Hollywood's last eccentric shares tales of Wes and Sofia and imparts some sound champagne etiquette tips
The Grand Budapest Hotel marks Bill Murray's seventh appearance in a Wes Anderson film, having appeared in every one since Rushmore – Anderson's second feature – in 1998. Murray appears in the small but significant role of a member of The Society of the Crossed Keys: a masonic-like grouping of hotel concierges who look after their own.
Digital: You've worked with Wes Anderson many times since Rushmore. Has he changed?
Bill Murray: Then he was a young director and he had to do battle with the studios a little bit to get what he wanted. But now he's fortunately met this friend Steven Rales (producer), the Indian paintbrush of the productions, who eliminates a lot of that trouble. So he doesn't have those sorts of problems any more. But, personally, he's really figured out how to live his life as a filmmaker and make filmmaking the way he lives his life.
DD: Is there anything that hasn't changed?
Bill Murray: Well, the thing that doesn't change is that he really does look at the world and sees things more than an ordinary person does. He sees nuggets of gold in life that other people walk by, because they're not aware.
DD: What is it that you like so much about him?
Bill Murray: Our first relationship was professional. So, professionally, he completely lived up to everything he promised and he hoped to do. We have made really good movies, so professionally he and I have a very successful relationship. But in the course of it you share all these experiences and you grow to love that person. So then we became great friends.
“Yeah, I'm in charge. It's working pretty well. Look at me, I'm rich and famous”
DD: Do you think you have a good instinct for figuring out whether someone has talent or is someone you'd like to work with?
Bill Murray: Everyone thinks they have good instincts about people, but you can be wrong. Professionally, I have been pretty successful in terms of knowing what people can do. I have really only been really wrong once.
DD: Which was?
Bill Murray: I've got to stop going there.
DD: Did it involve Garfield the cat?
Bill Murray: Yeah, the cat. Twice. But basically my instincts are pretty good. My friend calls it a bullshit detector and he says, 'Bill, you've got a really strong one.' Obviously the script determines a lot of it. Sometimes a director who's not so great can get hold of a good script and sometimes it works the other way. But I've got a pretty good instinct, yeah.
DD: It is said you field your own calls. Is that true?
Bill Murray: Yeah, I'm in charge.
DD: How does that work?
Bill Murray: It's working pretty well. Look at me, I'm rich and famous.
DD: Do you generally work with people who are or who could become your friend?
Bill Murray: (pointing at The Grand Budapest Hotel poster) I can look at the picture and tell you: Like. Don't like. Like. Willem (Dafoe) is a guy that I have worked with and find him to be completely loyal and really a wonderful man. And Jason Schwartzman I think is just a spectacular person. Saiorse Ronan is really an angel. And this girl Léa Seydoux, she is like an old soul. I feel like I have known this girl my whole life. I love the way she acts, the way she looks. I think she is wonderful. So I have these things with these people and that's great. But when I have a party there's not that many showbusiness people there. I meet all different kinds of people that I like.
DD: You worked with Sofia Coppola on Lost in Translation, and, like Wes, she has a strong artistic vision. What was she like?
Bill Murray: Well she is a full-blown woman. She's a tiny thing and she's a wisp of a girl, but she's a real woman. She has very deep feelings. She is very considerate and really has big eyes and sees things. She knows when someone leaves their selfish side behind and stands and says, 'I'm going to radiate love at you.' She is a real sensitive animal that way.
DD: As an actor, you must be in a constant struggle with your ego.
Bill Murray: Well, I'm a loudmouth. I'm kind of a clown. I come from a big family so in order to get any attention from your parents you had to sort of be like, 'Hi!' You had to demonstrate a little bit. So that's sort of what my personality is. But what my essence is, who I really am, is something a little deeper than that.
DD: Talking about friendships, has not wanting to do another Ghostbusters film hurt your relationship with the other guys?
Bill Murray: Oh, that I'm not in a rush to do the Ghostbusters movie? First let's refresh. We made the first Ghostbusters – it was one of the great movies, one of the great entertainments of all time. Then we made a second one; it was okay, right? Right? So what are we going to do? Are we going to rush to make a third one? It would be great if you could make one that was as good as the first one. It would probably be good if you could make one that was as good as the second one. But, you know, there was The Godfather. Then there was The Godfather II. And then there was The Godfather III. So if you want Godfather III…
DD: Sofia Coppola again.
Bill Murray: You know, Sofia was not all that bad. They killed Sofia but when you look at the movie now, she was not that bad in that movie. And you realise she only took that job because the other actress fell out the week before the movie started shooting. She didn't want to make that movie. She didn't want to be an actress. But from not wanting to be an actress, it's an extraordinary performance.
DD: Going back to Ghostbusters, your long-time friends want you to do another one.
Bill Murray: Well, my friends. Man, do they want to do it? They kind of do. But someone with a lot more to gain than my friends wants to do it more than they want to do it. Right? And I understand, it's business. They want to refresh the franchise. The franchise is fantastic. But I find that you don't really lose by saying no in showbusiness. If you say no, sometimes they come back with a better script. Or sometimes it just goes away. But I don't know. Are you thinking of going back to high school?
“It's nice to have a date in a hotel but being alone in a hotel is kind of a sad kind of thing, isn't it? You feel like a travelling salesman or something like that. It's kind of sad to be in a hotel by yourself”
DD: Can you say something about your character in The Grand Budapest Hotel? You don't have a big part, so what appealed to you?
Bill Murray: When I first read the script I'm just going, 'Holy cow! This is crazy! Look at this crazy script!' But when you say 'my character', I have to look at the scene, you know, and go, 'The Society of the Keys, what is this all about?' So it starts with these men, these concierges, they've seen it all. Like you see those guys down in the lobby (in the hotel we're in), they've seen some junk. They've seen some human garbage flow in and out of this thing and they've seen all kinds of behaviour, and these people (in the film) have seen all kinds of behaviour. So even though Ralph (Fiennes' character, Gustav) is a criminal – he's stolen a painting or something, maybe he's murdered someone, whatever – it's like, 'Things happen, but you and I have a relationship. We're friends and we have a certain code.' So he gets a car, he picks him up, he drops him off, he picks him up, he hides him. He does all these things without question, because there's a code that we understand.
DD: You've also done The Monuments Men. Was that the same kind of ensemble family feeling you had on GBH?
Bill Murray: Well, even more so in some ways because that was a physically hard movie to make. Army movies are hard to make. They're hard. You have to get in and out of vehicles that are made for the 1930s, you know? So you are fitting into a small space, and we're huge people now compared to what they were then. So it's physically uncomfortable. We were outdoors all the time and it was a long movie. Long.
DD: GBH is a hotel movie. Lost in Translation was a hotel movie. Do you like staying in hotels?
Bill Murray: Well it's nice to have a date in a hotel but being alone in a hotel is kind of a sad kind of thing, isn't it? You feel like a travelling salesman or something like that. It's kind of sad to be in a hotel by yourself.
DD: Do you have a favourite hotel?
Bill Murray: I like this hotel in Milan called The Grand Hotel et de Milan. I like Milan a lot, it reminds me of Chicago where I come from because it's tough; it's a working city, but it's beautiful. It's like a hard-working industrial city, but it's also got this crazy fashion thing. So all the women are dressed like crazy. And they're riding around on motor scooters, smoking cigarettes and doing their make-up at the same time. It's hilarious. It's my kind of fun.
DD: Do you like to travel?
Bill Murray: I like to travel a lot but I don't get much time.
DD: You don't seem to make as many comedies as you used to. Is that because you can't find the material?
Bill Murray: That's right. I don't have a plan.
DD: You mentioned coming from a big family. Was comedy always part of your life or was it a way to get attention?
Bill Murray: Well, which came first, the chicken or the egg? So was it a way to get attention? Yeah, it was definitely a way to get attention. But also I was smart when I was a kid – I'm not smart any longer – and when I went to school, because I read a lot when I was a kid, I was like, 'They're teaching all the other kids this stuff and I know all this stuff.' I was really bored in grade school. So I would be like (whispering), 'Hey! Hey!' and I was always in trouble. The only way you could not be in trouble would be if you could somehow amuse the teacher or amuse the other students. It'd be like, 'Well he's screwing off, he's not paying attention, but he's okay. He makes us laugh.'
DD: Is this why you like the Wes Anderson 'family', because it's the same kind of family?
Bill Murray: (looking at the poster) I like to make all those people laugh. Some of these people I really love and I love to make (Wes Anderson) laugh because he's really on a quest, you know? He's really living the life of an artist, and it's hard to be an artist. It's hard to be anything. It's hard to be. And the tension can get to any of us. It gets to all of us. So if you can relax someone's tension, especially your friends', you feel worthwhile.
DD: GBH takes places during the rise of the Nazis and in The Monuments Men they're fighting the Nazis. Did you experience the past when you were shooting here in Berlin?
Bill Murray: Well you can't – and even on Wes's film, in the east, when we were in Görlitz – there are just visuals. Like when you see box cars. Just seeing a box car on a train siding in Germany, in that funny dome shape that we don't see in America, you just got a chill. That box car has a different picture in my mind and in my emotions than one back home would have. I would look at it and it's shocking. You see all around town here, there's little plaques on walls: 'So and so was taken from this home. So and so was kidnapped here.' And all kinds of victims of war, not just Jews but all kinds of people were taken. Anyone who disagreed was taken. Obviously it was a horrible time for all people. Germans as well. I think it's amazing how people really deal with it, really process it here. They think about it. They talk about it. It's on the television all the time. I was amazed how many documentaries are going on. Every day, every night, there's documentaries about the war and the horrors of it. There's no denial. It's like, 'We've got to deal with this. This can never happen again.' No one feels it more strongly than the Germans.
“You don't want to crash while drinking champagne. You want to keep that buzz, that bling, that smile”
DD: You have said that you like to do Wes Anderson films because you have fun. What is the most fun you have had doing one of his films?
Bill Murray: I think the most fun we had was getting Wes Anderson to dance at the wrap party of Rushmore. He had been so focused and I made him get out on the dancefloor, and he's a very interesting dancer. That's the only word that describes it. You have to see it to believe it. It's like he has his own language or something.
DD: Are you an actor who likes to go out and celebrate after wrapping a film? Do you like to go out and pop a bottle of champagne?
Bill Murray: I would do that at work while we're working.
DD: Do you have any particular champagne memories?
Bll Murray: I learned how to drink champagne a while ago. But the way I like to drink champagne is I like to make what we call a Montana Cooler, where you buy a case of champagne and you take all the bottles out, and you take all the cardboard out, and you put a garbage bag inside of it, then you put all the bottles back in and then you cover it with ice, and then you wrap it up and you close it. And that will keep it all cold for a weekend and you can drink every single bottle. And the way I like to drink it in a big pint glass with ice. I fill it with ice and I pour the champagne in it, because champagne can never be too cold. And the problem people have with champagne is they drink it and they crash with it, because the sugar content is so high and you get really dehydrated. But if you can get the ice in it, you can drink it supremely cold and at the same time you're getting the melting ice, so it's like a hydration level, and you can stay at this great level for a whole weekend. You don't want to crash. You want to keep that buzz, that bling, that smile.
DD: Do you have a favourite champagne?
Bill Murray: When I lived in Paris I drank this one called Lanson. Although I did once have a bottle of 1978 Dom Perignon, and that was amazing. It probably cost a fortune. I didn't pay for it.