Bill Murray surprised fans on Reddit yesterday evening with an Ask Me Anything session to promote his new movie, The Monuments Men, which hits theaters February 7th. His generous and often long-winded answers, sprinkled liberally with the word “golly,” touched on everything from art and science to his favorite sandwiches. Here are ten things we learned from the actor.
1. He almost quit acting after filming Broken Flowers because he didn’t think he could do anything better.
“Well, I did a film with Jim Jarmusch called Broken Flowers, but I really enjoyed that movie,” he said when asked which of his movies was the most fun to act in. “I enjoyed the script that he wrote. He asked me if I could do a movie, and I said ‘I gotta stay home, but if you make a movie that i could shoot within one hour of my house, I’ll do it.’ So he found those locations. And I did the movie.
“And when it was done, I thought ‘this movie is so good, I thought I should stop.’ I didn’t think I could do any better than Broken Flowers, it’s a film that is completely realized, and beautiful, and I thought I had done all I could do to it as an actor. And then 6-7 months later someone asked me to work again, so I worked again, but for a few months I thought I couldn’t do any better than that.”
2. He signed on for Garfield because he thought it was a Coen Brothers movie.
“I had a hilarious experience with Garfield,” he said. “I only read a few pages of it, and I kind of wanted to do a cartoon movie, because I had looked at the screenplay and it said ‘Joel Cohen’ on it. And I wasn’t thinking clearly, but it was spelled Cohen, not Coen. I love the Coen brothers movies. I think that Joel Coen is a wonderful comedic mind.”
3. He thinks Groundhog Day deserved more props.
“The scripts is one of the greatest conceptual scripts I’ve ever seen,” he said. “It’s a script that was so unique, so original, and yet it got not acclaim. To me it was no question that it was the greatest script of the year. To this day people are talking about it, but they forget no one paid any attention to it at the time. The execution of the script, there were great people in it. It was a difficult movie to shoot because we shot in winter outdoors. If you ever get to go to Puxatawney, you should go, it is one of the few things that is BETTER than advertised. It’s really something to see. But doing the movie, shooting the scenes over and over, it’s like an acting challenge. It’s like doing a play and those same scenes over and over and again, so you can try to make it better or deeper or funnier than you made it previously.
4. Bill Murray is really into scientists.
“I think I would have liked to have met Gregor Mendel,” he said when asked if he could go back in time and have a conversation with one person, who would it be. “Because he was a monk who just sort of figured this stuff out on his own. That’s a higher mind, that’s a mind that’s connected. They have a vision, and they just sort of see it because they are so connected intellectually and mechanically and spiritually, they can access a higher mind. Mendel was a guy so long ago that I don’t necessarily know very much about him, but I know that Einstein did his work in the mountains in Switzerland. I think the altitude had an effect on the way they spoke and thought.
“But I would like to know about Mendel, because I remember going to the Philippines and thinking ‘this is like Mendel’s garden’ because it had been invaded by so many different countries over the years, and you could see the children shared the genetic traits of all their invaders over the years, and it made for this beautiful varietal garden.”
5. His strangest experience in Japan involved a live eel.
“I would go to sushi bars with a book I had called ‘Making out in Japanese.’ it was a small paperback book, with questions like ‘can we get into the back seat?’ ‘do your parents know about me?’ ‘do you have a curfew?’
And I would say to the sushi chef ‘Do you have a curfew? Do your parents know about us? And can we get into the back seat?’
And I would always have a lot of fun with that, but that one particular day, he said ‘would you like some fresh eel?’ and I said ‘yes I would.’ so he came back with a fresh eel, a live eel, and then he walked back behind a screen and came back in 10 seconds with a no-longer-alive eel. It was the freshest thing I had ever eaten in my life. It was such a funny moment to see something that was alive that no longer was alive, that was my food, in 30 seconds.”
6. He truly loves Wes Anderson.
“I really love the way Wes writes with his collaborators, I like the way he shoots, and I like HIM,” he gushed. “I’ve become so fond of him. I love the way that he has made his art his life. And you know, it’s a lesson to all of us, to take what you love and make it the way you live your life, and that way you bring love into the world.”
7. He thought the previous cast of Saturday Night Live was the best since the original group.
“They’re good,” he said when asked what he thinks of the current cast. “I don’t know them as well as I knew the previous one. But i really feel like the previous cast, that was the best group since the original group. They were my favorite group. Some really talented people that were all comedians of some kind or another. You think about Dana Carvey, Will, Hartman, all these wonderful funny guys. But the last group with Kristen Wiig and those characters, they were a bunch of actors and their stuff was just different. It’s all about the writing, the writing is such a challenge and you are trying to write backwards to fit 90 minutes between dress rehearsal and the airing. And sometimes the writers don’t get the whole thing figured out, it’s not like a play where you can rehearse it several times. So good actors – and those were really good actors, and there are some great actors in this current group as well I might add – they seem to be able to solve writing problems, improvisational actors, can solve them on their feet. They can solve it during the performance, and make a scene work. It’s not like we were improvising when we made the shows, but you could feel ways to make things better. And when you get into the third dimension, as opposed to the printed page, you can see ways to solve things and write things live that other sorts of professionals don’t necessarily have. And that’s why I like that previous group. So this group, there are definitely some actors in this group, I see them working in the same way and making scenes go. They really roll very nicely, they have great momentum, and it seems like they are calm in the moment.”
8. Some things remain a mystery even to Bill Murray:
“You know? I forget,” he said when asked what he whispered in Scarlett Johansson’s ear at the end of Lost In Translation.
9. He has a lot of thoughts on recreational marijuana.
“You’re talking about recreation, which everyone is in favor of,” he said. “You are also talking about something that has been illegal for so many years, and marijuana is responsible for such a large part of the prison population, for the crime of self-medication. And it takes millions and billions of dollars by incarcerating people for this crime against oneself as best can be determined. People are realizing that the war on drugs is a failure, that the amount of money spent, you could have bought all the drugs with that much money rather than create this army of people and incarcerated people. I think the terror of marijuana was probably overstated. I don’t think people are really concerned about it the way they once were. Now that we have crack and crystal and whatnot, people don’t even think about marijuana anymore, it’s like someone watching too many videogames in comparison. The fact that states are passing laws allowing it means that its threat has been over-exagerated. Psychologists recommend smoking marijuana rather than drinking if you are in a stressful situation. These are ancient remedies, alcohol and smoking, and they only started passing laws against them 100 years ago.”
10. Caddyshack has saved lives:
“I met one person who said I couldn’t find anything to cheer me up and I was so sad,” he said, when asked for his best experience with a fan. “And I Just watched Caddyshack, and I watched it for about a week and it was the only thing that cheered me up. And it was the only thing that cheered me up and made me laugh and made me think that my life wasn’t hopeless. That I had a way to see what was best about life, that there was a whole lot of life that was wonderful. And I happen to know (from her own spirit) that that person has really triumphed as an artist and as a human being, and if it’s just a moment when you can reverse a movement, an emotion, a downward spiral, when you can quiet something or still something and just allow it to change and allow the real spirit rise up in someone, that feels great.
“I know I’m not saving the world, but something in what I’ve learned how to do or the stories that I’ve tried to tell, they’re some sort of representation of how life is or how life could be. And that gives some sort of optimism. And an optimistic attitude is a successful attitude.”