Happy Bill Murray Day! The Toronto International Film Festival honored the up-for-anything actor Friday with a three-film marathon, Stripes, Groundhog Day and Ghostbusters. I caught the 30th anniversary showing of Ghostbusters and Ivan Reitman and Bill Murray spoke afterwards. Here are a few nuggets from Mr. Murray:
(a Genie for Best Foreign Actor, for Meatballs)
I was up against Will Sampson, who was a very tall Native American, who was in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest—an incredibly cool guy—and George C. Scott, who’d just turned down the Academy Award, so Will and I are backstage going, “So, what do you think our chances are?” and just laughing our asses off, because I was looking at him and he was looking at me, like, “Yeah, this is funny.” But he was a cool guy. George C. Scott’s wife came out of the woodwork to accept the award, so someone got it. But that was the first time, I walked out in anger when I didn’t win over George C. Scott. “That does it. Let’s go, we’re out of here.” People were like, “Ah, well, he’s not taking it too well.”
I remember Ivan had this Meatballs movie, and I said, “I don’t know.” And he said, “No, no, if it’s not any good, it’ll never be seen. They’ll show it on military bases in Turkey or someplace, and it’ll never be seen.” And that was the clincher. I realized it would never be seen if it was bad.
I remember coming to work and it was my first real movie job. And I remember the makeup artist smoked. And we’ve all smoked sometime or other. But she was smoking while she was doing my makeup, and she just sort of leaned in and burned my face with the cigarette in her mouth. And I thought, “You know, I’m going to be a star.” I looked at her and said, “I’m going to get a suntan instead.” And that’s what I did. I never went back to makeup for the whole rest of the movie.
I get to park anywhere I like. I stayed in my room for a long time today, but people kept coming up and saying things like “It’s real humid out there.” I think maybe seven different people were like, “You know it’s real humid and it’s gonna get even more humid today.” So that’s what my day’s been like it’s mostly been a weather report.
When I’m conscious, it is a conscious decision. I think the only reason I’ve had the career life that I’ve had is that someone told me some secrets early on about living. And that you just have to remind yourself, you have to remember yourself—you can do the very best you can when you’re very, very relaxed. No matter what your job is, the more relaxed you are, the better you are. And that’s sort of why I got into acting—I realized the more fun I had, the better I did. And I thought, “Well, that’s a job I can be proud of. I can be proud to have that job. If I had to go to work and no matter what my condition is, what my mood is, no matter how I feel or what’s going on in my life, if I can relax myself and enjoy what I’m doing and have fun with it, I can do my job really well. And it’s changed my life. It’s changed my life learning that. It’s made me better at what I do—I’m not the greatest at I what I do or anything, but I really enjoy what I do. I really like my job. It comes with lots of stuff along with it. But I really like to go to work. I’m a better person when I’m at work. My whole day is better because the hours or even minutes of the day where I’m working as hard as I can to be relaxed and sensitive. And not joyous, but enjoying it. And just seeing that this is my opportunity right now, and it’s such a powerful reminder to realize it’s going to be 14 feet high someday. It’s like an echo to say, “This is it, Bill. You’ve got to remember now.”
And when you come into a funny situation like a getting into a taxi with a guy who’s a saxophone player. I said, “When do you practice?” And he said, “I don’t know, I drive like 14 hours a day.” And I said, “Well, where’s your sax.” He said, “It’s in the trunk.” You know, that’s two and two. It makes four. I said, “Pull over, and get [it from] the trunk, and I know how to drive a car.” Not only did he play [from Oakland] all the way to Sausalito, which is a long way. We stopped and got barbeque, and he was playing at what people would call a sketchy rib place at like 2:15 in the morning. And it was like, “Relax, man, you’ve got the fucking horn, we’re cool here.” And he’s blowing the horn, and the crowd’s like, “What the hell? Little, crazy white dude playing that thing.” And it was great. It made for a beautiful night. And we’ve done that. And I think we’d all do that. I think if you saw that moment and you’re as they say, “available,” you’d make that connection and you’d do it right.
My career would have had a complete different move. I watched him perform in The Second City. He was in the company with my brother. He gave me decent advice when I was just a little brat. I was off-Broadway in that National Lampoon show. He rewrote Meatballs. He rewrote Stripes and wormed his way into a starring role, too, I might add. He wrote Ghostbusters. In the meantime, someplace, there was a movie Caddyshack he directed. I didn’t even have a part in the movie. I just had like a line. I came and improvised some stuff and went back home to New York. And then they called from Florida and said, “Come back down. You wanna come back down and do some more?” “Yeah alright, it’s freezing up here. Let’s go.” So I went back down like four times. And there were funny people in that movie, dangerously funny people. There were some of the funniest people in America in that movie—Rodney Dangerfield, Chevy Chase, Ted Knight. And they’re all different kind of comedians. They’re all completely different, oddball guys. Ted Knight and Rodney together was weird, really strange. They’re just so different. Everybody in the movie was pretty funny, and there was so much different stuff, and [Ramis] managed to make it move. He made it a real world when it could have just been a bunch of solo performances.
I was lucky to watch really, really good people. I always tell actors who are thinking going to acting school or something like that—I say find a show that has really great actors performing in the show, and get a job there as a stage manager or an usher or sweeping the floor or anything and just watch those actors do the same material every single night. And you’ll learn so much because every single night is completely different, just as every moment is completely different, and you see how they make the adjustments in time and space. This audience is different than the audience that was here four hours ago. And you have to be able to feel that vibration that you’re getting from the audience and feel the rhythm of the group that you’re performing with and put those things together. That’s where the real science of it is and the real study of it is. So I’ve got friends that are funny, but technically, you have to see real professionals work to really understand what to do. It was all I wanted to do in the world, so I did that all the time I could, and then I was playing in life with people and for my funny friends.
We didn’t see eye-to-eye on [The Fantastic Mr. Fox]. I first performed the Badger with a Wisconsin accent, which I thought was pretty appropriate. And it was a really, really strong Wisconsin accent. Chris Farley would have been very proud of my Wisconsin accent. I listened to NPR public radio of Wisconsin for weeks, and I could bore you to death with that accent. But he said, “No, I just think that’s a little bit too much.” But he was wrong. The first script he sent me, they said, “Do you want to meet this director?” I said, “No, I don’t need to meet him.” “Don’t you want to meet him?” I said, “No, no, this guy knows exactly what he’s doing.
I guess I was about 20. On was on the stage at Second City. I was already getting paid to be in the show. I was working in the show, and I did something, I had a moment on the stage when I went, “Wow, that was really good. That was as good as the professional people do.” And I thought to myself, “This is great. I can do this. I can definitely do this.”
I keep learning more about relaxing all the time. It can mean laying on the beach or having a drink or whatever. You think relaxation is when your body is kind of relaxed, you’ve got your feet up or something. Relaxing your body and the tension in your body is a really big thing. And the more relaxed you can be in your body, the more important invisible stuff that’s happening all the time, the more able you are to perceive it. But later I’ve come to understand that there’s tension in your mind. Your mind has tension. And that most of the automatic babble that you have all the time when you try to be quiet is just tension in your mind. You have to shoot some relaxation juice to your brain to quiet your mind. And your emotions also have tension too. So even though it’s a little harder, you have to try to direct some sort of attention to your gut where your feelings can come from so all of these things can quiet at once.