I love everything about Wes Anderson movies. From the way he creates unique worlds to the unusual characters that occupy the screen, Anderson is a one-of-a-kind filmmaker that always makes something special. His newest film, The Grand Budapest Hotel, just premiered at the Berlin Film Festival and it continues his streak of making exceptional films. The story mostly takes place in early 20th-century and revolves around the goings-on at a famous European hotel where a legendary concierge (Ralph Fiennes) mentors a young employee (Tony Revolori) against the backdrop of a changing continent. The film also stars Saoirse Ronan, Bill Murray, F. Murray Abraham, Edward Norton, Mathieu Amalric, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Lea Seydoux, Jeff Goldblum, Jason Schwarztman, Jude Law, Tilda Swinton, Harvey Keitel, Tom Wilkinson, and Owen Wilson. For more on the film, here’s all our previous coverage.
The day after the world premiere, I participated in a great roundtable interview with Bill Murray in Berlin. He talked about what it was like to make the film on location in Europe, collaborating with Wes Anderson, the dialogue, whether his process as an actor has changed over time, and more. In addition, he told some great stories about making Rushmore, his thoughts on Saturday Night Live and Bill Hader, why he quit acting for awhile after making Broken Flowers, and future projects. Hit the jump for what he had to say. The Grand Budapest Hotel opens March 7th.
Click here if you’d like to listen to the audio of this interview. Otherwise the full transcript is below.
BILL MURRAY: Oh, thanks. I didn’t have much to do with it. I just showed up and did what I was told. But it’s good, isn’t it?
I think you were right yesterday. For me, it’s his best.
MURRAY: Oh yeah, there’s no doubt about it. I mean, it’s pretty impressive. I mean, that’s quite a vision, to be able to see all that and achieve it effectively.
Was there anything particularly surprising about this movie?
MURRAY: Yeah, I mean, the bobsled run, I didn’t see that one coming. I saw them building it and I was like, “What’s the bobsled run about?” “Oh yeah, well, the bobsled’s going to go down there and they’ll be on it.” “Oh okay.” But, you didn’t expect it to look like that and be that jazzy. It’s pretty cool.
You only have a few scenes in the movie, but did you spent a lot more time on set being that it was Wes’ movie and do you shoot a lot of extra stuff that we never see?
MURRAY: You mean does he shoot a lot that gets cut out? Well, I guess there’s some of that. There’s some of that. You know, when you put it in the third dimension, sometimes you wake up and you see things that you weren’t expecting when you put it on paper. He’s got a pretty good vision of what he’s doing. There wasn’t a whole hell of a lot that we shot that was wrong, because I mean, if you read the script, it’s pretty spare, you know? It’s pretty clean. The storytelling—he spends a lot of time and he’s obviously very specific about how he wants things to look and sound. So there’s not a lot of overage. He’s got a lot of tricky camera moves, so you shoot a lot of goofy takes, where the camera isn’t absolutely perfect, so you do it again. So that’s the only time—that’s the overage. That’s the extra time, is he takes a lot of time to get it perfect.
What’s it like off set, since you spent a lot of time maybe not making the movie, part of this big group of people?
MURRAY: Well, Willem said it was like the actor’s retirement home. We had this small hotel in Gorlitz. It was all us. We were the only people in it. So, you’d come down—
Where was the hotel?
MURRAY: Gorlitz. It’s on the border of Poland and Germany. It’s a town that’s been Polish, German, Polish, German, Prussian, German, Polish, you know, over the last couple of hundred years. We went over to Poland one night and we walked over to Poland, and it was closed. It was closed. (laughter) So we all were in this hotel. We owned the hotel. We were in the old part of Gorlitz, which is really beautiful–they shoot a lot of movies there because it’s intact. It’s a part of Germany that wasn’t affected by the war. There’s these beautiful clock towers that are 500 and 600 years old and it’s really impressive. So people shoot movies there because it’s intact. It was never damaged and we had this old, small hotel there and all of us in there. You’d pad down in the morning and you’d have breakfast. It was our restaurant. It was our hotel. Then, you’d sort of walk across the lobby, “Hi, good morning. Good morning.” You know, and the other side of the lobby was the makeup and the hair place. So you’d say, “Excuse me, hold on a second. I’m going to go get another croissant.” You know, and you’d march back over there all the time like in your slippers and a robe like a bunch of old men dying in a hotel. So, it was fun.
Then, we had a bar that was—we were on a little old town square with a church at the end of it, and there was like a bar across the way. I mean, and it was about 40 steps, but it was snow, all snow the whole time we were there. If you were awake, you know, and you’re in the wrong time zone, you’re jetlagged, you just kind of wake up and go, “Ah,” and you’d walk over there and there’d be someone from the movie over there drinking at any hour of the day. There would be someone drinking like, “Oh hi.” You’d just roll in there and talk and listen to music. There was always something to do. There were only a handful of places that we went to, but we sort of—they were all really interesting. Like, the restaurant had great food and it had like, nine separate rooms in it that you could just go hide in. It was like a hide and go seek town, the whole thing. It was nice.
How long was it?
MURRAY: I was only there a couple of weeks. But, we laughed about yesterday like, why do people work with Wes? I say, “Well, it’s long hours and little pay.” So, and that’s sort of true, but you get this great experience of going to these places. Then, he was like, “No, wait a second. You worked in India,” and it’s true, on The Darjeeling Limited, I worked. I was supposed to have like, three days of work, which I got done in a day and a half. Then, I was supposed to work one other day and I did, and it was 45 minutes. But, I got to go to India twice and spend like, a month in India just hanging around for these couple of days of work. So you get a great experience. You get to see and do things.
Mr. Anderson writes very specific dialogue. I was wondering, when you’re on the set, are there a lot of changes, or is it done pretty much exactly as written?
MURRAY: Well, it’s pretty much done as written. You know, like I say, he’s very specific about it, but once again, it’s that third dimension thing, where when you put it on its feet, there’s something required that’s not there, you know, that wasn’t there. You go, “Oh, I gotta get from there to here.” So, and at its most cuts, in movies are all audio cuts, so you have to sort of figure out how to orally end something. So, you change it a little bit, but not so terribly much. But he loves when you find something good. All of these people are all pretty slick, pretty good at finding those things.
Is there something that you added?
MURRAY: In this movie? Oh, I don’t know, maybe. I’ve kind of—the speeches are tongue twisters. Try to speak some of those lines sometime, especially in the cold, because we were shooting outdoors, like in the cabs and all those escape scenes where you’re in the car talking? Those were shot out in Torrence at night and it was freezing. It was freezing cold. Then you’d think, “Okay, how cold can it be?” Well, zero. Let’s just say it’s zero, okay? So it’s zero, but it’s not zero, really. It was about minus 10 or 15. So, let’s say it’s minus 15, what they call minus 15 over here, which is about 10 degrees, somewhere between eight and 10. And you’re doing this scene for hours because the camera’s not right, the lights’ not right, you know? So, it’s okay the first hour or so. You’re speaking kind of normally. Then, after an hour or so you’re starting to get a little heavier, like that. Then, the third hour, you’re just trying to get words out. All the time you’re trying not to breathe too much because you don’t want to blow smoke everywhere because your breath is making all this smoke, so you’re trying to really kind of control your voice, so you’re sort of (mumbles)… That’s what that was like.
MURRAY: Well, when you think of the film as this character’s film and then all of a sudden a gunfight breaks out inside this candy store, inside this bakery. It was this pink walls and everything. Then, there’s the guy shooting berettas at each other. It’s just kind of funny that a gunfight breaks out, and he actually does a pretty decent job. It seems like a pretty decent gunfight. It looks—the way it’s staged, you know, all the eye contact and the visuals and stuff. Even the blows, even the explosions in the walls and stuff looked good. They looked good. So it’s what it really looks like when you put a bullet into a wall. So he did a nice job with that kind of stuff. I mean, just the design elements of the crazy army, whatever that army represents, you know? Those uniforms were so hilarious. You know, you see two people having an intimate scene talking together and then you’d cut out the window and there’d be Norton, Ed Norton and these crazy guys in these ridiculous outfits just standing there. The attention to the detail and knowing what the picture’s going to be like going from this side to that side, and the music. I mean, even the crazy Russian dancer guy at the end of the movie, you know, he just wouldn’t quit. He still had more in him. He still had more he wanted to get out. The balalaika orchestra, they had like, 80 guys. It was not one guy, not two guys, not four guys, 40. They had 40 guys blasting balalaikas at each other in these recording sessions, and it sounds crazy. Doesn’t that music sound wild? I mean, and not to hire two guys and double it 40 times, 40 actual guys. You get this—you feel the real madness of the playing. It’s great.
I’m curious about your process as an actor and how it’s possibly changed over the time that you’ve been working. Is there something that you do now that you didn’t do? Have you streamlined the way you get ready?
MURRAY: I wake up later. No, I haven’t streamlined the way—hrm. Well, I think the thing that’s different is the scripts are better. You know, when I started, the scripts just weren’t as good, and you’d have to go to work and you’d have to have a huge burst of energy to go, “Sheesh, how am I going to? I can’t do this. This stuff’s no good.” So then, you’d have to create something. You’d have to improvise something or create something or try to work with the ware and try to figure out, how do you make this visually and orally acceptable, entertaining? So you’d have to go to work and, you know, synch up your belt and make something. Nowadays, the scripts are just so much better, that you don’t have to feel that way. You feel like the script’s coming to you, you can just relax. You don’t have to drive the boat. It’s always about relaxing, even when you’re doing the early stuff, trying to create, you had to be really loose to be able to see something that was something you could use. Now, I mean, all these props that he has, all the sets, they’re all so perfect. You know, you just have to sort of relax and be a part of the chemical process sort of, you know? It’s almost like just the developing of a photograph, the way it is that if you’re in the midst of it, you’re all a part of it, all this picture that he’s made is part of it. You get to just be the flower—you’re almost not a still life, exactly, but you’re like the little flower that’s in the picture, the thing that’s in there. You have to just sort of be a resonate voice, speak the lines, you know, tell the truth.
Do you sort of intuitively know what he wants at this point? Or, what goes into your collaboration with Wes?
MURRAY: What he wants?
MURRAY: Well, I think when people first work with him, he really wants it in a certain way, and he’s heard it in his head a certain way. He’ll say to someone, “Great, fine. Now, say it like this, kind of,” which most actors don’t like, you know, “Speak it like this, say it like this.” Most actors don’t like it like that. I guess for myself, I don’t—I have a problem with obedience probably, but I’ve learned that, okay, I sort of know now the pitch of it. How you say the lines, you don’t have to say them exactly like he does, but you’ve got to have the sort of clarity in your head so you’re not dragging it down. It’s got to be able to stay up there. It’s got to bounce up there. So there’s more room for your interpretation than people think at first, because usually, people want to gravel it up a little bit, you know, really want to argh. It’s not that way. It’s got to really pounce, like, it’s got to really bounce. It’s got to pop along because the script’s really moving. People are talking fast. They’re talking fast. Most people, when they talk fast, they get flat. They don’t have a lot of movement up high in the higher, when it gets going quickly. So, I’ve found, I mean—
How do you bounce?
MURRAY: How do you bounce?
Yeah, how do you?
MURRAY: Well, it’s like someone who plays an instrument, say a guitar. You know, like a young player can play it, and if he wants to play like a high note or a fast rhythm, it has a certain desperate quality to it, you know, rehhh. But, when you get a really sophisticated player playing those notes, he can play those same notes in a tempo, but there’s space in between it. Do you know what I mean? There’s actually space in between it and you can see that there’s actually a process where he’s quick enough, his interior state is so quick that he can find time that other people can’t find.
He can find like, moments, beats in between it, like, and just a different tempo. It seems like a tempo, but there’s actually a difference between this string and that string, where a young player would say, (Makes instrument sounds). But a real player could go, (Makes instrument sounds). You can see that there’s a little difference. It’s like that with that real fast pace, where you have to, if you’re really quiet, your whole body’s really quiet, the whole body makes more sound and there’ll be echo. There will be—sound will be resonance, and because your head is quiet, and your head is like a guitar box, you know? Your chest is like a guitar box. It vibrates a certain way. So, if you’re really loose and warm, the sound comes at you differently. There’s a little bit more resonance here. So, you’re able to shade words. You’re able to shade things, have a little different sense of meaning to it.
Rushmore was your first film with Wes and that’s his second film. I mean, you know how Wes is now. You know his working way, but back then, you didn’t know. Like, did you trust him back then?
MURRAY: Well, on that job, there was a lot of pressure to meet this guy. The agents were like, pushing this guy and sending me copies of his first movie. I have lots and lots of copies of Bottle Rocket. Then, they sent me the script and they said, “Well, do you want to meet this guy?” I said, “No.”
MURRAY: They were very like, “Why not?” I said, “Well, I don’t need to meet this guy because whoever wrote this script knows exactly what he wants to do, so there’s nothing to talk about. It’s all right there.” It was so precise, what he wanted, that I knew he knew exactly what he wanted to do and I didn’t have any doubt that he was going to be able to do it.
So when you get on set and you’re doing it, what was that like?
MURRAY: Well, that was Jason and I, really, you know? I didn’t know—I mean, this is kind of a funny story. The night before we did our first night shooting, we sort of ran through the scenes, Wes and Jason and I, and for some reason, I don’t know what it was, Jason was just terrible. He was just terrible. I was really, oh God. Oh my God, this kid’s no good. We were in a hotel in Houston, and they were having a bourbon tasting night and I just went in and drank. I drank myself to sleep. But then, we went to work and it was all over. It was just one strange night, where Jason was just terrible, and I thought it was going to be the longest movie of my life because I thought, “Oh, this kid can’t do anything.”
Have you guys talked about that since, about what was—?
MURRAY: Yeah, well, I mean, it’s still kind of a thing. I was like, Jesus, do you have any idea? Do you have any idea how much I drank that night? But then, he was great. Jason’s amazing in the movie. Jason has continued to be amazing. Jason is really an amazing actor. He’s really great. I mean, we did this movie with Roman Coppola, and Jason was amazing, just amazing. Besides being a wonderful guy, he’s just as extraordinarily charmed actor. He just has great, great energy, positive energy. He’s just a well. He’s got so much stuff to give.
I want to ask an off-the-wall question not about the movie. Do you keep up with Saturday Night Live at all, do you ever throw it on to watch or do you keep in touch with Lorne? Obviously it’s changed a lot since your days, and I was curious if you’ve kept up with it.
MURRAY: Well, when I need tickets for friends, I call Lorne. But, I have been watching it more than I used to because now it’s really easy to record it. You know, it used to be like, “Hey, do you ever watch the show?” I was like, “I did that show. I like my Saturday nights. I don’t want to go work.” You know, but now it’s really easy to record them all and you can watch them all and fast forward through the commercials, which is really a bonus. I think like, this group right now is very fast. This is the fastest group, because usually when a bunch of people leave, there’s a dip and there’s a learning curve. This is the fastest I’ve ever seen anyone get it. These new people are really good and he’s got some new writers that are obviously really good because there’s not a big drop off. But that previous group with Kristen Wiig, that crowd, that group was really, really good. I mean, they’ve had talented people all the time through the whole thing, but those guys were actor actors and it was different.
There’s a difference because they have people that come that are standup comedians or a certain kind of performer, but those were all actors trained, improvisational actors, and they make the material work better, because it’s hard to write great material in the course of one week. You know, the original group I think was maybe the best at it because we really had the most time before we got that job. We were all pretty good improvisers, but that group was right there, you know, just the same thing because the material isn’t quite finished. It’s not quite finished at 11:30, you know? Like, if only I had one more day to do it. The actor types can sort of keep writing even through the performing of it on air and solve things in the moment because in front of a live audience, you can solve things because you can feel it, you know? You can go like, “Ah, here it is.” Bam. So you can fix it. That’s what that group could do. That was a really good group to watch.
Can I ask a follow-up question on that, which would be a lot of these people now are going into dramatic acting, which is something that you’ve done. But like, Will Forte doing Nebraska or just saw The Skeleton Twins with Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig. What is it about comedians, some of them can be the best actors, it seems to me?
MURRAY: Well, yes.
MURRAY: Right. Well, you know, that’s the thing that actors know, is that to play funny, you have to be able to play straight. So, if you can play straight in comedy, you can play straight in drama. It’s the same process. It’s not any different. There are some people that are funny that can’t necessarily play straight, that do a certain kind of range of comedy, you know, but if you’re really good at it and you’re really good at it, you can really play straight. You have to be able to play straight. Bill Hader—I mean, I really like him. I think he’s probably the most impressive player I think ever played on the show, how much he put into each of his things. It’s dazzling, the things he did over the few years he was there.
I read the Rushmore script before seeing the film, and it’s one of the rare times when I really liked the script, but most of the time, when you fall in love with a script, sometimes the movie will let you down. You know, it’s like, you saw a better movie. This was a better film than I realized it was going to be based on the script. The difference, I think, was that there are undercurrents, things that aren’t said. There’s an element of melancholia in your performance that really works. This is the same thing, I felt, with this script. I think it’s the best since Rushmore. Do you have any rankings or thoughts on that?
MURRAY: I think they’ve all gotten better. I mean, I think they’ve all gotten better. I mean, if you have a favorite, or you could say a script was better, I think the filmmaking just continues to get better. The combination of his shooting, the way he shoots, what he’s been shooting. Like, The Darjeeling Limited had some amazing camera work, some amazing visual things, and you had to sort of give yourself up to that story, you know, and maybe that wasn’t your story. But, you had to give yourself up to those kinds of stories. This one here, you don’t really have to give yourself up to the story. The story has got you by the throat from the get go. From the beginning, it just pulls you in and grabs you by the throat, and that’s the function of the original writer, of course, and trying to get it that way. But that sort of—there was a man, the way you’re pulled into the story, you don’t have time to, and you don’t have an option to accept it or reject it. It’s got you. You know, it’s just a clever way of writing. It’s a clever way of dragging you in, yeah?
What clicked for me was the feeling of lament for things lost, for a certain way of civilized living, behavior.
MURRAY: Absolutely. You know, the grand illusion, there’s so much lament for that time of decency, a code where, you know, we don’t have to treat each other like this. We don’t need to be like this. These words are not about people like us. We know more. We should know more. Don’t you feel that in this one, too, we shouldn’t be like this?
One of the best scripts you’ve ever worked with I’d say is Broken Flowers. You said recently on Reddit, after making that film, you weren’t sure if you were going to act afterwards, that you weren’t going to be able to top yourself. What got you back into acting, convinced you to come back?
MURRAY: Well, I didn’t really—I thought some other career path would open for me. (laughter) I really did. I really thought I can’t do any better than that. It was a perfectly written film. I acted as well as I’ve acted. It was edited perfectly. I thought it was just a beautiful film and I can’t do any better than that. I can’t do any better. I thought, “Okay, maybe this is time to stop and figure out something else to do.” I retired again and I thought something would show up, like, organic gardening, something, you know? It didn’t happen. Nothing happened. It was, I don’t know, six months or nine months, a year or something like that. I went, “Hrm.”
I know you’ve got to go, I’m just curious if you’ve thought about what you’re going to do this year. I imagine you’re being offered great scripts.
MURRAY: I’m not thinking about anything. I mean, I’m going to do something in June. I’m going to work on this film my friend Mitch Glazer wrote called Rock the Kasbah. I’ll do that. I’ll go and make the movie in Morocco in June and July. So that’s all I’ve got in my head. But, you have to like, give all that—you can’t think about it. You can’t think about what you’re going to do. It just gets in the way. You have to be just available for life, otherwise you’re not bringing anything to the party. So I don’t lie awake thinking about what I’m going to do workwise. There’s just too much going on.