Theodore Melfi on what it’s like casting Bill Murray in a movie
“Oh god, that story’s so crazy,” says Melfi, laughing. “The nuts and bolts is (Murray) has no agent and manager, as everyone knows. You just call the 1-800 number. And I left, I don’t know, a dozen messages. It’s not his voice on there. It’s a Skytel voicemail with a menu. You have to record the message and send the message. It’s so confusing. I think if you can get through that and believe in it, he might call you back. I started calling once a week, and then sometimes once every two weeks so I didn’t annoy him. He never called back. I finally called his lawyer and said, ‘I’m trying reach Bill.’ And he goes, 'What number do you got?’ And I go, 'I’ve got the 800 number.’ And he goes, 'Well that’s what I got.’
"So I finally call his lawyer, it must have been at least six weeks later after all these messages. (The lawyer suggests Melfi write Murray a snail mail letter.) A 'Dear Bill’ letter. To a post office box back in New York. Two weeks later, (Murray) calls his attorney and goes, 'OK the letter was swell. I’d like to read the script. Have him snail mail a script.’ To another post office box on Martha’s Vineyard. Bill is a nomad. He’s never in one place for long.
"And so we snail-mailed a script. Bill calls two weeks later, he picks up the phone and calls my producer’s assistant (who is flabbergasted) and says, 'I never got that script.’ So we Fed Ex the script to a place in North Carolina. Two or three weeks after that, driving down the road I’m in the middle of a commercial job and my phone rings and he goes, 'Ted? It’s Bill Murray. Is this a good time?’
I pull over and he goes, 'Listen, I got this script of yours and I don’t know who you are. I don’t Google people. I don’t know who you are, what you do. Tell me about yourself.’ So that was 20 minutes of me stammering around trying to tell Bill Murray who I am. And he goes, 'Well, that sounds good.’ And this was on a Wednesday; I was shooting a commercial the next day. And he goes, 'Want to get together and have a coffee and talk about the script?’ I say, 'I’d love to.’ He goes, 'How about tomorrow?’ And I go, 'Well, it depends on what time, maybe …’ Bill goes, 'In New York.’ (Melfi was in L.A.) Bill goes, 'Oh. How about Friday?’ I say, 'Um, I don’t think I can get (to New York) on Friday. He says, 'No, in Cannes.’
Melfi laughs. ”'I say, 'No I can’t get to Cannes Friday, Bill, I’d have to leave today.’ He goes, 'Oh, well, you know it’s going to be a good time.’ (He was premiering Moonrise Kingdom.) But don’t worry about it, we’ll connect later. I’ll call you in a couple of weeks.’ (Melfi is now frantic.) I say, 'Bill, is there a better number for you, anything –’ He goes, 'No no, you’ve got the number.’ (The call ended and Murray disappeared.)
“I wanted to shoot myself. About three weeks later I’m in limbo, literally dying painfully. I’ve thrown my back out I’m so stressed out about the whole thing. It’s Sunday of Memorial Day weekend. I’m in bed at 8 a.m. and I get a text: Ted it’s Bill. Can you meet me at LAX in an hour? And I write back, Yeah I’ll be there! Murray: I’ll be at baggage claim, flight so-and-so.
"So I take a Vicodin and get in my car and I drive to LAX. I go to baggage claim and there’s a guy in a black rumpled suit holding a card that says 'B. Murray’ on it. I go, 'I think I’m with you.’ He says, 'Yeah?’ I think,oh god, he doesn’t know anything either. Bill Murray comes walking down the hall with his golf bag and goes, 'Ted? You want to talk about the script? Let’s go for a drive.’
So we get in this town car with this driver and we stop and get four In and Out grilled cheeses and two orders of fries. And he pulls out the script from his attaché case; it’s got dog-ears on it, some scratches here and there. And we drive from L.A. to three hours south at the Pechanga Indian reservation. I have no idea where I am or where I’m going. We drive and drive and drive. We end up at the back of this reservation on a golf course. He has a house there. We talk about the script the entire way.
"We pull into this house and he tours me around. He’s got tangelo trees and avocado growing next door. I used the bathroom. I go back outside and he goes, 'Alright, this is great. Do you think we should do it?’ (Melfi says he’d love to.) He goes, 'OK, we’re gonna do it. We’ll make the movie.’ I said, 'That’s so great Bill, just one thing, if you could do one thing for me. Could you tell someone other than me that this happened? No one is going to believe this story. I can’t possibly go to the studio and say Bill Murray said yes on the way to the Indian reservation in the back of a town car. Murray said, 'I’ll call someone, don’t worry about it.’ ”