TORONTO — Sitting through the premiere of his latest film, St. Vincent, Bill Murray was unexpectedly moved.
“I thought, ‘Well, I better not be crying when the lights come up,'” Murray recalled in an interview shortly after the film’s Toronto International Film Festival debut. “That would be bad for my image.”
For an actor who has worked irregularly and often in smaller roles, St. Vincent, which opens Friday, is his most challenging part in years. It’s a technically demanding role that includes a coarse Brooklyn accent and portraying the aftermath of a stroke. His character, Vincent, gruffly but tenderly mentors a shy boy next door (Jaeden Lieberher), teaching him an upper-cut, not to mention how to play the trifecta.
While popping jelly beans in a hotel room, Murray reflected on his newfound ambition, his Oscar hopes and how he stays relaxed.
This might be your biggest part since Jim Jarmusch’s Broken Flowers in 2005.
It is ambitious and it is larger. I’ve just been taking the jobs I like. I haven’t had any kind of a plan, really. It really was a big, leading part. I thought to myself, “God, I haven’t had to be the leading part in a while.”
Playing a stroke victim rehabbing with slurred speech would scare me if I was an actor.
Scared me, too. I hate that not-having-your-faculties acting. That’s like acting school. I don’t want to go to acting school, ever. That was like doing ordinals or cleaning paint with a small razor blade. It’s the worst kind work. Deep cleaning. And, yet, I didn’t have a stroke. Life could be worse. I’m not complaining. I could be the guy with the stroke.
This film could have easily slid into sentimentality, something you’ve made a career out of avoiding.
Sentimentality to me is a symbol that we’ve left the planet. OK, bye-bye. Let me know when you come back because you’re no longer here. You just left. It reminds of being at a funeral, like my dad dies and the grief is just overpowering. And all anyone can say to you is, “Well, he’s probably up there in heaven, bowling with Uncle George.” It’s like, “Yeah, that’s probably it. He’s up there bowling with Uncle George.” He’s dead. He’s gone. What am I going to do? Talk to ME. Don’t make up your own dreamscape. Stay here with me, will you? Don’t go away.
You seem to avoid separating yourself from the public.
Most people are fine. The percentages are the same as they are in your life, the people you meet. The range of experience is the same for all of us, I think. I just have a lot more of them. A lot more of them.
Harvey Weinstein will surely push you for an Academy Award nomination for this.
That running after prizes stuff, I was involved in that once before. It’s like a low-grade virus. It’s an infection when you really campaign for it. But it’s fun to win the prize because you get the chance to get up on stage and be funny.
You seem to still enjoy that, like at the Q&A following a festival screening of Ghostbusters.
Like shooting fish in a barrel. You can do things with a few hundred people. You can really mess around. You can shock a lot of people at once. You have an incredible liberty to avoid everything that’s expected of a man at a microphone.
You spoke then about the importance of staying relaxed. Are you doing a good job of that?
Only when I remember. I’ve actually started saying, “I’m not a worrier.” People say, “Don’t worry about …” And I say, “I’m not a worrier.” I’ve found it to be extremely helpful. It helps things in some kind of psychological bag that you’re throwing me. Don’t throw me a coiled up rope. Give it to me straight.