improvisational actors, can solve them on their feet. They can solve it during the performance, and make a scene work. It’s not like we were improvising when we made the shows, but you could feel ways to make things better. And when you get into the third dimension, as opposed to the printed page, you can see ways to solve things and write things live that other sorts of professionals don’t necessarily have. And that’s why I like that previous group. So this group, there are definitely some actors in this group, I see them working in the same way and making scenes go. They really roll very nicely, they have great momentum, and it seems like they are calm in the moment.
On Groundhog Day:
The script is one of the greatest conceptual scripts I’ve ever seen. It’s a script that was so unique, so original, and yet it got not acclaim. To me it was no question that it was the greatest script of the year. To this day people are talking about it, but they forget no one paid any attention to it at the time. The execution of the script, there were great people in it. It was a difficult movie to shoot because we shot in winter outdoors. If you ever get to go to Puxatawney, you should go, it is one of the few things that is BETTER than advertised. It’s really something to see. But doing the movie, shooting the scenes over and over, it’s like an acting challenge. It’s like doing a play and those same scenes over and over and again, so you can try to make it better or deeper or funnier than you made it previously.
On Garfield and whether or not Garfield 3 will happen:
I don’t think so. I had a hilarious experience with Garfield. I only read a few pages of it, and I kind of wanted to do a cartoon movie, because I had looked at the screenplay and it said “Joel Cohen” on it.And I wasn’t thinking clearly, but it was spelled Cohen, not Coen.I love the Coen brothers movies. I think that Joel Coen is a wonderful comedic mind.So I didn’t really bother to finish the script, I thought “he’s great, I’ll do it.” So then it was months before i got around to actually doing it, and I remember i had to go to a screening room in somewhere, and watch the movie and start working. And because they had had trouble contacting me, they asked my friend Bobby to help corral the whole situation together. So Bobby was there, and you know when you’re looping a movie you’re rerecording to a picture?So this was an odd movie because the live footage had been shot, but the cat was still this gray blob onscreen. So I start working with this script and I’m supposed to start re-recording and thinking “I can do a funnier line than that” so I would start changing the dialogue that was written for the cat. Which kind of works, it sort of generally works, but then you realize the cat’s over here in a corner sitting on a counter, and I’m trying to think how I can make it make sense. So the other characters are already speaking these lines, and so I’m going “did he really say THAT?” and you’re kind of in this endgame of “how do I chess piece myself out of this one?”So I worked like that with this gray blob and these lines that were already written, trying to unpaint myself out of a corner. I think I worked 6 or 7 hours for one reel? No, 8 hours. And that was for 10 minutes. And we managed to change and affect a great deal.The next day I came into work and the producer gave me a set of golf clubs, and I thought “that was kind of extreme, especially since I can’t go play.” And the second reel was even HARDER because the complications of the first ten minutes were triangulated. It was really hard to write my way out of that one. And there were all these people on the other side of the recording studio, and at the end of the reel I was SOAKED In perspiration. I had drunk as much coffee as any columbian ever drank, and I said “you better just show me the rest of the movie.” And they showed me the rest of the movie, and there was just this long, 2 minute silence.And I probably cursed a little, and I said “I can fix this, but I can’t fix this today. Or this week. Who wrote this stuff?”And it appeared that one of the people behind the screen was the misspelled Joel Cohen. And I said “how could you have THAT scene take place before this scene? This can’t possibly happen? Who edited this thing?”And another person behind the glass was the editor of the film. He quit the film that week to go work on another job, so that began a long process of working on the film. I worked the rest of the week on it, and I said “Bobby it is still nowhere near done. But I can’t fix it all, we have to try to do this again.”It was sort of like Fantastic Mr Fox without the joy or the fun. We did it twice in California, and once in Italy when I was working on the life Aquatic, we were working on an INSANE place in Italy, with a woman who was a voice from above interrupting everything, I cursed again, and she left to take another job, and that was just the first once.And we managed to fix it, sort of. It was a big financial success. And I said “just promise me, you’ll never do that again.” That you’ll never shoot the footage without telling me.And they proceeded to do it again. And the next time, they had been shooting for 5 weeks. And I cursed again. I said “I just asked for one little thing, letting me know.” and that one was EVEN HARDER. The second one was beyond rescue, there were too many crazy people involved with it. And I thought I fixed the movie, but the insane director who had formerly done some Spongebob, he would leave me and say “I gotta go, I have a meeting” and he was going to the studio where someone was telling him what it should be, countermanding what I was doing.They made a movie after that second miscarriage, that went directly to video. So they sort of shot themselves in the foot, the kidneys, the liver and the pancreas on the second one. If you had a finer mind working on them? The girl, Jennifer Love-Hewitt, she was sweet. In the second movie they dressed her like a homeless person. You knew it wasn’t gonna go well.
On his former deaf/mute assistant:
Well, we didn’t part well. I don’t communicate with her, she was a she. I was sort of ambitious thinking that I could hire someone that had the intelligence to do a job but didn’t have necessarily speech or couldn’t quite hear or spoke in sign language. She was a bright person and witty but she had never been away from her home before and even though I tried to accommodate more than I understood when I first hired her, she was very young in her emotional self and the emotional component of being away from her home was lacking. I tried my best, but I was working all day. She was lovely and very smart, but there’s a lot of frustration when you meet people who can’t speak well. Being completely disabled in that area causes a great amount of frustration, and this was going back 30 years or so before ether were the educational components that there are today. It didn’t go particularly well for me, but for a few weeks she really was a light and had a real spirit to her. She was like one of your own kids that never had a job, and then they get a job and realize that certain things are expected, and you can’t react to everything you don’t like or care about. So the first time you have a job and someone says “you have to do this” - it was more complicated than she imagined. We were both optimistic, but it was harder than either of us expected to make it work.
On memorable experiences with fans:
The best experience with a fan? It happens sometimes where someone will say “I was going through a really hard time. I was going through a really hard time, and I was just morose or depressed.”And I met one person who said I couldn’t find anything to cheer me up and I was so sad. And I Just watched Caddyshack, and I watched it for about a week and it was the only thing that cheered me up. And it was the only thing that cheered me up and made me laugh and made me think that my life wasn’t hopeless. That I had a way to see what was best about life, that there was a whole lot of life that was wonderful. And I happen to know (from her own spirit) that that person has really triumphed as an artist and as a human being, and if it’s just a moment when you can reverse a movement, an emotion, a downward spiral, when you can quiet something or still something and just allow it to change and allow the real spirit rise up in someone, that feels great.I know I’m not saving the world, but something in what I’ve learned how to do or the stories that I’ve tried to tell, they’re some sort of representation of how life is or how life could be. And that gives some sort of optimism. And an optimistic attitude is a successful attitude.
On what he whispered in Scarlett Johansson’s ear at the end of Lost in Translation:
You know? I forget.