Bill Murray on Playing FDR in 'Hyde Park on Hudson'

Bill Murray Hyde on Hudson Premiere - P 2012
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Bill Murray Hyde on Hudson Premiere - P 2012

The actor talks about the challenges of playing a "beloved" icon and what he thinks about the film's Oscar buzz.

Believe it or not, Bill Murray -- who's right up there with Tom Hanks and Alec Baldwin as one of America's Most Loved Movie Stars -- says it was a challenge to play an icon as revered as President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

The actor departs from his deadpan, understated demeanor in films ranging from Groundhog Day to Lost in Translation to take on the role of the larger-than-life FDR in Roger Michell's Hyde Park on Hudson, which screened at the New York Film Festival this weekend.

Laura Linney co-stars as Margaret Suckley, the distant cousin and rumored mistress of the president. The movie, which hits theaters in limited release Dec. 7, is inspired by real life events and revolves around the 1939 encounter between First Couple FDR and Eleanor Roosevelt (Olivia Williams) and the King and Queen of England (Sam West is King George VI, with Olivia Colman portraying Queen Elizabeth).

"It's hard to play beloved, you know? It's much harder to play beloved than to play a rotten guy ... so playing a beloved person, that really sets a high bar for your behavior and your acting and what you project," Murray said Saturday before the film's Lincoln Center screening.

VIDEO: Bill Murray Is a Wry FDR in 'Hyde Park on Hudson'

Getting philosophical, he continued: "Because of that love, you don't sorta want to disappoint that love. Because love can be eternal, so you have to respect that. It's still out there. It's still moving around. And you have to not do anything to deny that. You have to protect love -- anyways, I sound like I should write this down -- but you have to protect it. So you have to work your very hardest not to break that vibration. That feeling. That feeling is working for you and you have to maintain it, and you have to ride it and enhance it as well."

While the 62-year-old actor was nominated for an Oscar for 2003's Lost in Translation, the award has remained out of reach as Murray typically selects off-beat projects such as Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom that don't necessarily scream Best Actor bait. But Hyde Park, with its British accents and Murray-as-FDR, could very well land Murray another nomination.

"Well, people end up using (awards) as doorstops and weight in the trunk in case there's icy weather. It's nice to win. They're fun to win, there's no question about it ... it's just a certificate or a coupon, you know," he said, as fans clustered near the red carpet with one guy shouting: "We love you Bill!!"

"The most important thing is that people see the film, and so it's exciting when people start talking that way because it means people will go see the movie to figure out what all the gab is about. You work hard, you want people to see it."

Director Michell, working from a screenplay by Richard Nelson, said he was impressed with Murray's work ethic.

"He worked so hard to make this work," recalled Michell. "It's unlike Bill to do this kind of thing because Bill doesn't usually play outside of himself. ... He put in all the work, and he was great. He brings charm -- a huge tsunami of charm, a kind of mischief and a sweetness."

Twitter: @ErinLCarlson