Actor-Director Partnerships: Bill Murray and Wes Anderson
The mention of certain directors immediately brings to mind certain actors with whom they are associated. Some directors practically guarantee to feature their favourite actors in their films, choosing to work with these individuals time and time again. When the partnership is as timeless as that between eccentric director Wes Anderson and iconic actor Bill Murray, moviegoers are ensured a high quality cinematic experience every time they view a collaboration. Anderson films have become famous for their remarkably star-studded casts, and it appears as though every big name actor desires the opportunity to work with this director. While some actors wait for their opportunity, the now-expected Murray makes his appearance over and over again.
Wes Anderson began creating film in 1996 with his debut feature, Bottle Rocket – his only film to date that does not include Murray in its credits. The comedic crime caper met with mixed reviews, yet even critics who did not love this particular film acknowledged Anderson’s enormous potential. Anderson went on to create seven more critically acclaimed features, and has earned himself an undoubtedly strong cult following. The director acts as a sort of bridge connecting art house and mainstream film, as his quirky and immediately recognizable works fall right on the thin line separating the two forms. Fans of both types of film often find much to appreciate in these movies, and they often draw a large crowd, even if it is just for the famous celebrity casts. The only other actor with whom Anderson has worked as extensively as Murray is Owen Wilson, who has also appeared in seven of his films. Other known favourites include Adrien Brody, Jason Schwartzman, and Willem Dafoe.
I have often stated that I could watch a film that consisted solely of Bill Murray staring at a wall for two hours and find it entertaining. Here is an actor who can have the greatest effect by doing very little. Every nuance in each expression means something, and comes through to the audience. Murray is a very funny actor, yet often appears so serious that he could hardly be classified as comedic. Instead, his is a dry humour; that which can be found in the everyday, the dull, or even the tragic. Undeniably smart and incredibly talented, Murray carefully crafts a character that draws an audience in until we are living his life right alongside him. There can be little doubt as to why Anderson has chosen Murray as one of his go-to actors: his subtle humour and dry persona work perfectly in tangent with the director’s offbeat yet completely stone-faced serious tone. He also effectively counterbalances the whimsy of each film, keeping all firmly anchored to the ground when it threatens to float away.
Murray and Anderson collaborated for the first time when the actor appeared in Anderson’s hit follow-up to Bottle Rocket, Rushmore (1998), as the wealthy and lovesick industrialist Herman Blume who befriends the film’s young protagonist. Murray’s effect clearly extended to the young Anderson as well as film audiences, because the director went on to cast him in his subsequent six films: The Royal Tenenbaums (2001), The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004), The Darjeeling Limited (2007), Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009), Moonrise Kingdom (2012), and my favourite film of the year thus far, The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014). Some of these roles were large, such as the memorable Raleigh St. Clair from Tenenbaums, while others were momentary, such as the fleeting bookend cameo in Darjeeling and the single scene in Budapest. The animated Fantastic Mr. Fox even required a voice acting part. Although the size of Murray’s roles varied, each has become as unforgettable as the film in which he appears itself.
Not only has Murray become a fixture in Anderson films, but he has also revolutionized the way the director pays his actors. In addition to being known for his grand and wacky films, offbeat sense of humour, and glamorous casts, Anderson is also famous for his surprisingly modest film budgets. Before acting with Anderson for the first time, Murray was earning a nine million dollar salary per film – the entire budget of Rushmore. Murray agreed to do this film for a meager nine thousand dollars, essentially appearing in it as a gift to the director, and has set this low precedent ever since. The big name actors who now appear in Anderson films receive similarly low salaries, and, like Murray, appear to be content just to work alongside him. The famously down-to-Earth Murray has explained that he enjoys acting with Anderson because nobody is afforded the movie star treatment on his sets. He describes a laid back and relaxed, yet highly focused, work atmosphere that brings out the best in all performers.
Murray often speaks of Anderson with an almost paternal fondness. When they began working together, Anderson was very young, and Murray describes the way in which he was able to watch him develop as a man and as a director as his work continually became better and better. There is no doubt in my mind that any upcoming collaborations will be a success, as they combine a seasoned actor with one of the most creative directing minds of our time, and I look forward to their review. Fans of cinema can only hope that there will be many more such films to come in the future.