Posted on Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014 by Russ Fischer
I think it’s a pretty well-known bit of info by this point that Bill Murray agreed to voice the title character in Garfield because he thought the script was by Joel Coen, aka one half of the Coen Brothers. (Or that’s how he always tells it.) In fact, the script was by Joel Cohen, which is an important difference. Murray did the film, and the sequel, and we know how those turned out.
Murray recently took place in a Reddit AMA, and there he talked more about Garfield. The interesting bits were not the repeat of the Joel Coen story, but the fact that Murray tried to do something that is generally not done by actors voicing digital characters: he rewrote the film, inasmuch as possible. Read his explanation below.
There’s a lot of candid gold in the AMA, which you can read here. One nugget is about the Jim Jarmusch film Broken Flowers, which he calls “a film that is completely realized, and beautiful,” but which he did in part because of circumstance. “I enjoyed the script that he wrote. He asked me if I could do a movie, and I said “I gotta stay home, but if you make a movie that i could shoot within one hour of my house, I’ll do it.” So he found those locations. And I did the movie.”
Anyway, here’s the Garfield story.
Someone asked “will there be a Garfield 3?”
I don’t think so. I had a hilarious experience with Garfield. I only read a few pages of it, and I kind of wanted to do a cartoon movie, because I had looked at the screenplay and it said “Joel Cohen” on it.
And I wasn’t thinking clearly, but it was spelled Cohen, not Coen.
I love the Coen brothers movies. I think that Joel Coen is a wonderful comedic mind.
So I didn’t really bother to finish the script, I thought “he’s great, I’ll do it.” So then it was months before i got around to actually doing it, and I remember i had to go to a screening room in somewhere, and watch the movie and start working. And because they had had trouble contacting me, they asked my friend Bobby to help corral the whole situation together. So Bobby was there, and you know when you’re looping a movie you’re rerecording to a picture?
So this was an odd movie because the live footage had been shot, but the cat was still this gray blob onscreen. So I start working with this script and I’m supposed to start re-recording and thinking “I can do a funnier line than that” so I would start changing the dialogue that was written for the cat. Which kind of works, it sort of generally works, but then you realize the cat’s over here in a corner sitting on a counter, and I’m trying to think how I can make it make sense. So the other characters are already speaking these lines, and so I’m going “did he really say THAT?” and you’re kind of in this endgame of “how do I chess piece myself out of this one?”
So I worked like that with this gray blob and these lines that were already written, trying to unpaint myself out of a corner. I think I worked 6 or 7 hours for one reel? No, 8 hours. And that was for 10 minutes. And we managed to change and affect a great deal.
The next day I came into work and the producer gave me a set of golf clubs, and I thought “that was kind of extreme, especially since I can’t go play.” And the second reel was even HARDER because the complications of the first ten minutes were triangulated. It was really hard to write my way out of that one. And there were all these people on the other side of the recording studio, and at the end of the reel I was SOAKED In perspiration. I had drunk as much coffee as any columbian ever drank, and I said “you better just show me the rest of the movie.” And they showed me the rest of the movie, and there was just this long, 2 minute silence.
And I probably cursed a little, and I said “I can fix this, but I can’t fix this today. Or this week. Who wrote this stuff?”
And it appeared that one of the people behind the screen was the misspelled Joel Cohen. And I said “how could you have THAT scene take place before this scene? This can’t possibly happen? Who edited this thing?”
And another person behind the glass was the editor of the film. He quit the film that week to go work on another job, so that began a long process of working on the film. I worked the rest of the week on it, and I said “Bobby it is still nowhere near done. But I can’t fix it all, we have to try to do this again.”
It was sort of like Fantastic Mr Fox without the joy or the fun. We did it twice in California, and once in Italy when I was working on the life Aquatic, we were working on an INSANE place in Italy, with a woman who was a voice from above interrupting everything, I cursed again, and she left to take another job, and that was just the first once.
And we managed to fix it, sort of. It was a big financial success. And I said “just promise me, you’ll never do that again.” That you’ll never shoot the footage without telling me.
And they proceeded to do it again. And the next time, they had been shooting for 5 weeks. And I cursed again. I said “I just asked for one little thing, letting me know.” and that one was EVEN HARDER. The second one was beyond rescue, there were too many crazy people involved with it. And I thought I fixed the movie, but the insane director who had formerly done some Spongebob, he would leave me and say “I gotta go, I have a meeting” and he was going to the studio where someone was telling him what it should be, countermanding what I was doing.
They made a movie after that second miscarriage, that went directly to video. So they sort of shot themselves in the foot, the kidneys, the liver and the pancreas on the second one. If you had a finer mind working on them? The girl, Jennifer Love-Hewitt, she was sweet. In the second movie they dressed her like a homeless person. You knew it wasn’t gonna go well.