“The secret is to have a sense of yourself, your real self, your unique self.”—Bill Murray
The bridge between young and old. Film fan and cinephile. Cynic and optimist. Bill Murray is a thespian anomaly, a personality who has no comparisons or predecessors. From the quick-snapping Ghostbuster to the stoic faded star of Lost in Translation, his versatility knows no bounds. Whilst he can traverse a vast array of roles, his humour is rarely lost, even in his more rigid roles.
“You gotta commit,” the actor once said. “You’ve gotta go out there and improvise and you’ve gotta be completely unafraid to die. You’ve got to be able to take a chance to die. And you have to die lots. You have to die all the time,” he added, a quote which might well typify him as as actor and as a person.
“I made a lot of mistakes and realised I had to let them go. Don’t think about your errors or failures, otherwise you’ll never do a thing,” he once added. “If you can consciously let yourself get taken and see where you go, that’s an exercise. That’s discipline. To follow the scent. Let yourself go and see what happens, that takes a bit of courage.”
While it is this approach which has led Murray to international stardom, there have also been a series of lesser-known projects that have flown seemingly under the radar. In celebration of Bill Murray’s 70th birthday, we’ve compiled a shortlist of some of his lesser-known moments.
Below, a selection of five fantastic pictures featuring the great Bill Murray that may well have passed you by and expect to see the likes of Jim Jarmusch, Tim Burton and more.
5 Underrated Bill Murray Films:
Coffee and Cigarettes (Jim Jarmusch – 2003)
The first of his growing list of collaborations with director Jim Jarmusch, Coffee and Cigarettes details a vignette of stories all-encompassing the famously coupled drugs.
Appearing alongside GZA and RZA of Wu-Tang Clan, and under the story titled ‘delirium’, Bill Murray plays himself, a caffeine junkie and a lost soul.
If you wanted a perfect micro-analysis of Bill Murray as an actor and personality, this 10-minute performance does a very good job. Told of the dangers of coffee and smoking, Murray stares back with a vacant sarcasm. It’s a surreal, self-referential scene that plays out much like the vignette’s title.
In what was the beginning of a fruitful relationship, the film also signified a full circle moment in their relationship as, in typically Murray fashion, they randomly met for coffee. “Bill walked right up to me and said, ‘You’re Jim, right?’” Jarmusch recalled of their first meeting. “And I said, ‘Yeah. You’re Bill Murray.’ And then he said, ‘You want to get a cup of coffee?’”.
After sitting in a diner over a cup of Joe, Murray slurped up the last of his drink and stood: “I gotta go. Nice talking to you,” he said, calling time on their random encounter. “We didn’t talk again for years but I told my friends: I met Bill Murray,” he says.
Ed Wood (Tim Burton – 1994)
When Tim Burton isn’t trying his best to muddy a brightened scene and give a gothic makeover to anything he gets his hands on, the director can use his use a delicate touch to create something very special.
Ed Wood details the true story of the director of the same name, whose pure passion and self-proclaimed talent for filmmaking led him to cult success in ‘Plan 9 from outer space’. Murray plays Wood’s friend and co-worker, playing the alien leader in the slap-dash sci-fi.
In one scene where Ed and several co-stars agree to get baptised to improve their relationship with financers, Bill Murray showcases his ability for subtle comedy as he splutters and splashes in cinemas most clumsy baptism.
Kingpin (Peter Farrelly, Bobby Farrelly – 1992)
Murray channels pure Murray in this unconventional sports movie, and cinema’s best film about bowling.
Seeking revenge for a betrayal which led to the loss of a limb, Roy Munson, played by Woody Harrelson, sets out to dethrone the current bowling champion, Ernie McCracken, a greedy, selfish narcissist whom, with the help of Bill Murray’s charm, you can’t help but love.
McCracken has none of Murray’s usual stoicism, he would neither know nor care what the word even meant, this role is Murray’s to play with, and play with it he does. Releasing a pure charm offensive, Murray manages to make the irredeemable McCracken, really rather endearing.
“We had a lot of people pass on the Big Ern role. We were thinking of Bill Murray and it seemed like a long shot, but Randy [Quaid] was like, ‘I know Bill!’ And we said, ‘You do?’ He’s like, ‘Yeah, I made that movie [Quick Change] with him. I’ll call him’,” Peter Farrelly once explained.
Bobby then added with excitement: “We had a few guys in mind. Some were guys we had already worked with, whether it was Charlie Rocket, who was in Dumb & Dumber, guys that we knew were good actors and could get it done. But when Bill Murray’s name came up it was like, Bill Murray? Bill is a god. The chance to work with Bill Murray would be incredible. I mean the other guys are great but when Bill comes on the screen it’s like ‘Oh God, here we go.’ He’s a comedic genius.”
Broken Flowers (Jim Jarmusch – 2005)
Both Murray’s second Jarmusch picture on this list and in real life. His role as Don Johnston in Broken Flowers could be seen as a direct continuation of his character in Coffee and Cigarettes as he plays a broken man who embarks on a road trip to find his previously anonymous son.
Stoic, quiet and hilariously sarcastic he is the complete antithesis to Kingpin’s Ernie McCracken. Whilst the Bill Murray synonymous with Wes Anderson is quirkier and in many ways funnier, he is also rather one-note, a self-made stereotype.
Jarmusch seems to channel Murray’s most honest performances, more akin to Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation. A man fragile and lost but somehow wise, trusting and resilient. Broken Flowers is a trip through a man’s past and it’s subsequent interaction with the present, Murray observes and reflects. It just might be Jarmusch’s best.
The film earned major acclaim, many within the industry claiming it signified a total change of perception for both Murray and Jarmusch. “Stranger Than Paradise made me feel that films could be made in a different way in America,” Tilda Swinton once said. “Jim has a way of explaining America. He says, ‘I’m an alien, but I’m also an American, and we’ll experience this world together.’ That’s why he’s become such a force in international film – he explains America to aliens, while remaining an alien himself.”
Zombieland (Ruben Fleischer – 2009)
Widely observed as one of the best cameos of recent memory. Bill Murray’s cameo in Zombieland is a champion in meta-comedy and a touchstone reminder of his pop-culture importance. A straight-talking, quick-witted cynic, a double-act rolled into one. Both straight man and comic.
The group’s visit to Bill Murray’s mansion in Zombieland blends fact and fiction as when he appears, dressed as a zombie to ‘blend in’, he details his joy of how he’d walked on to an empty golf course to play nine holes. It seems obvious, you hardly even question his appearance as he effortlessly glides into the film and to the front of the billing.
In typically Bill Murray fashion, his arrival onto the project was a spontaneous one: “We were two days away from shooting the scene,” one of ther film’s writers once explained. “We had written an alternate scene with no celebrity, where they just fought a bunch of zombies in this mansion.”
“Paul, to his great credit, doesn’t like to take no for an answer, walked up to Woody Harrelson on the set and said Woody, anyone else, do you have any other ideas? He said two guys. He said Dustin Hoffman and Bill Murray, and we were like yes, and yes. But Dustin Hoffman couldn’t do it, but Bill Murray said send me the script. He doesn’t have an email address interestingly, no agent, no manager, it was Woody Harrelson that called him, his buddy.”