Murray may only take up a small role in Wes Anderson’s latest picture, The Grand Budapest Hotel, but he’s a consistent collaborator and dear friend of the filmmaker, and his insight into the Anderson universe is intriguing, as somebody who first worked with the director on Rushmore, almost 16 years ago.
“Wes just keeps on getting better and better,” said Murray. “It’s so much fun doing these jobs now, because we go some place and have an amazing living experience while making the movies. In Life Aquatic we lived in Italy for months, Darjeeling we lived in a mobile summer home when shooting, and we’ve lived in mansions. We always live together in the same house. In this, we took over a hotel and treated as our retirement home.”
Murray has appeared in all six of Anderson’s films since they first worked together, and the actor admits that he doesn’t even bother reading scripts any more before agreeing to be in the movie. “I just say yes right off the bat… Wes is my friend and he’s really talented,” he said. “His scripts are very precise. You can add to anything because the difference between what’s written on a page and what you do is an extra dimension. In that extra dimension there are unknowns that weren’t taken into consideration with a pen. So if you’re there and you can see what’s needed, you can just toss it in, you add to it.”
People have written roles for Murray in the past too, however the actor enlightens us into the process, and how it’s not always as prosperous as we perhaps expect it to be. “I’ve seen people write things for me and it’s failed. Some people know what I can do, but once this guy said, I wrote this script especially for you and I read it, and I said, ‘yeah I know – those are all my lines from other movies’. He actually had all my lines from other movies incorporated into this script.”
Murray, who plays M. Ivan, admits that there are challenges that come with playing somewhat lesser roles in films. “There is no such thing as small parts, only small actors. You can make an impression in a small part, but it’s a tricky business to do that, because you have to come into a movie that’s already rolling and you’ve got to be able to suss out the tone of it and be able to come in and contribute to it and bring a new energy to it, a new element. It’s hard to know what the temperature of the movie is.”
In Berlin we also were thrilled to sit down with Willem Dafoe and Jeff Goldblum, who play Jopling and Deputy Kovacs, respectively, two actors who have previously worked with Anderson on other projects, and had nothing but kind words to say about the inventive director. “Wes is very particular, he says, ‘oooh don’t change that, stick to that…’ but within it he’s not a control freak, he’s a beautiful balance of being a welcomer of the happy accident, a free-spirited, let’s see what happens and what you bring to it guy. He’s so prepared that he can be even more open and available to the experience and accidents and the emerging themes of the thing,” said Goldblum. “He was very particular about there being no trailers, he’d say ‘hang around if you like it here’ and that was nice.”
Anderson’s desire to have is actors around on set is one welcomed by Dafoe. “I’m never in my trailer anyway, I’ve never used a trailer. I never. I’m always on the set. If you go off in the trailer, you don’t know what’s going on. You’re not in sync with anyone, so I like to hang out and see other people doing their thing and know what’s going on. Otherwise you’re jumping in cold.”
“He always creates a good working environment, this community where everyone is applying themselves and feel like we’re all working towards the same thing, that’s sometimes rare,” Dafoe continued. “Wes is very clever about how he makes the movie, practically speaking, economically speaking. In independent, smaller movies you have less resources, Wes has the resources. He really knows how to get what he needs. So in that respect, the spirit of it is like a small, person movie, but the resources are like a much bigger funded studio movie. That’s one of the reasons why he attracts good actors.”
Talking of good actors, Murray discusses his own personal inspirations, looking back at what made him one of the greatest living performers still working today. “Buster Keaton was a guy who I thought was kind of clowny when I first saw him as a kid. Then you look at it, and realise he’s doing all his own stunts, he’s directing and doing it all himself, and it’s all in his body, his body is doing everything, he’s incredibly gifted physically. That’s someone who had a greater effect on me once I developed as a person. Jack Benny was also so good, his timing was so much better than everyone else’s. There’s a guy who is on his own groove beat, he’s consistent but he’s on his own tempo and it’s killer.”
“So the time I was most formed was between 18 and 21. I was a smart kid but I didn’t know how to get by in life, I couldn’t really hold a job. I’d been a caddy so I had will power, I could do things, I worked my way through school and so forth, but the ordinary job life wasn’t going to suit me, so I had to figure how to get by in life. I didn’t think I would be in the film business, when I started acting I was just doing it to do it, it was something I was kind of interested in. Then they started paying me for it and I couldn’t believe I was getting paid to do it. Then one day I did something on the stage and thought, holy cow I could do this for a living. I just did something really good, I just really affected that audience just now, I did something great. Then I realised, the more fun I have doing this, the better I do it. That’s when I realised I could do this for a living and actually respect myself with a job where everyday the more fun I have, the better I could do. That’s why I did it.”
Murray can be somewhat particular with what he takes on these days, as somebody we don’t see too much off in cinema, but this elusive figure is creating something of a reputation for himself online, with a series of websites and anecdotes citing the actor as quite the character off-screen. Murray admitted he was aware of this persona, but doesn’t pay any attention to it. “I hear about it, I hear about it. But what are you gonna do? I occasionally go online to find out the spelling of a word, something like that, but I don’t track my social awareness, no. That would be the end of the world.”
How he chooses projects is an intriguing thing, and Murray was quick to draw on a metaphor – of a traffic jam – to explain quite how he approaches the entire business. “Life really comes at you kinda fast sometimes, and you know, you can get caught up in the struggle. Like traffic. How you behave in traffic sort of dictates how you do. Like if you’re quick in traffic and you can get around trouble, you can prosper moving through traffic. But if you get frustrated in traffic and you get angry in traffic, traffic could kill you. Life can kill you, life can tear you up. So if you want to make the best of this traffic situation, cos when I get angry I can’t see all the ways to get around the traffic, if I get tense. It’s the same with movies. If you get tense you don’t see a way of playing a certain scene, a way to serve the other actor to make the scene better.”
Murray was last seen publicly presenting an award alongside Amy Adams at the Academy Awards, where he paid tribute to his dear friend, and longtime collaborator, Harold Ramis, who sadly passed away recently. Though famed primarily for their work on Ghostbusters, Ramis was the director of Groundhog Day also, and it’s a film that still touches people today as much as it ever has – and Murray admits there’s something quite special about the production, and tells us that he’s able to detach himself from the project and appreciate it simply as a piece of cinema.
“When it’s fantastic, you have to. It’s undeniable, it’s real art. That movie is in the library of congress. I couldn’t agree more with you, that movie is an unusual, spiritual movie. It’s on a different plane to most films.”
Talking of which, Anderson truly has created something quite special with his latest flick, and while The Grand Budapest Hotel nears its theatrical release in the UK, Goldblum admitted he felt quietly confident of it achieving the success it deserves.
“I love this movie, I think it’s a knockout and people seem to be equally delighted by it, it’s thrilling to me. I love it. This is an epic, big thing, but it’s a hand-crafted, beautiful art-project. I’ll bet this can be a very crowd-pleasing, widely enjoyed movie,” he finished.