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December 2004
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou: An Interview with Bill Murray

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou: An Interview with Bill Murray

By Wilson Morales

After being nominated for a Best Actor award at last year's Oscars, one would think that the Bill Murray we knew of, the really funny guy, was going soft on us. We thought he would go dramatic on us and not doing any more slapstick comedy films that we've love him in such as "Stripes" and "Caddyshack". Well, you will be happy to know that Bill is back doing in his comedic form and making us laugh once again in his latest film, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, directed by Wes Anderson. Anderson had previously directed Murray in "Rushmore" years earlier. In a press conference in New York, Murray spoke about his role in "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou" and its director, Wes Anderson.

What is it about these characters that Wes Anderson creates that makes actors love to play them?

Bill Murray: (The characters) don't have any controls on them, especially this fellow I play. He doesn't have any censors that say the next thing your going to say might be bad behavior, you might want to hold that back. He just sort of lets go. There's no governor here holding him back. All the emotions are expressed. He is hit, bang, and out it comes. That's kind of fun to play. You don't get to do that in life that often. You're supposed to obey some rules of politeness or respect and we don't have time for that in the movies. We gotta move right along. He wants to see the emotion right now. It's kind of a treat to do that.

Do you like to be around water?

Murray: Well, I wash. And I swim. I like to float on my back in lakes and dive underneath and hear that quite. I like to dive in waves in the ocean, that sort of thing. And I like sailing. I don't know if I'd like to be a ship's captain on a boat like the Belefonte for very long. I'm not partial to diesel. Diesel has a funny effect on your nose. You see some amazing things on the water. The water and sky are so beautiful. Getting off shore, if you can lose sight of land, something happens and it changes you.

How did you feel at the end of the shoot?

Murray: I was physically and emotionally drained after it, not just from the work. It was a torturous experience to be away from home for that long. I hated going to work. I was so miserable, personally, I was so miserable, that it was really a challenge to work everyday because I was so lonely and missed my folks so much. It was what like I imagined being in prison is like.

Did you know what and where you were going with this film?

Murray: I knew that's where I was going. I knew we were going to Italy. You couldn't make this movie in America at this price. I knew it was going to be big. I knew there was going to be a ship involved and that there was going to be a set as big as the ship. I thought, well, here we go. But I knew that was where he was headed. He had been going this way for some time. All directors, once they have some success, they want to spend a whole heck of a lot of money. (Something else can't hear.)

Where do you sail?

Murray: So far, I've only sailed in the Caribbean. I've sailed the Virgin Island and The Grenadines. I liked all that. We charted some really crummy boats in the Grenadines. That made for an exciting sailing trip (laughs) when everything goes well. When everything goes well. When sails rip, engines freeze up and you find there are organisms growing inside the diesel, it's terrible and amazing stuff.

How did you get along with everyone?

Murray: It was like a family on the set. We were stuck with each other. You really do bond with each other and have to look out for each other. The job is really dangerous. Making movies is far more dangerous than people appreciate. Being at sea on a ship is even more dangerous. So you had to look out for each other. We were using weapons. Things go wrong. And the weather was miserable. You don't think of Italy as anything but sunny, picking a grape and lying on a hillside, but it was cold. It got like bone-cold out on the water, on the Mediterranean, shooting at night. You got cold like nobody's business. Colder than I've ever been in Chicago. Cold, really densely, brutally cold. I don't know if I'm over it yet. Do you still like wacky comedies?

Murray: (Pauses with a straight face for a minute) That's too long an answer. I don't know what a wacky comedy is anymore. I don't know what you mean by a wacky comedy. If it's funny, it's funny. I don't care if it's wacky. Do I like stupid comedies? Sure. Wacky comedy? I don't know. Everyone has a different definition of what a wacky comedy is. It doesn't matter whether it's wacky or stupid. To me, I like goofy, you know. I don't have a Jones about doing a smarter comedy. If it's funny, it's funny. It can be smart funny. I like smart funny. When kids tell you jokes that make you laugh, I love jokes like that. It can be really naive and funny.

What did you know about your character?

Murray: You don't have to research your character to be emotional. You have to show emotion; you have to be able to do it. We all have these emotions, but how do you execute it. How do you demonstrate it and affect people. This is a pretty hot group of actors. These people all have serious chops, you know. So when this movie gets emotional, everybody's working on it. It's really pounding. That scene in the submarine is very emotional. That's because everybody's in it. They're right on top of it, and completely dedicated to what they have to do. They did their research in what they have to do.

Can you talk about Del Close, the director of Second City who recently passed away?

Murray: Del Close was a director at Second City in Chicago. He's one of the great improvisational directors. He even invented some of the classic improv games like The Herald(?) He lived life with incredible gusto; a tortured brilliant guy who laughed at himself all the time and was the most supportive director anyone ever met. He lifted people to a level they never knew they had. He was like a tower and some of the actors owed so much to him. He passed away a few years ago. A fellow's written a book about him and it's about to come out that I guess is an amazing story. He's a guy that people don't know, he's not a famous person but he's a guy who made possible the careers of many people that you see.

What do you play in your movies coming out?

Murray: In the Garcia movie I play a sidekick friend of his, an unnamed writer, who's sort of his companion. Garcia owns a nightclub in Havana and it's set during the time of the fall of free Cuba. So you see the fall of Cuba and the fall of his nightclub. We shot in the Dominican Republic. Andy's completed the work. It's something he's wanted to make his whole life since he left Havana when he was five. Jim Jarmusch I met last year or two years ago. He had an idea for a movie and told me about it. I thought it was great. We started talking about it. Then we started talking about something in the midst of it and I said that's interesting. He called two days later and said 'you know what we were talking about? I decided to write something about that.' (chuckles) So he wrote another movie that is very interesting and I did that and it's about a fellow who goes back to find women he knew in his past. Tilda Swinton is in it. Sharon Stone is in it. Jessica Lange. Jeffrey Wright. And the woman who plays the mother of "Six Feet Under." Francis Conway. We shot that around here.

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