“I don’t know what’s in it,” he said. “Some greens and ginger I think. Let’s have some champagne. Bring it in.”
Someone appeared with a bottle of champagne and we raised our glasses. “I like alcohol but I don’t have a favourite drink which is probably why I’m not an alcoholic," he said."If I had a favourite I’d probably be a drunk. I like to have different drinks. Last night I was drinking something with rum in it.”
The night before he had been drinking at a celebration party held at the restaurant owned by his old friend director Ivan Reitman following the premiere of Murray’s latest movie St. Vincent, in which he plays a cantankerous old curmudgeon who forms an unlikely friendship with a 12-year-old boy living next door. It was no coincidence the premiere was held on the day which the Toronto Film Festival had declared Bill Murray Day and arranged day-long free screenings of some of his most popular movies.
“It was a dizzy day,” recalled the 63-year-old actor. “I rode my bicycle around the streets and people called out to me and waved and I had a lot of texts and I saw a lot of old friends I hadn’t seen for a long time. Then at the premiere the crowd was wild. I’d never seen anything quite like that before. Then we had the party and there was a great disc jockey.”
We had met in a Toronto hotel at an interview arranged by the Weinstein Company, the distributors of St. Vincent. It is something of a special occasion because it is virtually impossible to make arrangements with Bill Murray for anything. He does not have an agent, a manager, a publicist or any of the usual trappings of a major star, so anyone who wants to get hold of him calls a toll-free telephone number and leaves a message. If he wants to talk, he’ll call back, but most of the time he doesn’t. He freely admits his indifference has cost him several roles in movies he would have liked, but he has also managed to appear in some 60 movies, including such epochal comedies as Stripes, Meatballs, Groundhog Day and Caddyshack as well as the drama Lost In Translation, which earned him a Best Actor Oscar nomination, and seven films by one of his favourite directors, Wes Anderson, beginning with Rushmore in 1998 and most recently in The Grand Budapest Hotel earlier this year.
He has an iPad which he says he uses for playing the game Clash of Clans with one of his sons and a telephone which he only uses to send and receive texts. “I don’t like talking on the telephone,” he told me.
Like the characters he often portrays, Bill Murray plays by his own rules and the stories about him are many and legendary. For a while he was prone to sneaking up behind strangers in the street, covering their eyes and when they turned to see who it was he’d smile and say: “No one will ever believe you.” At the Berlin premiere of The Grand Budapest Hotel last year he got out of the car holding a full martini glass which he then downed in one gulp. His surprise cameo appearances over the years have included singing karaoke in bars, gate-crashing parties, some impromptu bartending and casual partygoing, all of which have made him an endearing figure and the kind of person worth having a whole day devoted to him by a film festival.