Magazine article Variety

The Devilish BilI Murray

Magazine article Variety

The Devilish BilI Murray

Article excerpt

So at last month's Toronto Film Festival, it's perfectly natural that the comedian was having serious trepidation about the special day designated to showing his classic films "Ghostbusters," "Stripes" and "Groundhog Day," followed by an evening premiere of his latest laffer, "St. Vincent." The day unfolded like a cross between Comic-Con and a political rally, with an army of fans in Bill Murray masks marching en route to the screenings.

"The whole thing gets more complicated as it draws closer, and you feel such dread about it," Murray says in an interview at his hotel before the hoopla is scheduled to begin. "I'm nervous. All I can think is I feel like the Statue of Liberty covered with maggots. I feel like I am going to be assaulted! Why am I doing this?"

Prior to his trip to Toronto (from an island he refuses to name), Murray says he turned on the TV and caught part of the 1979 chestnut "Being There," starring Peter Sellers as an everyman accidentally thrust into the national spotlight. It was a theme he could relate to, and the movie calmed him down - momentarily. "I thought, 'I'm just going to think about that film while I'm going through all this,"' recalls the 64-year-old actor, who started the morning with a low-key bike ride and cup of coffee. " 'You don't have to push too hard - you can let it come to you.' "

Murray has always handled his career with the same attitude. He stepped back from fame following the mega-success of the '80s "Ghostbusters" franchise, and still refuses to sign on to a third, though Hollywood has begged him for years to reconsider. (His resistance has led to a reboot with an all-female cast, to be directed by Paul Feig.) After receiving an actor Oscar nomination for Sofia Coppola's 2003 indie film "Lost in Transalation," he starred in 2004's "The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou" and 2005's "Broken Flowers." He's subsequently spent the past decade mostly in supporting roles in pictures such as "The Daijeeling Limited," "Get Smart" and "The Monuments Men," because he wanted to focus on raising his six sons, ages 13 to 32, from two prior marriages.

But Murray is back as the main attraction in the crowd-pleaser "St. Vincent." In the film - which bows in theaters this month via the Weinstein Co. - he plays an alcoholic grump who befriends the young son (Jaeden Lieberher) of his neighbor (Melissa McCarthy). A string of other high-profile gigs will follow: a supporting part in Cameron Crowe's next film; a turn in Barry Levinson comedy "Rock the Kasbah"; the voice of BaJoo in Disney's live-action "The Jungle Book"; and a TV Christmas special directed by Coppola with sketches and songs. The roles could push Murray out of the indie fringe and back into the mainstream, but it's not by design. "There's no real plan," Murray says. "I just do what I like."

Murray is the rare Hollywood eccentric - the anti-movie star movie star - who plays by his own rules. He famously doesn't employ an agent, or even a manager. "I had an agent," he says. As a young actor, he signed with Michael Ovitz around the time of 1981's "Stripes," and they worked together until Ovitz left CAA in 1995. Murray tried a few other reps, but couldn't find one he liked. "What agents do is try to package you with other people they got," he says. "I don't really require that." He doesn't read many screenplays. "If you have an agent, you get a lot of bad scripts." He shrugs. "I could probably make better deals. I could probably make more money."

Murray comes across less like an actor than like an oddball high school science teacher, dressed in his corduroy red pants and a buttoned-down shirt. He snacks on four hard-boiled eggs and a smoothie the color of "Ghostbusters" slime. "Do you want an egg?" he asks. And he has a natural curiosity about people, which is how he's ended up in a series of online photos that are the Internet's version of "Where's Waldo?" The blogosphere celebrated his appearance at a random bachelor party in May, but he didn't crash the event. …

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