The 36th Annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival gave us a tribute to Academy Award-nominated actor and film legend, Bill Murray.
There is no doubt that Murray has given many contributions to the film industry, most recently in the role of Felix Keane in Sofia Coppola’s On the Rocks with Rashida Jones and Marlon Wayans, for which he received Golden Globe and Critic’s Choice nominations. He also received the prestigious Maltin Modern Master Award, presented by Sofia and Roman Coppola.
Past recipients of the Maltin Modern Mast Award include Judy Garland, Brad Pitt, Glenn Close, Denzel Washington, Michael Keaton, Bruce Dern, Ben Affleck, Christopher Plummer, Christopher Nolan, James Cameron, Clint Eastwood, Cate Blanchett, Will Smith, George Clooney, and Peter Jackson.
Before receiving his award, Murray sat down virtually with Leonard Maltin to look back at his career and indulge in an insightful conversation.
Here are some of the highlights from that conversation:
Adding a bit of yourself to a part is the best thing you could do
For Murray, the people he finds most interesting were the people he didn’t fully understand when he was younger.
Jack Benny, for example, was a little dry for 10-year-old Murray. It wasn’t until he watched Benny later in his life that he realized “he was daft.”
In Murray’s own words, “His timing was so precise, his face was such a beautiful photograph that I would turn on the TV and record him just to go back and watch him.”
He also learned to love John Wayne for his extraordinary self-control, and Cary Grant for his stunning performance in his role in North by Northwest.
You don’t need beauty or anything materialistic to make an actor stand out. Just be genuine, and it will shine through in the performance.
Listen to your gut—chances are, it knows what is right
Without a doubt, transitioning from improv comedy to film is hard. But Murray knew it was time to move to film when he said something funny and no one laughed. Imagine that! He endured a room full of silence for nine months before starring in his first film.
He felt as if there was something wrong, and when he started acting in films he realized that he just outgrew improv. It was a gut feeling.
There is nothing wrong with outgrowing something you were once passionate about, but don't stay on because you feel like something is tethering you to it. Be brave, and do what you want to do.
Always make the scene come alive
Everything starts with a vision. A script can be as good as it can be, but it’s never alive until it enters the physical world. For Murray, this couldn’t be more true for Ghostbusters. Sometimes a script is all there is to start with, and if the actors don’t consider that they are making a real film, then the film won’t come to life.
Murray, Ernie Hudson, Dan Aykroyd, and Harold Ramis knew that the film was either going to sink or swim, so the four of them always looked out for each other, making sure that each of them performed to their best ability.
Murray truly believes that the film only lives because each scene was alive and felt grounded in whatever reality they were in.
Have faith in the vision
It sounds simple, right? Sometimes, you just have to trust the director’s vision. This couldn’t be more true than when Murray was first introduced to our beloved Wes Anderson.
His agent kept sending Anderson’s first film, Bottle Rocket, to him. Eventually, Murray got the script for Rushmore and was asked if he would like to meet Anderson. Murray said that it wasn’t necessary.
“[Anderson] knows exactly what he wants to do.” And the rest was history.
Murray had full faith in Anderson’s vision and realized he was fortunate enough to be included in it. Don’t be afraid to just go for something if you believe it could be great.
You have to dedicate quite a bit of time to the project
Writing and directing can take a lot of time, and for Murray, he just doesn’t have that much time to give. Yes, being able to write great dialogue and scenes is very important, but sitting down and taking the time to do it is a different story. Same thing for directing—it just takes time to do it.
If you dedicate your time to do something that you’re truly passionate about, then you’ll be successful in the end.
Upcoming tributes at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival can be found here.
Did we miss any important advice to give to young actors, writers, or directors? Let us know in the comments!