I’ve been hosting tribute nights for the Santa Barbara International Film Festival for over 30 years. They even put my name on the award – The Maltin Modern Master – which I consider a huge compliment. Tribute Night takes place at the historic Arlington Theater on State Street in Santa Barbara – but not this year.
When festival director Roger Durling called to tell me who had agreed to accept the honor this year, I was down on the ground: Bill Murray. Bill Murray! Then came the disappointment: the conversation would be virtual. Drat !, As W.C. Fields would say.
But I wasn’t counting on the unpredictable mind of our award winner. I didn’t know what to expect either. would he mean business or was he joking? Would we have time to play all of the film clips we had prepared? And would he be shocked by the lack of an audience?
After a collage of Murray moments from forty years – from Meatballs to his newest, On the rocks– I said a little about his remarkable career and then uttered the words, “Ladies and gentlemen … Bill Murray.” Our guest of honor appeared on the screen, accompanied by an uncomfortable silence.
There was no live audience so we didn’t hear the cheers or applause that would normally occur at that moment. I wish we had the noise of the crowd like the sports teams.
But there he was sitting in a cave or a living room wearing a cool leather jacket. “I’m in a Screen Actors Guild safe house,” he said in his signature deadpan fashion. “I was brought here in the trunk of a car.” It may have been true, although I believe he was on the west coast using his iPad. (In the end, the tech geeks took no chances and made sure Festival Roger Durling and I were hardwired.)
I now realize that what felt like “dead air” after every question I asked was actually Bill’s way of looking at each topic before jumping in with an answer. He took the toll seriously and gave very thoughtful responses.
Commenting on his early days at Second City in Chicago, he said, “You have always been very kind to me, everyone: Joe Flaherty and Harold [Ramis] and Jeannie Vanasco. I was very lucky to hold onto the coat tails of all those people – especially Belushi and Danny Aykroyd – people who went out there and did it first. I learned so much from seeing them. “He used the word” luck “several times.
He also mentioned people who impressed him along the way: the cameraman Laszlo Kovacs, who shot Ghost hunters, Actors William Atherton, the villain of the same film, and George Gaynes, who played the soap opera actor in Tootsie and Bill regularly cracked. “I spat Danny Thomas out,” when responding to one of Gaynes’ scenes, he recalled. He was also very fond Tootsie Director and costar Sydney Pollack. He tipped his hat on Elaine May, the A-list screenwriter who grafted his roommate character onto Larry Gelbart’s script with funny results.
I learned the Murray mantra, “Rehearsals are for losers.” When he works with compatible colleagues, we just want to get out there and do it. A script has two dimensions, but when you have to step into the physical world and stand, move and speak, something unexpected arrives that is not taken into account. This is where you make your bones. It happens there. “
Trying to find a polite way to ask why he held up so long before agreeing to show up Ghostbusters II, I asked if he was reluctant to do the film. He nodded vigorously and admitted that he was “very, very reserved”. It wasn’t until the producers managed to combine all of his costs in one room that he changed his mind. “It was really fun to be together. They are some wonderful, really funny guys – and girls. “
He was sold a concept that he thought was a good idea, but when he showed up on the first day he was given a script that had nothing to do with what he had opened. He took the main road and made the most of it. In fact, he’s the only cast member from the original 1984 film to appear in every iteration of Ghost hunters, including the 2016 gender twisting feature and an upcoming sequel from Jason Reitman, whose father piloted the original.
His most vivid memory of Ground Hog Day was how cold it was where they were shooting in Woodstock, Illinois. Painfully cold. And he still wonders that Danny Rubin wrote a film about Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania without ever visiting the city. Aware of the film’s continued popularity, he boasts that he “hit the market” on the holiday.
Murray’s agent wanted him to show up in Rushmore and kept sending him tapes of Wes Anderson’s first feature film, Bottle rocketthat he has never seen anything of. All it took to win him over was to read the script Rushmore. When asked if he would like to meet the writer (and the director), he said, “It’s not necessary. When do we shoot?” From the script he could see that Anderson “knew exactly what he wanted to do” and that this sealed the deal.
He is fortunate to have worked with Anderson on so many films since then. “We’ve become good friends. He really makes filmmaking an experience.” It’s less of a shoot than an adventure together, each time in a new place. “There is nothing else; [just] make this movie and be with the people who make this movie. And every film he makes is better and better and better … “
As for Sofia Coppola, who wrote two great roles for him – in Lost in translation and last year On the rocks“I love Sofia … and the longer I’ve known her, the more I love her.” He admires all the roles she plays – mother, daughter, sister, writer, and director – and her tenacity. He is also very fond of the Coppola family and their mutual support system. He had nothing but praise for Sofia and his co-star Rashida Jones. At this point, Sofia and her brother Roman appeared on the video screen to offer congratulations.
I asked why he only made one movie. Quick change (with Harold Franklin as co-director) and so little written.
“I haven’t gotten to the point yet,” he replied. “I should write; I did not put myself down. I really enjoyed directing and thought I would do it all the time. I loved working with actors. “But his life has changed and the opportunity passed away. He also recognizes that “directing a movie takes a long time … a huge part of your life”.
To have seen A man for all seasons Then not long ago he asked for “a few words before the sentencing”. And he made most of his remarks me.
“I want to say that it is really an honor to receive the Maltin Malted Milk Award. I was surprised because I didn’t know I had received an award. I thought we were honoring Leonard Maltin. I didn’t really know because of COVID and lack of news, I thought you died and it was good that you finally got recognition when I found out [you were] still with us, it was a happy / sad moment for me. Sorry because I had some nice things to say about you Leonard. Now all they have to do is wait. And happy … because, well, happy for they. “Can you imagine how I wanted to hear all of this?
In summary, he said: “All these montages … make me think that I must have done something with my life so far … It also indicated that there is still a lot more to be done.”
For me, Bill Murray can rest on his laurels if he wants to. He has more than earned this license. Everything he does is worth watching … and he always makes me laugh. There is no one who is so like him.