• Golden Globe Awards

Nominee Profile 2021: Bill Murray, “On The Rocks”

Film fans of a certain age will likely always associate Bill Murray foremost with the anarchic comedies of his early career – the words “It just doesn’t matter!,” from his iconic “demotivational” speech in Meatballs, forever ringing in their ears.
But like a fine wine, the 70-year-old actor seems to be just getting better with age. His latest effort, Sofia Coppola’s On The Rocks, for which Murray received a Golden Globe nod for Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture, re-teams the performer and Rashida Jones, who first appeared together in A Very Murray Christmas, an hour-long holiday special Coppola co-wrote and directed for Netflix in 2015.
Part domestic comedy-drama, part oddball detective story, the story centers around Laura Keane (Jones), a novelist and stay-at-home mother already struggling with writer’s block when the burgeoning aloofness of her husband Dean (Marlon Wayans) sets off alarm bells that he may be cheating on her with a colleague. Laura’s rakish father Felix (Murray) seizes on this uncertainty, viewing it as a worthwhile vessel for his peripatetic attention – and perhaps, whether consciously or subconsciously, as a way to recapture some of the bonds he and Laura once shared. Stakeouts and other investigations ensue, along with, eventually, some unearthed deep feelings.
Murray’s trademark rapscallion charm, his ability to coax a smile out of someone even as they’re exasperated with him, is richly present and accounted for in On The Rocks, which marks his seventh overall Golden Globe nomination, including a previous win for 2003’s Lost in Translation. But this isn’t a case of Murray phoning in a performance, or merely “playing himself,” as a less discerning critic might erroneously posit. His fully lived-in characterization helps deftly fill in a complicated backstory between Felix and Laura; his minute reactions, the things he chooses not to say, and even when he doesn’t say them, are all part of a discerning, highly evocative portrait of a parent-child adult relationship in which unaddressed issues have helped birth destabilizing consequences.
Offscreen, Murray has lived his life with something of a devil-may-care whimsy, as a man whose actions unseat conventional wisdom that celebrity or wealth breeds caution. For Murray, fame is just a shrugging life-hack, the ultimate means by which to share his personal philosophy of maximal enjoyment of the moment – so much so, in fact, that an entire documentary, The Bill Murray Stories: Life Lessons Learned from a Mythical Man, exists devoted to chronicling some of the urban legends (mostly true, it turns out) of his random encounters, like taking a stranger with him to the sixth game of the 2016 World Series. Famously, Murray even has no agent or publicist and instead channels his business to a toll-free telephone number with a voicemail he checks rather irregularly.
Luckily, for a collaborator like Coppola, those calls get returned. “Bill Murray was easier to track down than the first time I worked with him,” she admitted with a laugh to the Hollywood Foreign Press Association during a conversation last fall. “We did a table reading and he was open to trusting me, and (Felix) was a fun character to do something with. It was great to work with him again – especially now that he’s someone I (actually) know compared to the first time I worked with him.”
Murray grew up with eight siblings in an Irish Catholic family in the north suburbs of Chicago, the son of a lumber salesman and mail-room clerk. His love of comedy stemmed directly from the jostling competition and affection of this family environment, as making their father laugh at the dinner table was a goal for everyone. Now the father of six adult sons himself, Murray is also an avid sports fan. In addition to his lifelong love affair with golf (he has an apparel company, William Murray Golf), he is a part-owner of no fewer than four minor league baseball teams.
When not working or traveling, Murray spends most of his time in Charleston, South Carolina. He will next be seen reprising the iconic role of Dr. Peter Venkman in Jason Reitman’s Ghostbusters: Afterlife, and re-teaming with longtime collaborator Wes Anderson for the ninth time in The French Dispatch, which was set to debut, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, at the 2020 Cannes Film Festival, but will now see theatrical release in the summer of 2021.
“It’s always fun to have him on set, and you never know quite what will happen, especially on the streets of New York, where everyone knows him and people are just yelling out, ‘Hey, Bill!’” said Coppola. “He really was driving that car (he drives in the movie), so at one point he said, ‘Hop in,’ and we just drove around SoHo outside of the area where we had the permits for, speeding around. He always looks for fun like that, and the surprise in the moment.”
And for that, audiences can continue to be thankful.