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'Ghostbusters II': Return of the Money-Making Slime

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Is this a comedy with a social conscience? "I guess you could say it's a metaphor for urban decay," says Ramis. "You feel it in any big city – you wonder where it's going to stop, how bad things can get. It's just our way of saving that people need to come up with humane solutions."

Ramis's voice trails off. He sounds embarrassed. What if Murray heard him talking like this?

"Hey, it's pretty deeply buried in the script," he says. "It's not like we're sending a lot of messages here. There are some comedies that satisfy the requirements of art and some that are gratuitous and pandering, and we like to think" – Ramis laughs – "that we're somewhere in between."

Murray and Aykroyd get all the media attention, but Harold Ramis can tell you who the real star of Ghostbusters II is. Standing outside the set, wearing baggy 'Busters overalls, he takes a drag on his cigarette as he watches two eight-year-old sons of crew members playing across the street.

"The other day someone asked one of these kids whether he wanted to come to the set on a day when Bill Murray was working or when Dan Aykroyd was working," he says, "and the kid said, 'I want to come on slime day!'"

"Geez, look over here," one of the kids says, motioning wildly. "This is it!" His friend runs over, and the two stare in awe at a big bucket filled with an oozing mass of flamingo-pink gunk.

Summoning up his courage, one boy dips his hand into the bucket and pulls out a glob. It quivers like a combination of Silly Putty and eel innards. (Actually it's Methocel, a vegetable-based, biodegradable jelly laced with red food coloring, and the slime lab works long hours to produce it. Methocel loses its color if it's not made fresh daily, and the movie will require 100,000 gallons of it.) The boy smiles triumphantly as the slinky grease drips from his fingers.

"Slime!"

Still, it's hard to imagine Bill Murray being upstaged by a pile of slime, and Ramis admits that, saying, "Ramis hands out assists, Aykroyd rebounds, Murray is the scorer." On days when Murray is going at half throttle, crew members say the pace of the whole day's filming slows. ("When he gets tired, watch out," says Ramis. "Don't let him sit down on the sofa at your house – he'll be there for hours.")

"In American film, every generation has a guy who speaks for them, who links them to their psyche," says Reitman. "There's always been an ironic commentator, from Groucho Marx and W.C. Fields to Bob Hope. It's someone who can speak truthfully, but with irony and sarcasm and black humor. But in a way that you like them. For our generation, it's definitely Bill."

Murray, meanwhile, has come onto the set and is wandering off to its fringes, happily posing for snapshots, talking to onlookers and signing autographs. "Drive carefully!" he says as the two little boys take off on bicycles. "The cops around here are tough!"

"The only real fun is the acting part of it," Bill Murray is saying. "The rest of it has so many negatives to it. All the media stuff? It's a lot of crap." He's speaking from his trailer on the set, surrounded by lumps of old clothes and stacks of scripts.

Having survived years of ups and downs in Hollywood, years of post-SNL media scrutiny and, in the case of Murray and Aykroyd, having watched their friend John Belushi self-destruct after a nasty bout with fame and ill fortune, most of the Ghostbusters seem decidedly wary of – if not downright hostile toward – the press.

Meeting a reporter for the first time, Ramis hesitates. "I was just trying to remember," he says, "whether you said nice or terrible things about me in the past."

Aykroyd refuses to be interviewed at all – he no longer talks to print journalists.

But if Murray is peeved about past media inquisitions, he's too polite to further voice his displeasure. And he has agreed to talk in his trailer one night. Nervously roaming around, taking swigs from a bottle of Evian water, Murray is most animated when talking about Chicago sports icons. He's still abuzz about meeting Michael Jordan at a golf tournament, where he commiserated with the Bulls basketball hero about losing hard-nosed power forward Charles Oakley in an off-season trade with the New York Knicks. "You could see the pain in his eyes," Murray says. "He wasn't so upset about missing the fourteen rebounds a game. It was those elbows…."

There is no similar enthusiasm when Murray talks about his own career. In Hollywood, where Murray is a genuine superstar, if he agrees to do a film, that film gets made (The Razor's Edge would never have been made with Jeremy Irons). But has Murray had as much impact on the big screen as he did on Saturday Night Live, which served as a proving ground for his inspired gallery of hipster smoothies?

"It's a struggle," he says. "I'm sure I haven't lived up to my potential. I've only made eight movies and that's not a lot. It takes so much longer."

He points out the trailer window toward a huddle of crew members. "These people here have worked on hundreds of movies. If you're working with your buddies, you have someone to share the pain with. But if you don't have someone to share the pain with …" He frowns. "You end up miserable."

After The Razor's Edge bombed, Murray took nearly four years off, living in Europe, spending time with his family. "I got to live a little bit of a life," he says, lighting a cigarette. "Living a public life takes so much of your time. The pressure gets to you. And I wasn't able to live a life and have a career."

While Murray was away, Tom Hanks, Michael Keaton and even Steve Guttenberg became leading men of comedy. But Murray insists he didn't miss Hollywood. "I really can't say there were any films I really missed making," he says, starting to pace. "I'm lucky. People used to think that if you took years off, people would forget you. But with TV, and Saturday Night Live being in reruns everywhere, they can see you on the dial every night."

Did the time off rejuvenate him? "Well, I became more of a person when I was away," he says, hunting for a match. "And the more of a person you are, the more of an actor you are. I was really surprised. The first couple of weeks on Scrooged, I was a little rusty. But I was better as an actor. I'd just soaked up things I could give out." Murray really wanted Scrooged to "do great," says Harold Ramis. "And it did well, but it didn't do great."

Murray seems ambivalent about the trappings of success. "A lot of people get pleasure out of the rich part," he says. "I don't know. I was broke all my life till I became successful, so I had to worry about things like paying my phone bill. Now I don't.

"Fame has lots of negatives," he adds softly. "People who aren't famous can't believe fame is a burden. But, oh, it can be. You lose your privacy and you never get it back.

"I think the reason people have problems is there's no training for being famous. You can train to be an actor or a mountain climber. It's so weird. They can train you to be an astronaut and walk on the moon. But they can't train you to be famous. It's indescribable."

All day long, strangers have sidled up to Murray, asking for autographs, squeezing next to him, snapping his picture. Now he stares uncomfortably at his visitors note pad.

"When you're a celebrity, you become very self-conscious," he says. "You become aware of being watched and stared at. People are generally very nice, but still – you get the sense of being watched and eyed. Suddenly you're meeting a lot more people, but the percentages don't get any better."

The percentages? Murray flashes a grin. "You may have ten friends in your life," he says. "But you don't get any more friends, percentagewise, when you're famous. Instead of having a drink and watching a basketball game, you're signing autographs at 1:00 a.m."

Murray is wanted on the set. He takes a long swig from his bottle of water. "I got into acting to get out of the house," he says, closing his trailer door behind him. "And to stay in it, you have to enjoy it. When you don't have fun, it's terrible. So I'm trying to find ways to make the work easier on my system. Emotionally, I know that if you're having fun, you're somehow doing good work. But intellectually I don't know if I believe that. So I'm still trying to find ways to do the good work and enjoy it too."

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