The Insane True Story of What It Takes to Work With Bill Murray
If you have a dream of someday casting Bill Murray in your movie (that you’re TOTALLY gonna write one of these years), you should be warned that the process of making that is just as crazypants as you would expect from a good Bill Murray story. Ted Melfi, the director of a bunch of commercials who somehow got Murray to star in his first-ever feature, St. Vincent, shared the story of that process with The Wall Street Journal.
To start, as you may have heard, Bill Murray doesn’t have an agent, a manager, or a publicist. What he DOES have is a closely guarded 1-800 number with an automated voicemail system that Melfi was able to get from a mutual producer friend.
Leaving messages, he wasn’t even sure he was in fact calling Bill Murray’s line. “It’s not his voice. It’s some kind of SkyTel voice mail: ‘To leave a message, press five.’ I would call and call and call. ‘Bill, my name is Ted. You don’t know me…’ You leave these long-winded messages and end up erasing half of them. Finally, I called his attorney, David Nochimson. He said ‘What number are you calling?’ I said this 800 number, and he said, ‘That’s what I got.”
Luckily, Melfi didn’t give up, and left messages with mildly stalkery persistence.
Mr. Melfi left messages on Mr. Murray’s 800 line over a couple of months during early 2012 before getting a bite: The attorney contacted Mr. Melfi and said Mr. Murray asked for a one-page letter, to be sent to a post-office box in upstate New York. A few weeks later the attorney asked Mr. Melfi to mail the movie script to a post-office box in Martha’s Vineyard. Then another copy to a box in South Carolina. More weeks passed.
“Then I’m driving down the road and my phone rings and he says ‘Ted? This is Bill Murray. Is this a good time?’
Obviously, there is only one correct answer to that question. (That is, if I had to guess, to weep uncontrollably.) Murray, it turns out, was into the script, and asked Melfi to fly to Cannes immediately. Melfi was working on a project in LA, and said he couldn’t (like a dummy). Murray told him he’d call him back.
“I was tortured for two weeks,” Mr. Melfi says. “I should have quit my job. I threw my back out worrying. Then two weeks later I get a text saying, it’s Bill Murray, can you meet me at LAX in an hour?” Mr. Melfi was home in Los Angeles only because he’d canceled a trip to the East Coast on account of his back injury. “So I take two Vicodin and strap on a back brace, and my kids got me a cane as a joke. I go to baggage claim at United Airlines at 9 a.m. on Sunday, and Bill comes walking over and says ‘Hi Ted, what’s with the back?’ I said I threw it out, and he says ‘You gotta stretch.’”
They boarded a chauffeured Town Car, then picked up four grilled-cheese sandwiches at In-N-Out Burger. “And we drove for three hours through the Pechanga Indian reservation—go to San Diego and take a left.” Mr. Murray’s house was down a private road at the back of a golf course. “I had to use the bathroom and he goes, ‘Don’t forget to jiggle the handle.’ Then we walk outside, and he says ‘We should do this. Let’s make a movie.’ “I said ‘Bill, there ‘s just one thing I wanna ask you. Do you think you could tell someone other than me that this happened?’”
So there you go. If you want to work with Bill Murray, you just need a mutual friend, a few months of voicemails, send scripts to PO boxes all over the country, then either fly to Cannes on a moment’s notice or, barring that, suffer through a back injury, pick up some In-N-Out, head to San Diego, take a left, and don’t forget to jiggle the handle of Murray’s guest bathroom.