Why Filming What About Bob Was Such A Nightmare For Richard Dreyfuss

A psychotherapist leaves for an extended vacation with his family at their summer house, only for his new patient to follow him. This patient then proceeds to ingratiate himself with his therapist's loved ones while making the therapist increasingly uncomfortable, to the degree that the latter's own mental health begins to deteriorate. Sounds like the premise for a thriller, right?

In reality, it's the plot for Frank Oz's 1991 comedy "What About Bob?" The film stars Bill Murray as the aforementioned patient, Bob Wiley, opposite Richard Dreyfuss as Dr. Leo Marvin, the therapist who gets far more than he bargained for when he agrees to treat the eponymous character. As often as "What About Bob?" reads like a horror movie (at one point, Dr. Marvin actually tries to murder Bob using a self-made bomb), Oz plays the whole thing for laughs, even in its darkest moments. Then again, as a director, Oz has always had a soft spot for morbidly absurd comedies.

Behind the scenes, however, some of Murray's interactions with Dreyfuss were not just unfunny, but they were outright abusive. As Dreyfuss recalled to Yahoo! Entertainment in 2019:

"I didn't talk about it for years. ... Bill just got drunk at dinner. He was an Irish drunken bully, is what he was. ... He came back from dinner [one night] and I said, 'Read this [script tweak], I think it's really funny.' And he put his face next to me, nose-to-nose. And he screamed at the top of his lungs, 'Everyone hates you! You are tolerated!' There was no time to react, because he leaned back and he took a modern glass-blown ashtray. He threw it at my face from [only a couple feet away]. And it weighed about three quarters of a pound. And he missed me. He tried to hit me. I got up and left."

We Need to Talk About Bill Murray

Truth is, this is far from the only known incident of Murray being abusive or unprofessional during a movie production. In fact, it wasn't even the only one during shooting on "What About Bob?" Laura Ziskin, who produced the film and was credited for co-writing its story, has spoken before about having an argument with Murray on the movie's set, culminating with the actor tossing her into a lake. (For context: "What About Bob?" was mostly shot in Moneta, Virginia, near Smith Mountain Lake.) Although Ziskin has indicated the lake throw was a playful act, she's described the argument itself as quite the opposite (via The Baltimore Sun):

"Bill also threatened to throw me across the parking lot and then broke my sunglasses and threw them across the parking lot. I was furious and outraged at the time, but having produced a dozen movies, I can safely say it is not common behavior."

These types of stories about Murray are nothing new, either. Back in the 1970s, he got into a fistfight with Chevy Chase — who has a reputation of his own — on "Saturday Night Live," as "SNL" vets Jane Curtin and Laraine Newman recounted in 2021 (via Decider). Murray also infamously clashed with his longtime collaborator and friend Harold Ramis during the making of the 1993 comedy "Groundhog Day" (which Ramis directed), so much so that it shattered their personal and working relationships until they reconciled shortly before Ramis' death in 2014. Then, some years later, Murray was confronted by Lucy Liu during filming on the 2000 "Charlie's Angels" movie after making what Liu has described as "inexcusable and unacceptable" comments about her (via Page Six).

Why We Don't Talk About Bill Murray

Why, then, has Murray avoided a public reckoning over his misconduct for so long? It may have to do with the way people talk about him, with Oz having described Murray as "very unstructured" in a 2021 interview with Rolling Stone. More often than not, though, his behavior has been presented and otherwise normalized by his peers as being part of what makes him a comedic force of nature. As noted by The Guardian, Murray's "Ghostbusters" co-star Dan Akroyd even nicknamed him "The Murricane" due to his erratic mood swings when they worked together.

In a way, Murray's career has been an example of life imitating art. As with Bob Wiley and other characters he's played over the years, Murray has long managed to charm his way out of being taken to task for saying or doing problematic (if not downright harmful or toxic) things that other people rightly wouldn't be allowed to get away with in real-life. Frankly, though, it's high past time we stopped letting Murray off the hook, no matter how much he continues to keep us entertained with his on-screen antics.

Dreyfuss, for his part, has said that he would like nothing more than to simply bury the hatchet with Murray after their encounter on the "What About Bob?" set. As he told CBS News in 2020:

"I haven't done it with Bill. And I will. We've never crossed paths. And one day I will write him a note and say, 'As far as I'm concerned, it's over.'"