If Murray playing Roosevelt feels like natural casting, both physically and psychologically, “Hyde Park on Hudson” represents something of a departure for the actor, who lately has focused on small but toothsome roles in films such as “Get Low” and summer’s art-house hit “Moonrise Kingdom.” When he read the “Hyde Park on Hudson” script, he says: “I knew I had to do it. There was something in me at the time saying [that] I had to be more ambitious. Because I don’t really feel like I have any ambition or drive. . . . I’m not really a hustler, or anything like that.”
But isn’t it that lack of careerism that has worked so well for Murray over the years?
“It has worked for me,” Murray says. “It’s extremely powerful to say no; it’s really the most powerful thing to say.” He credits his laidback approach to his earliest days performing at Chicago’s Second City, where he watched the likes of John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd and Gilda Radner precede him into what he calls “the explosion” of instant fame on “Saturday Night Live.”
“It was a little more of a tougher place, maybe, a little more of an educational place, than it is now,” he says of Second City, “where you really had an education in how you comport yourself, how you make a career and what informs your choices.” Of his fellow Second City alums, he recalls, “You watch as they slam against the walls and who keeps going forward and what it is that keeps them going.
“The things that I learned, I just kept rolling with, and saying no is a big, big part of it,” he continues. “I try never to be desperate for a job. . . . I don’t even go looking for work and the good stuff comes to me. Better stuff comes to me than I ever got [when] I had agents throwing junk at me. It’s just sweet. It’s swell.”
Murray will next star in “A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III,” by Roman Coppola, as well as Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and the World War II heist drama “The Monuments Men,” directed by George Clooney. “I envy people like Clooney. God, he works so hard,” Murray says wistfully. “He’s working all the time. But he doesn’t have a wife, you know? He doesn’t have kids. If I didn’t, that’s just what I’d do, because it really is fun.” (Murray has six children and was divorced from his second wife in 2008.)
“People like George and myself, we really like the doing of it,” Murray explains. “So my challenge is to try to live as well when I’m not working as when I’m working. . . . I’m much more of a whole person when I’m working. I’m more collected, I’m more connected, I’m more there.”
Murray has to go get ready for the splashy “Hyde Park on Hudson” premiere in a few hours, where he’ll once again beguile the assembled fans and press with that trademark ineffable charm. Still, even warmth as spontaneous and offhanded as Murray’s comes with its share of shadow material.
“When you’re a public person and you choose to be more private, you’re constantly in shadows,” Murray says before heading out. “When you go out there, you’re on your best behavior, in a way. You’re kind of leaning forward, leaning into it and engaging.” He contrasts that with those times when he’s reluctant even to face the day.
“That’s why I feel better when I’m working,” Murray explains. “Because I have to be. There’s real proof of whether I am nor not. . . . When you make the day, you can look around and everyone knows whether you were or you weren’t. You are, or you’re not. That’s why I have to be at hours at a time, even if they’re only minutes at a time, and not get too gone for long periods.”
Hyde Park on Hudson
95 minutes, opening at area theaters on Dec. 14, is rated R for sexual content.