Some days you get the bear, some days the bear gets you.
On Monday, a handful of lucky journalists bagged the big one when they scored one-on-one time with Bill Murray, an actor famous for his elusiveness. Indeed, it was something of a surprise that he even showed up at the Toronto International Film Festival for the premiere of “Hyde Park on the Hudson,” in which he portrays Franklin D. Roosevelt. But as one studio executive confided, “When Bill says he’s going to do something, he does it.”
Murray may not seem like the immediately obvious choice to play Franklin D. Roosevelt. But director Roger Michell insists that Murray was his first choice to play the Depression-era president in “Hyde Park on the Hudson,” largely because of the enormous goodwill Murray has with the audience. “The only actor I could see making the film work was Bill,” Michell said at the festival on Monday. “Because there’s something forgivable about Bill. There’s something mischievous about Bill. There’s something ineffably charming about Bill.”
All of those qualities – plus Murray’s considerable store of political capital – turn out to be crucial in the film, which depicts a chapter in Roosevelt’s presidency when he entertains King George VI at his home in the Hudson River Valley during the summer of 1939. It was during that visit – fraught with anxiety on the part of the British king, who was unsure of American support should England be forced to go to war – that the term “special relationship” was first coined.
In “Hyde Park on the Hudson,” filmgoers also meet Daisy Suckley (Laura Linney), a distant cousin of Roosevelt’s with whom the president embarks on a romantic affair. While Roosevelt charms and reassures an insecure young king, he is simultaneously is manipulating the many “other women” in his life, a portrait that is simultaneously warm and troubling.
In an interview just before “Hyde Park on the Hudson” made its gala debut, Murray admitted that he saw Michell’s point in casting him. “I remember someone saying to me a long time ago, ‘Bill there’s a lot of goodwill out there for you. And that was when I was a young man,” said Murray, dressed in an orange-checked summer shirt, khaki shorts and black socks and shoes. “I thought, ‘Wow, that’s an unusual thing for someone to say to a young person.’ And I realized back then it was especially for the comedies. People really appreciate comedies. They admire the drama but they love the comedy. When people see me, it’s amazing – they light up. [It’s] like hey, that guy made me laugh, he’s okay.”
Even though Murray has been shooting down rumors of appearing in “Ghostbusters III,” having earned a new reputation over the last decade as a serious dramatic actor in films like “Lost in Translation” and “Broken Flowers,” he said that he wants to return to comedy one day. It just has to be the right one, “a comedy that really has just bells and whistles and fireworks and everything.”
Is there a filmmaker he’d particularly like to work with in reviving his comedic side?
“The one guy I’d really like to work with is the Chinese man who directed ‘Kung Fu Hustle,’” Murray said, referring to Stephen Chow. “He’s the guy. That movie just completely obliterates every other comedy that’s been made in the modern era. It’s just so much better than everything else. It is just so much vision, so much attention. . . .That movie is so great, I don’t know if I’ve got the chops to work with this guy.”
Murray added that he’d also like to try his hand at the Shakespeare comedies. (He played Polonius in Michael Almereyda’s “Hamlet” in 2000.) “I’d really like to kill one of those,” he said. “If they ever put some funny people in those things, boy they’d be funny.”
Look for “Hyde Park on the Hudson” in theaters in December. (Look for more of my interview with Murray then.)