The deaf assistant
During the production of Groundhog Day, Murray was going through his first divorce, even crankier than usual, and prone to disappearing for hours at a time. To ease ‘communication’ between the star, director Harold Ramis and the studio, Murray was asked to hire a personal assistant. His solution was to employ an assistant who was profoundly deaf and spoke only in sign language, which nobody else on set - including Murray - could speak. As Ramis told Entertainment Weekly: “Bill said, ‘Don’t worry, I'm going to learn sign language.’ And I think it was so inconvenient that in a couple weeks, he gave that up. That’s anti-communication, you know? Let’s not talk.”
Bill Murray walks into a bar...
For many years, the most popular line being peddled about Bill Murray was that he was a recluse. After Ghostbusters he became picky about his roles, taking years off between films; he never went to red-carpet events and rarely did interviews; he replaced his agent and PR with an automated phone line that he rarely listened to, leading to him losing roles simply because nobody could get hold of him; and when they did get his attention, directors would have to fax their precious scripts to his local office supply store. That said, Murray was no recluse. From 2007 onwards, he began turning his public appearances into a kind of performance art; a Marina Abramovic for liquored-up hipsters. He drunkenly crashed a stolen golf cart in Stockholm; he attended a student party in St Andrews, and did the washing up; he dived behind the bar at a film festival and served drinks with the Wu-Tang Clan; an entire website - billmurraystory.com - is devoted to tales of him crashing karaoke parties, joining kick-abouts in the park, and appearing from nowhere in restaurants to steal chips from a plate, before departing with the words ‘No one will ever believe you.’ It’s notable that none of these stories portray Murray in a bad light: he pays for drinks, keeps his hands to himself, and is sociable to a fault. He even kept his cool when a guest at a Brooklyn Halloween party accused him of ‘making bad life choices’ (this was 2008, the year of Murray's second divorce). Rather than throw a movie-star tantrum, Murray simply had another dance, politely thanked his host and left.
The human special effect
After the New York premiere of Hyde Park on Hudson, Murray and the film-makers took questions from the audience. The film stars Murray as the crippled US president Franklin D Roosevelt, and one scene shows FDR swimming, his horribly wizened legs dangling under the water. According to US GQ, one audience member wondered how the special effects department had managed to make the limbs look so hideous. As the giggling from the stage quickly made apparent, no special effects were involved. Murray let the laughter die down. “That,” he said after a long pause, “is acting.”
The reason he made Garfield
Even bearing in mind his contrary nature and love of peculiar left-turns, Murray’s 2004 decision to follow his Oscar-nominated role in Lost in Translation by voicing the comic-strip cat in his first CGI outing (tagline: "Get ready for frisky business") caught many by surprise. This, remember, was a man who had previously turned down the Buzz Lightyear part in Toy Story. What was he thinking? The answer came six years later, via an interview with GQ. Murray revealed that he read the first few pages of the Garfield script, written by a Joel Coen; he recognised the name from films like Fargo, Raising Arizona and The Big Lebowski, and said yes. When the time came to record his part, confronted with lines that ‘got worse and worse’, he asked to see the film. "Who did this?" he raged to himself. "What the f--- was Coen thinking?" Then he was told: the name on the script was Joel Cohen, not Coen. In 2006 Murray made Garfield 2: A Tale of Two Kitties; so far, no explanation.
Cutting Chevy Chase down to size
In 1977, Murray replaced Chevy Chase in the cast of Saturday Night Live. Though widely loathed by all he left behind in order to become a film star ("scumbag" and "asshole" being the more polite terms used to describe him), Chase returned to guest host the show. After a whole week of snippy remarks and perceived snubs between the two, Murray and Chase came to blows minutes before recording began. As recounted in the book Live From New York, Chase compared Murray’s acne-marked face to the surface of the moon; Murray in turn implied that Chase was incapable of satisfying his wife in bed. After the pair were pulled apart by fellow cast members, a ‘foaming at the mouth’ Murray delivered what could be the most perfect put-down of all time: ‘Medium talent!’
Baseball's ‘Director of Fun’
An avid sports fan, Murray is the co-owner of several minor-league baseball teams. At the Charleston RiverDogs, he also has the title ‘Director of Fun’. It’s a position Murray takes very seriously. One employee remembers his first meeting with the new boss: ‘He just walks in and he said, “What’s the deal with this lighting in here?” Then he said, “We’re going to put some pink gel lighting in here, to soften the mood”.’ Then he turned around and walked away.’ Last year Murray attended a RiverDogs game that was stopped by rain; instead of baseball, the crowd were treated to the sight of Murray joyfully skidding and belly-flopping all over the tarpaulin.
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