Bill Murray's First Rehearsal For Life Aquatic Wasn't What Wes Anderson Expected

In a 2019 interview with IndieWire, actor Bill Murray confirmed the existence of presumed-apocryphal 1-800 number that his agent and other casting personnel could call should they be interested in casting Murray in something. At some point in his career, demand for Murray reached a fever pitch and hasn't seemed to cool off in the ensuring years. Now 72, Murray admits that he became annoyed by constant calls offering work (we should all have such problems), and that his solution was to set up an independent line that could only be distributed by word-of-mouth. The number connects callers to an answering machine that Murray only checks periodically. 

When it comes to working with director Wes Anderson, there appears to be little communication at all. Anderson is working on a project, and will be vague about it. Murray will be on board, seemingly regardless. The two will be wholly committed, prior to really working out the details. This natural connection seems to work for them both. To date, Murray has appeared in nine of Anderson's films. 

For the 2004 film "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou," Murray played the title character, a brilliant but egotistical marine biologist who frequently went searching for exotic (imaginary) sea life in a fleet of candy-colored submarines. Like most characters in Wes Anderson movies, Steve Zissou spent a great deal of time, energy, and finance arranging his peculiar world around him. Anderson protagonists tend to be obsessives who are deeply concerned with their own personal aesthetics. 

In a 2004 interview with Movieweb, Murray talked about how casual his rehearsal process had become with Anderson, and how his Steve Zissou came to him during, essentially, a nice boat ride. 

Tell me a story on a boat

Anderson and his leading man seem to have become so copacetic that little direction is needed. If Murray reads an Anderson script, he essentially knows what is being asked of him. It also helped that Anderson floated the idea of "The Life Aquatic" to Murray back in 1998 when the two were making "Rushmore" together. Murray and Anderson would also make "The Royal Tenenbaums" together in the interim. By their third project, the pattern was already set. Murray said: 

"At this point he doesn't say much. He told me about this thing years ago, when we were making 'Rushmore.' He doesn't tell me much about it at all. I have a lot of faith in him. We've become friends, and I don't need a lot of explanation for things. If I feel I need something at this point, I ask."

Thanks to his mysterious 1-800 number — perhaps the ultimate vetting process — Murray most often hears from filmmakers he's already worked with or who are friends. There's a reason he'll always show up for Anderson movies or star in the films of Jim Jarmusch. 

The rehearsal for "The Life Aquatic" went, in true Andersonian fashion, thusly glib: 

"[W]e went out on a boat. I said, 'I want to rehearse.' And he said, 'What?' And I said, 'Yeah, just tell me the story.' And he was like, 'Oh, God.' So he just read me the script, right on the boat. And I just sat there, sunbathing on a speedboat, and he read the script to me. It was kind of like a fairytale, like a night-night bedtime story. We didn't even finish the script, but after we got [off], I thought, 'Well, that's enough.'"

Read it to me, and we're ready to go.

Bill Murray give no f***s

In the IndieWire interview, Murray revealed that being in demand for so many years has allowed him to affect a lackadaisical, eff-it-all kind of attitude when it comes to his career. At 72, there's not really anywhere to fall to; Murray's legacy as a comedian, an actor, and a movie star is solidly cemented. Indeed, the actor has come to be fetishized in certain corners of the hiperster film world, and T-shirts bearing his likeness are plentiful. Murray, meanwhile, only participates as much — or as little — as he wants. He barely even checks on his own 1-800 number. He said:

"It's not like at 11 o'clock it's time to check the messages. Sometimes I go days or weeks. Sorry I'm busy living. I'm not trying to work for anyone. So now I barely maintain that façade anymore. I don't really do much of anything for this. I don't even know how anybody reaches me anymore."

No one can reach Murray, but his performances reach everyone. And he's become friends with enough interesting directors (Anderson, Jarmusch, Sofia Coppola) that he'll most assuredly appear in a variety of interesting projects for as long as he so wishes. When word finally comes that Murray has chosen to retire from acting — if the decision strikes him — the actor's many, many fans can perhaps smile quietly to themselves that he was able to work for so long explicitly on his own terms.