Q&A: Bill Murray
In Fridayís ìGet Low,î Bill Murray plays Frank Quinn, a funeral director in 1930s Tennessee whoís hired to plan a funeral for Felix Bush (Robert Duvall), a crazed-hermit type who wants his wake and eulogy to be staged while heís still alive.
Based on the true story of a Roane County man who drew national attention for his scheme, itís a perfect part for Murray, who has mastered the art of expressing the unique absurdity of any situation.
Question – Robert Duvall plays a pretty convincing nut. Was he actually tough to act with?
It was tough. Youíre playing behind the beat, because heís set in this crazy rhythm, and youíre sort of chasing a meat wagon thatís rolling down the street.
Itís either challenging or nervous, but you know that he can do anything you can do, so you donít wanna aim low. You donít wanna throw a softball out there. You gotta just open a can of beans on him every time, because thatís your job. Iím gonna push him as hard as I can to get the best out of him. Itís like testing spaghetti. You throw it on the wall and see what happens.
Question – And how did you approach your funeral-director role?
I actually knew people in the funeral business. My grandfather got a job as a greeter in a funeral home. He was such an amazing person. He would just be there as if he were a friend to the deceased, and people would talk to him about the deceased. When he died himself, there was an enormous turnout for him, because all these people had become friends with him at their own familyís funerals.
Question – Did the filmmakers know about your familyís funeral experience when they offered you the role?
No. Thatís a film I should be making myself. Funerals, especially in my family, were always times of great hilarity, even in times of deepest sadness. My father died when I was a youth, and there were all of us, nine kids in a limousine, just laughing about all the cousins and relatives outside the window going, ìGet a load of that.î People are looking at the car going, ìOh, it must be so sad in there,î and weíre just roaring on the inside.
Question – Youíre known to be really picky about your roles. What are you looking for?
Iím really just lazy. I donít have any plan about it. In the early days, there were comedies because thatís what I came out of and people sent you scripts that were varying degrees of whatever, and you were free to improvise all the time. You could change everything. But if you stay around long enough and donít humiliate yourself, you receive better scripts. When people see you can handle something with a little more range, then you get more and more things. Iíve been lucky to get a whole different generation of filmmakers to send me their material and say, ìWould you do this?î And Iíve been lucky that theyíre good directors.
Question – Out of all the improvised scenes youíve done, which are you proudest of?
The ìit just doesnít matterî speech in ìMeatballsî was a complete rave. I just said, ìput in a full load [of film],î and they put in like, 1,800 feet or something [about 20 minutes worth] ó and I basically did the whole thing. Thatís when you really dazzle a crowd.
Also, in ìWhere the Buffalo Roam.î Itís unfortunate ó we made a mistake on it ó but taking questions from the audience as Hunter Thompson, and just answering as myself as Hunter Thompson, was really wonderful. Unfortunately, they shot it on me. I can do it a 1,000 times, but they really should have shot the audience, because it was fresh and new. Thatís one thing I learned that day. You shoot the crowd first.
Picking his brain
“I like these cigars that these guys make down in Miami, Padron Cigars. I went to their factory down there. It’s a family business, and their symbol is a hammer. Their grandfather came from Cuba–he was a refugee–and he went to another Cuban and said, ‘Can you give me work? I gotta have a job.’ And the guy said, ‘I can’t give you work, but I can give you a hammer.’ And he gave him a hammer. And the guy went from house to house repairing and building. Within six months, he had somehow bought some tobacco and was rolling cigars out of the trunk of someone’s car. Now they make a million cigars a year.”
“There’s a beautiful place in Paris called Le Balajo Bastille. It’s in the Rue de Lappe, and they have old, old tango on Sunday afternoons.”
“My passion for the Chicago Cubs is as deep as the green of the Chicago River on St. Patrick’s Day. It’s a deep, deep color. Except that it’s blue.”
“The course at the Tralee Golf Club in Ireland is the most beautiful golf course I’ve ever played. There’s one kind of stupid hole, but it’s a beautiful course–it’s right on the water. The holes are ridiculously pretty. It was built by Arnold Palmer and it’s just…the sea and the light and the sky and the hills and the fields. It’s just the prettiest one.”
“I just saw this band the Rascals [who scored No. 1 hits with ‘Good Lovin’ and ‘Groovin’ in the ’60s] the other night. They hadn’t played together in 40 years, and seeing them, I realized that there’s no other band ever like these guys. The combination of theatricality and vocals and feeling, just feeling, and the ability to rock ‘n’ roll. It was maybe the best thing I’ve ever seen.”
Q&A: Bill Murray