For me, the idea for the special all started from talking to Bill Murray about how I wanted him to do a week at the Carlyle singing old standards. I love seeing him in a tuxedo. He and Mitch [Glazer, the writer-producer] were talking about doing something for TV and wanted to talk to me about that. We were having drinks one night, and somehow the idea came together. What I like to have Bill indulge for my own pleasure and amusement — that’s what other people like to see from Bill, too. I always enjoy seeing him in distress and then getting out of it. So the idea of putting him in a situation in the special where he’s having the worst Christmas, and then it all turns around, was something we responded to because there is so much expectation around that time of year and it’s easy to be disappointed. I do think the holidays have a sort of nostalgic melancholy and joyfulness to them, and Bill is so good with showing both those qualities. There’s that melancholy moment after all the presents are unwrapped.
The Carlyle is one of those classic, iconic New York places that fit the tone of what we were going for. There’s something romantic about uptown New York at Christmastime, like when you go and see the windows of Bergdorf or going to Bemelmans for a cocktail around that time of year. Maybe it’s because I don’t live there — I live in New York but downtown, and I grew up in Napa. My dad was into Christmas. I remember when I was 8, we spent Christmas in Tokyo and my mom carried this Santa suit in a suitcase all the way over there because she thought it was the last year that I would believe in Santa. And my dad put it on, but I was so jet-lagged that they couldn’t wake me up on Christmas. They always made magic of the holidays.
Christmas is a time when you can be old-fashioned. We liked the idea of making our version of a corny holiday special that doesn’t seem to be around anymore, where you can kind of throw anyone together and it doesn’t have to have any logic — when David Bowie sang with Bing Crosby, that sort of thing, except with Bill Murray and Chris Rock and putting them in matching sweaters. With our production designer, I watched all the classic Christmas specials, like the ones with the Carpenters and Dean Martin. They were vague memories from being a kid, such time capsules — Dean Martin looks sunburnt, like he just drove in on his convertible. I don’t want to be impolite by saying anything about their quality, but they were fun to watch. I think all the magic of show business and the holidays kind of merge in them in a nice way. I love the nonlinear, no-logic, anything-can-happen feel and the songs that just pop up out of nowhere. It was great to look at that model and do our over-the-top version of it. And because we filmed in February, we got to do it without the stress of buying and giving gifts. It was only the fun side of Christmas.
A Very Murray Christmas, directed by Coppola, premieres December 4 on Netflix.
*This article appears in the November 30, 2015 issue of New York Magazine.