“You are standing at a New York intersection, waiting to cross the street. You are lost in your thoughts and do not pay attention to the world around you. All of a sudden, however, a man puts his hands over your eyes, and says to you: “Who am I?”. Maybe it was since elementary school that no one played such a joke on you. This should alarm you, except that the voice sounds familiar. You still haven’t figured out who he is, but you’re pretty sure he’s your friend. Then you whirl around and, almost takes a shot, in front of you is… Bill Murray, the movie star. He is taller than you imagined and has a wrinkled shirt. You mumble something, looking for the right words for a situation that is unlikely. Bill smiles, approaches, leaning a little forward and calmly says: “Nobody will ever believe you” ».
But also: Bill who does not have an agent and if you want to involve him in your film – regardless of whether you are Sofia Coppola or Jim Jarmusch – you have to leave him a message to an anonymous toll-free number. If you’re lucky, he’ll listen to it and call you back. Bill stealing a golf cart and wandering around Stockholm at night with six passengers on board, including two drunk Swedes. Bill crashing graduate student parties in East Williamsburg. Bill signing autographs on people’s foreheads like “Miley Cyrus”. Bill staging a snowball fight in front of his trusted wine shop.
Gavin Edwards in The art of being Bill Murray, a book that is also a sort of hilarious spiritual guide (from 30 September in the bookstore for Blackie Edizioni), has collected an infinite number of stories and anecdotes – one more surreal and fun than the other – concerning the actor who has now become an absolute pop icon of our age. Indeed, “pop icon” is a highly reductive definition: “Bill is the freest person I’ve ever met”, says Theodore Melfi, who directed him in St. Vincent. “Live the moment more than anyone else. Its whole existence is in the present. He doesn’t care what happened before, or what happens next. He doesn’t even buy round trip tickets. He takes one one way and then decides when it’s time to go home ». In a world that is increasingly falling apart, we should probably all be more like Bill Murray, or at least wonder what he would do for us in a shitty situation. Gavin Edwards wishes it, and we couldn’t agree more.
When, how and why a book on the “art of being Bill Murray”?
I have been fascinated for years by the anecdotes people used to tell about Bill Murray: you want to put an internationally renowned movie star who sneaks into your party, who ends up washing your dirty dishes and then walks away like nothing happened. ? Or who comes to you from around the corner of a crowded street, puts his hands on your eyes and – when you realize that your personal space has been invaded by the protagonist of Ghostbusters – whispers in your ear: “Nobody will ever believe you”? People loved these stories, but no one seemed able to determine if they were true or not: well, I simply decided to investigate, and I discovered that almost all – however crazy – were true!
How did you manage to contact him, given his proverbial inaccessibility?
Bill Murray has neither an agent, nor a manager, nor a press officer. However, he has a lawyer, who checks his film contracts, and a toll-free number where you can leave a message: maybe he will call you back. What I did was spend most of the year convincing the people who made the film St. Vincent (Theodore Melfi’s 2014 comedy, where Bill Murray starred with Melissa McCarthy and Naomi Watts, nda) that I should have written an article about him for the American edition of Rolling Stone. Then finally one day I received a phone call: “Book a plane ticket. Tomorrow you will interview him in Toronto ”.
Of course, tracking down all the people mentioned in the book who had met him must have been a no-brainer job.
It’s called old-fashioned investigative journalism, which includes walking around the towns where Bill Murray had lived and asking local residents for their best stories about him. There are a lot of people who have been waiting for someone to ask them for years!
Is Bill Murray aware of the book’s existence? What reaction did he get?
Yes, Bill knows about the book! He’s clearly not the type to send a fruit basket to congratulate him, but when he won the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, he and Emma Stone re-enacted one of the anecdotes I told … so well, apparently it suits him.
I know it’s hard, but if you had to pick one, what would be the most amazing story you found about him?
They are almost all surprising: Bill has a specialization in the unexpected. Perhaps my favorite is the one that happened at the Grape D’Vine winery in Rockland County, New York.
(Story that, for the record and for entertainment, we report on a par: “One winter day, while it was falling outside, Bill Murray was spending time at the Grape D’Vine winery with the owner Joe Printz, who to cheer the conversation had uncorked a bottle of Barolo. Customers came in to buy wine, and as soon as they saw Bill it would take a beating. When he found himself surrounded by a crowd of people, he got up, offered a glass of wine to a woman and went out. In the street, he picked up a handful of snow, rolled it up and threw it at the back of a passerby. Furious, the man turned and approached him threateningly – but when he realized who the insolent was, he laughed and laughed. he too started making a snowball. All the others left the winery following Bill’s example and, shortly afterwards, the street was filled with adults fighting with snowballs “.)
If it weren’t Bill Murray, do you think his behavior would be just as funny or would we boil it as that of some kind of weird guy who just wants to be an eccentric?
Basically, you’re asking me: if Bill Murray weren’t famous, would we still be amused by his antics? The short answer is “probably not”, but the longer and more articulate answer is that Bill has always been aware of the people around him, even before he became a star, and has always loved making them feel part of the joke. He also pushes the boundaries because he knows that people take pleasure in his bizarre behavior. There is an idiom in English that explains this ability: “He knows how to read the room“(which, literally translated into Italian, sounds like “he knows how to read the room”, and describes the ability – nowadays very rare – to have awareness and consideration of one’s audience, nda).
A story that you did not include in the book, but that is worth telling.
Bill Murray leaves behind a trail of chaos and anecdotes wherever he goes, so I knew my book could never contain all the stories about him. After it was released, several people got in touch with me by sharing some episodes that involved them: among all, I was fond of the one who approached Bill during a basketball game and asked him if they could do a photos together. Bill replied: “I can’t take a picture with you, I’m a celebrity!”. (Obviously he was kidding, it is almost useless to specify it, nda).
What do you hope readers learn from Bill Murray?
Bill Murray does crazy things – like stealing a golf cart and driving it through the streets of Stockholm late at night – not just to be funny, outlandish, or to make people laugh. He does them because he is trying to awaken people’s spontaneity and creative spirit. Bill Murray is secretly teaching us all how to live.
Curiosity, from fan to fan: what is your favorite Bill Murray movie?
I love very much Rushmore And Tootsie, but my absolute favorite is Lost in Translation, because it captures the sheer strangeness of living life as Bill Murray does.
If you could choose one thing – anything – to do with Bill Murray right now, what would you do?
Bill never buys round-trip airline tickets. Fly somewhere and then, when he’s done doing what he has to do, grab a ticket home (or to his next destination). Here, I would like to meet him at an airport, get on the first plane that leaves the city and experience a totally unexpected adventure.