When looking back at the countless icons that have graced the big screen in the vast history of cinema, nobody can match the life of the enigmatic and effortlessly loveable rogue that is Bill Murray. If a director is looking to create a Hollywood character with unconventional, quirky and comedic qualities, and one that plays with the realms of usual society constraints with a heartwarming, sincere edge, then look no further than Murray himself.
Jim Jarmusch, Sofia Coppola, and Wes Anderson have all reaped the rewards of that philosophy, casting Murray in a series of films that have now become synonymous with the actor’s legacy. The truth is, however, that as Murray has grown older, he’d rather commit himself to a project that would result in him working with close friends rather than gambling on the unknown.
It is that philosophy of working with those he cares most about that led Murray to star in the one movie that he is arguably most fondly remembered for. Groundhog Day, directed by Harold Ramis in 1993, marked a crucially important moment in his career. Having previously collaborated on movies such as Meatballs, Caddyshack, and Ghostbusters, Groundhog Day would take the friendship of Murray and Ramis to breaking point. Despite constant debates about the script, and rewrites between the two, the movie was completed to critical and commercial success.
However, while Ramis wanted to focus more on the philosophical and spiritual aspects of the script, Murray was desperate to try and keep Groundhog Day lighter, to push forward the comedic edge of the screenplay. Despite their differences, Murray has since heavily praised the structure. “The script is one of the greatest conceptual scripts I’ve ever seen,” Murray once said. “It’s a script that was so unique, so original, and yet it got not acclaim. To me it was no question that it was the greatest script of the year. To this day people are talking about it, but they forget no one paid any attention to it at the time. The execution of the script, there were great people in it. It was a difficult movie to shoot because we shot in winter outdoors.”
Murray added: “If you ever get to go to Puxatawney, you should go, it is one of the few things that is BETTER than advertised. It’s really something to see. But doing the movie, shooting the scenes over and over, it’s like an acting challenge. It’s like doing a play and those same scenes over and over and again, so you can try to make it better or deeper or funnier than you made it previously.”
However, following the immediate release of Groundhog Day, Murray was said to be painfully disappointed. In truth, the conflicts that’s surrounded the film left a bitter taste in the mouths of those that played a major role in its creation. Murray was struggling with some personal issues, and the tensions with the director marked the end of Ramis and Murray’s 20-year partnership. “I learned to step back. You don’t step in front of a train. You just let it go by,” said Ramis.
The director also added: “Bill had all these obvious resentments toward the production, so it was very hard for a time to communicate with him. Calls would go unreturned. Production assistants couldn’t find him.”
Before his death, Ramis explained how had he suggested that Murray’s handling of his personal affairs needed to get in order. With that, the director proposed that Murray should hire a personal assistant to take care of the work that was causing him some issues. However, in what is a clear example of the mindset that the actor was in at the time, he listened to the advice but, instead, chose to make his life more complicated: “He hired a personal assistant who was profoundly deaf, did not have oral speech, spoke only American sign language, which Bill did not speak, nor did anyone else in the production,” Ramis explained. “But Bill said, ‘Don’t worry, I’m going to learn sign language.’ And I think it was so inconvenient that in a couple weeks, he gave that up.”