Bill Murray
Photo by Matt Carr

Bill Murray: “It’s more intake than output”

Short Profile

Name: William James Murray
DOB: 21 September 1950
Place of Birth: Wilmette, Illinois, USA
Occupation: Actor, Comedian

Bill Murray stars in Wes Anderson's The French Dispatch , in theaters now.

Mr. Murray, as an actor, would you also consider yourself to be an artist?

You know, I was talking with a man earlier who told me, “You have reached your blue period,” which I thought was really funny, it made me laugh very hard! I can’t wait to tell my brother that one. But do I consider myself an artist? No, but I aspire to be. And I can be like that, I can be artistic every once in a while. I think there are things that are artistic, or things that an artist would do, but they don’t necessarily mean you are an artist. You can have moments of artistry, but not necessarily be an artist.

In the past, you’ve actually called yourself an impersonator.

That’s pretty much more like it! To be a real artist I think is really about the art of living. The guys who are real artists are people who have figured out the art of living, and that their art is art because they live. They have made living an art, they have made an art of living. And that they are constantly inputting life as opposed to expressing life. It’s more intake than output.

“When I meet someone on the street and they go, ‘One of my favorite films of yours is…’  and if they pick one that is really obscure, I am so happy!”

But you seem to be someone who lives in the moment as well, no? I remember once a few years ago, you and your castmates were scheduled for a press conference but instead, you skipped it and took your castmates out for lunch!

Actually, that’s a pretty good example because I didn’t realize how intuitive and instinctive what we did was at that moment; we were all just feeling completely alienated from each other in the world, there was a very unusual atmosphere at this junket. Our subconscious was like, “Get us the hell out of here!” I think when something like that happens, there is enough reflection that has taken place that something spits out. I have been thinking about this today: that you have to just take in a whole lot more than you put out. And the idea that you are just going to put it out, put it out, put it out without taking anything in… That is ridiculous and misguided.

Have you always had that kind of personality?

Well, I think I always got in trouble in school if that counts! People say, “Oh you act like such a jerk, that’s because you’re rich and famous.” And I say “No, I was a jerk before I was rich and famous — I really was, you’ve got to believe me.” (Laughs) I have been a jerk for a long time, I didn’t just come up with this. I have always been getting away with it, you just have to do it. It’s not like you are bullying them or being pushy, you are just not living that particular way. If we all lived the same, we definitely would all be dead.

You might think you’re a jerk but you are famous for engaging with your fans, more so than a lot of other celebrities.

For myself, I think when you step out of the hotel and there’s people waiting for an autograph, they kind of give me the willies! Someone like that killed John Lennon, one of them stabbed George Harrison, that kind of thing. And it’s not that I fear them, but I just feel they like look at whatever I do differently. I don’t know. But when I meet someone on the street, they go, “I loved that movie,” or “One of my favorite films of yours is…”  and if they pick one that is really obscure, I am so happy! I am so happy that even these ones that aren’t the big box office ones, people found something valuable in them.

Are those the kind of fans whose parties you’ll drop in on? There are several stories like that online…

Well, the thing about fame is that it makes people sort of trust you a little bit more than they would trust an ordinary oddball walking in. If I walked into your party and you didn’t know me, everyone would be like, “Do I know this guy?” But if they know you, just even the way that they know you from movies, you have a freedom, there’s an opportunity to engage with people where normally there would be a reluctance to let a new person in and let them have a piece of cake. So that’s one of the few perks of being famous! Sometimes you get out of a traffic violation, sometimes you get a kitchen to stay open a little bit later at a restaurant, or you get a little bit faster service.

So being famous doesn’t sound all bad.

It isn’t all terrible! Some of it is, but I won’t complain about it because of the good things. But really, the problems that I have are the same problems that everyone else has: consistency, integrity and character, am I really showing up, am I someone, am I who I think I am? No, I’m not. So you are not who you think you are, you have created this illusion. And when you first look in the mirror, and you’re going, “Who the hell is that? I don’t look like that, do I?”

“Wes Anderson was a guy who knew what the hell he was doing and what he wanted to do, right from the beginning.”

You sound almost nostalgic!

Well, if you are in the moment, you are in the past and the future. The only chance of looking back really is if you are there. If you are in the moment, you are in the space time continuum so you can be anywhere, back or forth. But do I look back? Do I miss the way things were? Okay, I went to Bali in 1980 and I thought, “Oh my God, this is the greatest place I have ever been!” It was so magical, what a place. And I thought I am going to go back there every year of my life, I am going to go back there next year. And I have never been back! And I hear from people that it’s just completely overrun with tourism and that it’s ruined, that it is not what it once was. Now that is an example of when you can’t go back!

So you don’t think back much on your career? Even the pivotal moments, like for example, meeting your longtime collaborator Wes Anderson?

Well, meeting him… God, actually meeting him, I would have to think about that! But I’ll bet he remembers it! I don’t remember the actual meeting. I read the script for Rushmore and I just sort of agreed to it. The agents and all the pushy people said, “Well, do you want to meet him?” I said no! (Laughs) I said, “What day am I supposed to start work? Let’s go!” So I finally met him when I showed up in Houston, Texas where we shot it. He was young! I don’t know how long ago we made that first movie, but he was young. He was just a kid, but he was also a guy who knew what the hell he was doing and what he wanted to do, right from the beginning.

It seems like your friendship has really stood the test of time, you’ve been in all of his films from Rushmore to The French Dispatch.

We had a good relationship, I felt like I was looking out for him and I still am. I like him, he’s my friend.