Step one to being more like Bill Murray: Sing. And really be into it. Murray is not his ironic Saturday Night Live lounge singer and he is not his Lost in Translation actor abroad, singing a half-asleep version of “More Than This.” He sings when the mood strikes him, and when it does, he means it. As he walked out onstage on Friday night at the Toronto Film Festival to the sounds of Prince’s “Raspberry Beret,” Murray grabbed a microphone and sang a few verses of the song. He would repeat the performance (sans mike) at an after-party later that night, where he would also lead a dance party, as he has been known to do in the past.
Friday was “Bill Murray Day” at the festival, and it consisted of screenings of Murray classics Stripes, Ghostbusters, and Groundhog Day, and the world premiere of his new film, St. Vincent, in which he plays a grumpy old man tasked with watching the child of his neighbor, played by Melissa McCarthy. During the Q&A, moderated by Scrooged screenwriter Mitch Glazer, and featuring Ghostbusters director Ivan Reitman, Murray dropped so many pieces of life wisdom that it seemed only right to gather it into a Bill Murray Guide to Life. (Copyright: us.)
Step two to being more like Bill Murray: Just be honest. The St. Vincent role came about, said Murray, “because they couldn’t get Jack Nicholson.” After the audience roared in laughter, he continued, “No really. It’s well-documented.”
Step three: Always make time for your friends. On a day when all of Toronto was celebrating him, and he had a full slate of press for St. Vincent, Murray still carved out time to see Welcome To Me, an audaciously wacko comedy about a woman with bipolar disorder (Kristen Wiig), who’s obsessed with Oprah, wins the lottery, and buys herself a talk show on a failing cable network. It’s the first film by Shira Piven, wife of Anchorman director Adam McKay, and Will Ferrell is one of the producers. “It’s one of the strangest movies I’ve ever seen,” he said. “The bravery to make this movie is pretty impressive. It’s quite a piece of work. I mean, the funny stuff is maybe bolder than anything we’ve seen in a very, very long time. And it’s not just a funny movie. There’s a lot going on. I’m still thinking about what happened.”
Step four: Be spontaneous. Many people are aware of Murray’s penchant for popping in on random karaoke nights, or doing dishes at other people’s house parties, or crashing wedding photo shoots. But this is not a new thing. According to Reitman, Murray has always been that way. Back in the day, before he was ever on SNL, Murray used to go up to people on the streets of New York and yell, “Watch out, there’s a lobster loose, hot butter’s the only way to get it!” in the voice he’d later use in Caddyshack. “He’s going up to strangers in Manhattan and they’re laughing. They don’t know who this guy is, but he’s making them laugh, and he’s totally spontaneous and they just have to go with it.”
Step five: Leave yourself open to magical moments. It’s unclear how long ago this was, but Murray told a tale of being in a cab in Oakland and finding out his cab driver was a saxophone player. The driver, however, never got to practice because he drove 14 hours a day. So when Murray also found out the guy’s sax was in the trunk, he had him pull over, get out his horn, sit in the back, and play while Murray drove. “You know, that’s like two and two. It makes four,” Murray said. “Not only did he play all the way to Sausalito, which is a long ways, but we stopped and got barbecue. He was playing at what people would call a sketchy rib place in Oakland at like 2:15 in the morning. It’s like, ‘Relax, man. You’ve got the fucking horn. We’re cool here.’ He’s blowing the horn and the crowd’s like, ‘What the hell’s that crazy white dude playing that thing?’ And it was great. It made for a beautiful night. I think we’d all do that, if you saw that moment and you’re, as we say, available, you’d make the connection and you’d do it right.”
Step six: Stay relaxed and success will follow. “Someone told me some secrets early on about living. You have to remind yourself that you can do the very best you can when you’re very, very relaxed. No matter what it is, no matter what your job is, the more relaxed you are, the better you are. That’s sort of why I got into acting. I realized that the more fun I had, the better I did it, and I thought, Well, that’s a job I can be proud of. I’d be proud to have that job, if I had to go to work and say, ‘No matter what my condition or what my mood is, no matter how I feel about what’s going on in my life, if I can relax myself and enjoy what I’m doing and have fun with it, then I can do my job really well.’ And it’s changed my life, learning that. And it’s made me better at what I do. I’m not the greatest or anything. But I really enjoy what I do.”
Step seven: Remember that you are you and no one else is. The night’s final question was “What’s it like being you?” Murray responded with a guru-level reminder about the importance of being present, which we’ll reprint in full and embed in audio form below.
I think if I’m gonna answer that question, because it is a hard question, I’d like to suggest that we all answer that question right now, while I’m talking. I’ll continue. Believe me, I won’t shut up. I have a microphone. But let’s all ask ourselves that question right now. What does it feel like to be you? What does it feel like to be you? Yeah. It feels good to be you, doesn’t it? It feels good, because there’s one thing that you are — you’re the only one that’s you, right?. So you’re the only one that’s you, and we get confused sometimes — or I do, I think everyone does — you try to compete. You think, Dammit, someone else is trying to be me. Someone else is trying to be me. But I don’t have to armor myself against those people; I don’t have to armor myself against that idea if I can really just relax and feel content in this way and this regard. If I can just feel, just think now: How much do you weigh? This is a thing I like to do with myself when I get lost and I get feeling funny. How much do you weigh? Think about how much each person here weighs and try to feel that weight in your seat right now, in your bottom right now. Parts in your feet and parts in your bum. Just try to feel your own weight, in your own seat, in your own feet. Okay? So if you can feel that weight in your body, if you can come back into the most personal identification, a very personal identification, which is: I am. This is me now. Here I am, right now. This is me now. Then you don’t feel like you have to leave, and be over there, or look over there. You don’t feel like you have to rush off and be somewhere. There’s just a wonderful sense of well-being that begins to circulate up and down, from your top to your bottom. Up and down from your top to your spine. And you feel something that makes you almost want to smile, that makes you want to feel good, that makes you want to feel like you could embrace yourself.
So what’s it like to be me? You can ask yourself, What’s it like to be me? You know, the only way we’ll ever know what it’s like to be you is if you work your best at being you as often as you can, and keep reminding yourself: That’s where home is.