Bill Murray on his new movie, sky diving and … his skull

by Robert K. Elder

Chicago Tribune (MCT)

9 October 2008


For a retired guy, Bill Murray has been busy.

Not only did he jump out of a plane during Chicago’s Air & Water Show in August, he’s appearing in a new movie, “City of Ember” (opening Friday).

Murray, 58, halfheartedly told interviewers he was retired in 2005, after he starred in director Jim Jarmusch’s “Broken Flowers.” But, it seems, retirement didn’t take.

Here are some highlights of a conversation with Murray in which he talks about his new film, politics, sky diving, and the fate of his skull.

You play a corrupt politician in your latest film. Any models for your character?
Just all of them. I’d hate to be selfish and pick just one. The only person I didn’t choose is Richie (Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley). I get a kick out of the way he works. I think he really loves the city.

But there’s no one that comes to mind. They’ve all disappointed. They’re like crack girls; no matter how attractive they are, they’re going to break your heart.

But is there any “crack girl” you have your eye on this year?
No. ... It’s kind of interesting to watch the Illinois fellow (Barack Obama). Joe Biden, I’m not going to get crazy about. And (Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin), I’m not going to get so nuts about. I don’t know where that voice comes from. It sounds like northern Wisconsin or Minnesota or something; not what I imagine Alaskans sound like. It’s a disturbing pitch.

I’ve met McCain, and he was a pretty decent guy. He could have straight-shot his way and kept it going. But I think he lost it. I think he’ll pay the price for it.

When you introduce friends to Chicago, what do you tell them they have to see?
I always tell them they have to get a cheeseburger over at the Billy Goat. I tell them, if they are downtown by Navy Pier, there’s going to be fireworks. I tell them to see the Bean (“Cloud Gate”); I love the spitting fountain.

I tell them to go to the Original House of Pancakes in Wilmette. See the Baha’i Temple as well. Obviously Wrigley Field is on the trip, they have to see that.

If there’s a way they can just drive around in the Loop at sunset around the river and just see the light ricocheting off all those buildings, it’s spectacular.

I went to the Trump Hotel the other day. That coffee shop that’s on the 16th floor is ridiculous. It’s just unbelievable. You can sit at one table and still see (the city skyline) in the mirror.

How was the sky-dive different than you thought it was going to be?
How about: I was terrified. One thing was: It’s cold up there. It was about 20 (degrees). We circled around for a long time because they were being very cautious. They didn’t want to lose me. That would have been noticed.

I walked from the back of the plane to the front, and I said, “You know, I thought I’d feel better.” I didn’t feel so good. And the guy said, “Well, you just walked 80 feet uphill at 13,500 feet. There’s no oxygen in here.”

And then they started passing around this oxygen can, and it was a fight to the finish for who was going to hold onto that oxygen can. It’s like, “Don’t bogart that joint.”

I couldn’t believe it. I thought, “You guys are supposed to be the pros. Can I have this thing? Give me it.”

All of the sudden you go, “What was I thinking? This is the stupidest thing I’ve ever done.” All of the sudden, I really, really didn’t want to go.

But there’s a guy who is hooked onto you, like a turtle (shell). You’ve got to walk in a squat. Then this other giant guy grabs you by the front ... They are taking you out the door. They don’t want any confusion about who’s on first and where we’re going. And you’re like, “Oh God, oh God ...”

Once you go, and you hit the air, all that’s gone. The physical sensation overwhelms your body. Overwhelms your mind. You can’t think anymore.

How would you describe it?
You’re just in a washing machine of air. You’re trying to move your arms and move your hands. Meanwhile, you’ve got this guy on your back. And then he starts steering you.

And they’re filming you, so you feel like, “Oh, I’m supposed to be funny now.”

When the chute opens, it’s not that ka-kunk thing you see in the movies. It’s just that the people you’re talking to or looking at just sort of drop through the bottom of the floor. Then it became extremely peaceful and really dreamy. I was like, “Hey, there’s Wrigley Field, can we go over there?”

Harold Ramis told the Tribune recently that Columbia Pictures is developing “Ghostbusters 3.” Would you be interested in doing another sequel?
It’s all talk until the script shows up. When Danny (Aykroyd) used to say, “Come on, we’ll do one more,” I said, “Well, I’ll do it disembodied. Kill me off, and I’ll be a ghost.” I thought that was a decent idea.

You recently voiced your character, Peter Venkman, for a “Ghostbusters” video game. What was that like?
That was fun. I’m not really a game guy, but I enjoyed recording it. It was funny. I liked being the guy again. I was walking down the street singing the “Ghostbusters” song. I’m sure people were thinking, “Hey pal, get over it. Really. Kinda full of yourself, or what?” But I hadn’t thought about it in so long that it was fun to be that guy.

Your friend Del Close attempted to donate his skull to the Goodman Theatre but ultimately couldn’t do it. Did that make you think of any postmortem pranks that you might pull?
That story about the skull thing is such a great story. I hate to hear it debunked, whether it’s true or not. I’m sorry if (Close’s skull donation) didn’t happen. I figured that it didn’t happen for some legal reason.

Sorry to say this, but you’re talking to the guy who debunked it.
Well, it’s very disappointing. Because that intention is so unique and so wonderful.

But I actually found out how it could be done.
I’d love to know. So how do you do it?

You ship your body to a place called Skulls Unlimited in Oklahoma City, and they’ll take care of it. It’s not illegal.
Plus, you’ve got to have enough money to FedEx a casket around.

If I felt myself getting ill, I’d like to have that paperwork sorted out before I went to the end. I love the idea of his skull, or my skull, being somewhere. It’s not going to do anybody any good anywhere else.

“A fellow of infinite jest” - that would be a great thing to be known as.

Topics: bill murray
//Mixed media

Call for Essays on Topics in Culture; Present, Past and the Speculative Future

// Announcements

"PopMatters (est. 1999) is a respected source for smart long-form reading on a wide range of topics in culture. PopMatters serves as…

READ the article