Bill Murray Notes the Best and Worst Parts of 'St. Vincent' Promotion at Hilarious, Heartfelt Premiere
"It's like raising kids: You may not like them, but you have to raise them, and they may not be well-behaved but you're stuck with them. Just like you're stuck with a first-time director."
"Am I the last one out here? Where is everyone?" said Bill Murray while answering questions from the last handful of reporters on the St. Vincent premiere red carpet on Monday night. After calmly and courteously entertaining questions about dressing up for the evening's event, not having an actual phone number and even brainstorming holiday gift guides, the actor headed into the Ziegfeld Theater, asking the event's publicist while riding the escalator, "What time is it now? How late are we?"
There was still plenty of time for Murray to nab a slew of concessions before hitting the stage for introductions from Harvey Weinstein and director Theodore Melfi — a visual that triggered theater-wide laughs. "I have two bags of popcorn, not because the film is that long, but there was no telling when a first-time director would shut up!" Murray jested after Melfi's list of gratitudes. He also told a random audience member after walking offstage, "I hear it's hilarious."
The lighthearted Murray moments at the New York City premiere, hosted by The Weinstein Co. with Lexus, acted as a sampling of what his fellow actors experienced on the Sheepshead Bay set in Brooklyn. "He made everybody laugh — one time, he stole a golf cart and was driving it on the racetrack, and security was chasing him, and Naomi [Watts] was in the back. That was pretty crazy!" Jaeden Lieberher, who plays the young neighbor who befriends Murray's mysteriously altruistic character in the Oscar-buzzing dramedy, recalled to The Hollywood Reporter.
"Bill is always Bill — he doesn't try to be funny, so he's always funny," added Melfi's wife, Kimberly Quinn, who plays a nurse. While shooting at an old-age home, Murray was waiting for an older man to cross the set, "and Bill says, 'Hey, I like your pants, but I'd never wear it with that shirt!' " In light of Murray's own wardrobe — the actor broke premieres' usual color palette of blues and blacks with his patterned yellow button-down, emerald green tie, cream linen pants, mahogany blazer and straw hat — Quinn joked, "You have to ask yourself, how much did he mean that?"
The introductory popcorn bit onstage — plus all the press' requests before the screening and the nonstop jokes during the Q&A afterward — were surprisingly not a massive ask for the notoriously curmudgeon actor and rare interview subject. "The best part is when you have a movie that's good, and you get kind of cocky and you have a lot of confidence, and that's infectious; people are like, 'If he has that much confidence, it must be good,' " Murray told THR of promoting films near their release date. "But the worst part is when you've got a movie and the studio isn't doing a great job of selling it, and then you get a funny feeling."
"It takes a lot of energy to make even a terrible movie, and it's quite an accomplishment to make a bad movie, and to make this movie is an extraordinary accomplishment," he told reporters, confessing that he has cried during its screening, and also praising Melfi's helming instincts. "I knew he was a first-timer, and I'd get to push him around a little bit.... There's something really wonderful about him."
Melfi told THR that he co-wrote the script without a particular actor in mind, and "when I heard the words come out of Bill's mouth, Melissa's mouth, Naomi's mouth for the first time, I was floored. It was a dream come true." While the film also co-stars Melissa McCarthy, Chris O’Dowd and Terrence Howard, its two leading characters are based on Melfi's family members, he said: Murray's Vincent is based on his wife's late father, "a Vietnam vet who didn't live a great life, and at the end of his life, he reunited with my wife and they became best friends," and Leiberher's Oliver is modeled after Melfi's11-year-old niece, whom they adopted after his brother died and enrolled in a Sherman Oaks Catholic school with a unique class assignment.
Peter Chernin, Jenno Topping, Bill Murray, Jaeden Leiberher, Naomi Watts, Theodore Melfi and Kimberly Quinn at the NYC premiere
Lieberher auditioned for The Weinstein Co. title with a speech scene that spanned four pages. After reading the entire screenplay 15 times and practicing the monologue with his mother at home, he meditated briefly with Murray and delivered the speech for a crowd of hundreds. "Jaeden is the most secure, confident, self-aware little boy I've ever met," said Melfi of the young lead, whom he suggested should watch Caddyshack before production began. "He knows who he is — he's calm and centered. He doesn't know how to act; he just is an actor."
Oliver's mother is played by McCarthy, who was cast by the "very proud" producer Peter Chernin just after wrapping The Heat. "We knew she wanted to do something a little more grounded and reality-based, and so we brought her into this, and she was phenomenal," he told THR. Of the journey from script to screen, he confessed: "I was never aware it was on the Black List when we bought it!"
Watts, who walked the red carpet with Liev Schreiber by her side, shared Chernin's sentiment for the script. "It was all there on the page, the first time I read the script," she said during the Q&A, noting that she was pulled to play a pregnant Russian stripper-prostitute by Weinstein. "I said, 'Yes, I want to do comedy, it's been way too long.' She's just an off-the-wall character — there's a lot of physical comedy with this accent and absurd tummy and all the dancing, and I felt like it'd be worth giving it a shot. It really was a fun thing to go to work and be among these people and with such a great script."
The post-screening chat also included Murray's hilarious rants about their filming conditions ("They call these 'art films' in the business: You don't get paid very much and you work long hours, and the caterer is usually not very good"), jokes about his female co-stars ("Melissa and Naomi were switching their usual roles: Melissa is usually the comedian, and Naomi is usually the one whose husband has a terrible disease") and final jousts for Melfi: "We all have one aim and one goal, and that's to make the vision. It's like raising kids: You may not like them, but you have to raise them, and they may not be well-behaved but you're stuck with them. Just like you're stuck with a first-time director."
Prior to the screening, Harvey Weinstein began his introduction by praising Chernin's other 2014 titles, Rise of the Planet of the Apes and the upcoming Exodus: Gods and Kings — "He's got like three best pictures this year!" — as well as The Drop. Melfi, while listing his thanks for his family, cast and crew, returned the favor: "Whatever you think about Harvey, whatever you know about Harvey, whatever you've heard about Harvey, Harvey is a champion for film and filmmakers, and he championed this film from day one."
Murray will be seen next in Barry Levinson's Rock the Kasbah, Cameron Crowe's as-yet-untitled ensemble project, HBO's Olive Kitteridge miniseries and The Jungle Book reboot, among other projects. "I found that having an agent meant the phone rang all the time, for not very interesting reasons; I like to have a little peace and quiet," he told reporters of operating without an entourage. Would he suggest it to other actors? "You can't tell actors what to do; they're very difficult. It works for me. Part of it is I've been doing it a while, so I know the difference, and I pick the scripts myself anyways."
He seems to be guided by a directive that Melfi quoted to the audience before the film began: "As Bill said mostly every day on set, 'Let's go someplace nice.' "
The premiere's attendees — including producers Jenno Topping and Fred Roos; Ray Iannicelli, Scott Adsit and Dario Barosso from the cast; and Sharon Stone, Jena Malone, Diego Klattenhoff, Isabelle Huppert, Andrew Rannells, Lindsay Ellington, James Denton and Amir Arison, among others — later headed to Midtown hotspot Forty Four at the Royalton Hotel for champagne cocktails, sliders and mac 'n' cheese poppers.
St. Vincent hits theaters in New York and Los Angeles on Oct. 10 before expanding Oct. 24.