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Being Bill Murray

From Caddyshack to Lost in Translation, Midwestern-born Bill Murray has created some of Hollywood's most idiosyncratic characters.
Elvis Mitchell
From the Print Edition:
Bill Murray, Nov/Dec 2004

(continued from page 3)

It could be said that the actor is at the point in his career where he shifts from big studio enterprises like Charlie's Angels to independent-minded films that keep his pilot light blazing. But that wouldn't explain why, much earlier in his career, he followed his freshman film success Meatballs with a triumphant assault on the screen as the doomsayer/bon vivant Hunter S. Thompson in the otherwise forgettable Where the Buffalo Roam. "Oh my God," he says, laughing as he fires up an Opus X, "that part was a hard one to get out of my system; Hunter insinuates his way into your soul. I warned Johnny Depp that would happen to him [Depp played a Thompson-like character named Raoul Duke in Terry Gilliam's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas] and he learned the hard way."

Murray has just returned from the Dominican Republic with first-time director Andy Garcia, who was there making an autobiographical film about growing up in '50s Cuba. "He's a gent, Andy, a real gentleman who's devoted to his family, though he's one of the slowest golfers on God's green Earth. He called after Aquatic, when I didn't think I ever wanted to work again. What made the Andy movie happen is my wife likes Andy: 'That's OK. Go work with him. He's a gentleman.'

Murray happens to be a gentleman as well—the kind of fella who actually stands when a woman joins him at a dinner table; the only other person I've ever met besides my father and myself to do so. "Yeah, I noticed that about you. Isn't it always so funny when a woman says, 'Oh, you're such a gentleman'? And you're just doing the respectful thing?" he says. "It's not like I'm tossing a camel hair coat over a puddle," he muses, rolling his eyes, " though now, I suppose I'll have to. But, it's just something to do to show that you're not unconscious, and it makes people feel good."

Murray and Garcia have become fixtures at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am tournament on the PGA Tour every year. Murray is as well-known for his antics on the course, as for his golf. "The first time I went to Pebble Beach, I went with George Pepper, the guy who got me to go," says Murray. "He was the editor of Golf magazine. I'd been asked to go before, but I was always working—you know, back in the day when all I did was work. George called me up and said, 'Do you wanna go to Pebble Beach? Because they'll invite me if you come.' 'Oh, OK.' That was a good enough reason to go. I played with a guy named John Adams. Big John. Big hitter, longtime tour player who never won a tournament but played on the tour a long time and made a very nice life of that. Laid back guy—very quiet."

Taking a break from the White Plains, New York, location of the new film he's shooting with Jarmusch, Murray smiles slyly and takes an amused pause before answering a question. "Am I a laid-back golfer?

"No. Not by Big John's standards, or anybody else's for that matter. Well, playing at Pebble Beach is so different because it's a celebrity pro-am and it's not like anything else on the tour. The history of it is that it started as a fun event; it was a Bing Crosby clambake. He put that thing together back in the day just to keep the pros alive. It started down in Rancho Santa Fe in the off-season. And he was friends with a lot of the pros, and there just wasn't as much money at stake. So it was a much wilder party then—you know, guys like Phil Harris and comedians and showbiz guys who would play half-baked. With something like three-quarters of a million dollars at stake, it's a little more serious now. And it's a bigger TV draw than everything but the Masters, I think.

"I shot one of my best scores there two years ago—an 82. And recently, I shot my best ever, a 75, a few weeks ago," he remembers, "and I was hanging out with Sofia and a couple of her friends and we ran into one of the Olsen twins. So it became a really fun celebration."

Cigars, which can be found in Murray's possession on the golf course, also helped to bring him into Garcia's movie.

"Apparently, they have cigars down there [in the Dominican Republic], so I smoked some. Actually, I'd met Carlos Fuente Jr. at an airport years ago. He came up to me and introduced himself to me. 'I want you to try some of my cigars,' he said, and reached into his coat. Now usually, people give you a couple, but he gave me a dozen out of his pockets. Most people don't carry that many on 'em. And down there, Carlos had planted a special field, out of rotation, for Andy to use as a location. Which means they're gonna lose that field for two years, which is an incredibly generous thing to do. It's the kind of gesture I admire."

Recounting his Dominican Republic journey triggers a story involving less grand circumstances for Murray: his first cigar. "It was a broken cigar, thrown into a trash bin at the golf course where I caddied. I remember seeing this cigar that hadn't been smoked, but it was broken in two pieces. And I thought, 'When I finish this round of caddying, I'm gonna walk back here and smoke it.' And I did. I don't remember the brand name, but I do remember it's hard to smoke a cigar that broken. And it was only when I got past the break," he says with a laugh, "that I found out what a cigar tastes like. But I liked that feeling. I was probably thirteen, and I was gonna work to make enough money to pay my way through high school. Which I did.

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