What About Bill?: Wes Anderson on Working With Bill Murray - Rolling Stone
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What About Bill?: Wes Anderson on Working With Bill Murray

The “Grand Budapest Hotel” director does a film-by-film breakdown of his collaborations with the comedic genius

How would Wes Anderson have known that when he sent his script for Rushmore to Bill Murray that he wouldn't just be procuring a star for his movie; he'd be entering into a collaborative relationship that's now spanned over a decade and a half. It's an alliance that's been mutually beneficial, with Bill regularly receiving critical acclaim for his work in the delightfully multi-dimensional roles that Wes writes. "I always write with Bill in mind," Wes says. "But I have to find out what I'm doing next first!" Does he actually have Bill's legendarily-hard-to-get phone number? "I'm sorry, I can't disclose the nature of our communication. That's very privileged information." What Mr. Anderson was willing to do on the eve of his latest film, The Grand Budapest Hotel, being released was give us a glimpse inside his seven collaborations with Hollywood's man of mystery, Bill Murray. By Charles Thorp

Walt Disney Co./Everett Collection

‘Rushmore’ (1998)

"I sent the script to Bill and had no idea what would happen after that. One day I was in a Disney executive's office, and they say Bill Murray is on the line; I had no idea how he even knew I was there. The Disney exec then had to leave his own office so that I could have a long conversation with Bill about the role. I remember he wanted to talk about how he related his character — Herman Blume — to Kurasowa.

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The only other time I saw him before we started filming in Texas was at the Four Seasons in Los Angeles. I needed to get a photo of him so that we could have a painting made for the set. I shot a whole roll of film; the first shot was the best. Then we ended up having some drinks at the bar downstairs, and Bill took the place over and started dancing. That was the first experience I had of how a room could get swept up by him.

Our first day on set, we had a reading with Jason Schwartzman…it didn't go well at all. We beat ourselves up over whether we should change the dialogue, but Bill said that the dialogue is why he signed on. A day later, Bill took us out to a restaurant where we ate chicken-fried steak. After that, everything was fine. I like to think that he was great in the role — but beyond that, he was the godfather of that film."

Buena Vista Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

‘The Royal Tenenbaums’ (2001)

"We filmed in New York and as he didn't live that far away, Bill thought that it would be fun to do it. Here's a secret: He can grow a beard very fast. Gene Hackman took a real liking to him during that shoot. They got along very well."

Touchstone/Courtesy Everett Collection

‘The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou’ (2004)

"Bill and I had been talking about The Life Aquatic before I asked him to be in The Royal Tenenbaums; we were just trying to finish the script at that time. Jacques Cousteau was the model for Steve Zissou, but there was also a lot of Bill in there. Once everything was ready ,we all flew out to Italy to film. It was a great time, but the production was incredibly challenging. The great thing about Bill as a leading man is that he's just a "guy," but he's got such a presence in real life — and it translates into what attracts people to him on screen. Most of the time I just try to stand back and let him do what he does."

Fox Searchlight/Courtesy Everett Collection

‘The Darjeeling Limited’ (2007)

"We wanted his businessman character to emulate Karl Malden in those infamous American Express commercials. We knew that Bill would be great as this symbolic American abroad character, one that nobody really knows what he stands for. It was just a fun way to get him in."

Fox Searchlight

‘Fantastic Mr. Fox’ (2009)

"Because this was animation, it was a much more improvisational situation for Bill while we were recording the audio. We recorded the voices and sounds on an estate in Connecticut, and he brought a lot of spontaneity to his performance. I remember that he had never worked with George Clooney, and they bonded on the set. It was fun to see them click. The final shot is one of a very intimidating wolf standing up on top of a hill and looking down at the rest of the characters. We didn't use his voice at all, but Bill ran up a hill and gave his best "wolf stare" down on us. We filmed it and the artists used it for inspiration to what ended up on the screen."

Focus Features

‘Moonrise Kingdom’ (2012)

"I had this idea that I really wanted Bill and Frances McDormand to play a married couple. I just pictured it in my head, the two of them being these two lawyers. I always thought they would click and there would be a special chemistry. When I got them on set, that ended up happening for real. They've worked together more since then, and I think that's because there was some real emotion shared between them on that set. They were both brilliant, but also fun and charming friends."

Martin Scali/Fox Searchlight

‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ (2014)

"Bill's role is a small part — but it's very important. He's the head man of this secret society that is immensely important to the story. It was one of those moments that I decided I wanted to save Bill for this very quick but critical secret mission at the climax of the story. Even with just a few minutes of screen time, he truly steps right up to it and is someone that I can always rely on."

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