'Very Murray Christmas' Team Talks Song Selection, George Clooney Joke

Evan Agostini/Invision/AP
The cast and crew of 'A Very Murray Christmas' at the New York premiere.

Writer-director Sofia Coppola, writer Mitch Glazer and performer Jenny Lewis reveal how they determined which of the Netflix special's A-list guest stars did what.

In Netflix's new holiday special, A Very Murray Christmas, Bill Murray sings popular and lesser-known Christmas songs alongside stars like George Clooney, Chris Rock and Miley Cyrus.

Murray and Rock croon "Do You Hear What I Hear" while wearing matching sweaters, Clooney joins in on the chorus of "Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin" and Cyrus and Maya Rudolph separately perform renditions of "Silent Night" and "Christmas Baby Please Come Home."

The special itself has the meta pretense of Murray struggling to host a holiday special after a snowstorm shuts down New York, leaving him trapped in the Carlyle Hotel with his producers (Amy Poehler and Julie White), bandleader (Paul Shaffer) and some hotel guests and staffers: characters played by Rudolph, Jason Schwartzman, Rashida Jones, Jenny Lewis and the band Phoenix.

But how did Murray, Shaffer (who also served as the special's music director), writer Mitch Glazer and writer-director Sofia Coppola determine who performed certain songs and played characters taking part in various skits?

"It was kind of a dream because you have great musicians, great voices, great friends and you think about how to match talent and voices to songs," Glazer told The Hollywood Reporter at Murray Christmas' New York premiere. "I did that with the Blues Brothers years ago. I loved the idea of finding my favorite songs and getting friends to sing them. [This special] reminded me of that. Also, having worked with Paul Shaffer back then to do that felt similar but this year we had wider local colors to choose from. There were some standards that we wanted, but like the Pogues song, 'Fairytale of New York,' was a song that I held onto, I wanted to use in a movie of my own, quite frankly, because I thought it was so beautiful. And this seemed like the place to do it. Bill being Irish and the Pogues' legacy, it felt naturally good, and he sang the hell out of it."

Former Rilo Kiley frontwoman Lewis, who duets with Murray on "Fairytale" and "Baby, It's Cold Outside," explained that she and Shaffer worked on her performances.

"We talked a bit about some harmony ideas and we worked out some of the vocal parts on the spot," Lewis said of her collaborations with Shaffer. "He's so amazing and it was such an honor to work with him and he's like a true musical director but very open and the songs really evolved very naturally while we were in the room together."

Coppola said that in addition to Lewis, who joked that she "manifested" being in a Christmas special with her outgoing voicemail message "It's almost Christmastime," the special's other participants helped with the song selections.

"Maya Rudolph, like, I asked, 'What song do you want to do?' And she came up with hers and Bill thought of the Todd Rundgren song, 'I Saw the Light' for Jason and Rashida," she said. "So it was kind of a mix of songs … and Phoenix found their song — an old Beach Boys song, that we didn't know."

Murray, who interrupted Shaffer's interview with reporters to give him a hug and kiss on the back of the neck said that David Letterman's former bandleader, always had everyone's "best interests at heart."

"It was never about Paul; it was always about what was best for the whole thing," Murray told a group of reporters. "It was an experience unlike any other and everyone did better than anybody thought they could, including themselves. Each person did better than they ever thought they would do."

Murray, who joined Shaffer's interview to ask what questions reporters had for Paul, hopped around the red carpet, chatting with various groups of media correspondents. Other stars spotted at the premiere included Schwartzman and Cyrus, who posed for photos, including the one below, in which she held up a Christmas sweater with Murray's face on it and bit the collar. Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos also mingled with cast members on the red carpet at New York's Paris Theater.

Producer Roman Coppola, Sofia's brother, spoke to THR about how the streaming service became involved with the special that his sister asked him to be a part of and had been working on for "some time" before it actually came together.

"Originally, there were different parties interested, and it was hard to confirm that it was really going to happen. There was the idea that we sort of broached with all of the major players—more of the cable and or streaming services, but yeah there was a lot of interest from the group and Netflix was the most interested so they were the natural partner," he said.

And the special might not be Glazer's last, saying that working on A Very Murray Christmas made him want to do another special.

"I loved it. It was a great, fun week at the Carlyle hotel with old friends and what a dream. I would do it tomorrow," he said.

"If and when we do another one," Glazer said, he wants John Prine to be a part of it, explaining that they tried to have him be a part of Murray Christmas but it didn't work out.

"Bill and I saw him in Charleston," Glazer said, struggling to recall the name of the "Angel from Montgomery" songwriter. "We wanted him to go but he had hip surgery."

Glazer also came up with the special's burn of Murray and Clooney's poorly reviewed film, The Monuments Men.

"I wasn't worried about George, because he wasn't around when the joke was happening, even though that could be scary," Glazer said. "But I was wondering whether Bill would say it. I just typed it and wrote it in and sent it to him, as part of the script, and bless his heart, he knew it was a laugh. And comedy trumps everything—always."