Bill Murray Became A Different Person For Where The Buffalo Roam

Bill Murray is a comedy legend, the kind of actor who's not only famous for the many incredible roles he's portrayed, but also for his sometimes affable, always eccentric personality. Murray has had an amazing career, starring in classics like "Caddyshack," "Ghostbusters," "Stripes," and "Tootsie" before going on to be a Wes Anderson regular and arthouse favorite. In an interview promoting that latest Anderson adventure, "The French Dispatch," Murray reflected on his long career and the moments that really stuck with him. 

Oddly enough, one of his films with the smallest cinematic legacy is one that almost derailed his career entirely. In 1980, Murray took on the role of gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson for the movie "Where the Buffalo Roam." The movie could never quite live up to the madness of Terry Gilliam's "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas," starring Johnny Depp as Thompson, but it had a profound impact on Murray. He and Thompson lived together for a bit and he became so immersed in the author's chaotic lifestyle that he even behaved like Thompson when he returned to perform on "Saturday Night Live." The two maintained a life-long friendship, even if their movie didn't work out so well.

Paging Dr. Gonzo

In "The French Dispatch," Murray plays fictional newspaper editor Arthur Howitzer Jr., but back in 1980, he portrayed one of the most influential journalists of all time. He explained why the film didn't entirely work, though it was appropriately chaotic:

"It had a first-time director [Art Linson, who went on to produce "Fight Club" and "Heat"] — first and last time director. And he didn't particularly know what he was doing and he thought cocaine was the way to solve scenes. So that didn't work out particularly well. But some of the stuff was amazing. Hunter came and lived with me while I was making the movie. So I was getting imbued with all this stuff. It was dense. And I would answer the phone as Hunter and take phone calls for him... I could talk like he talked."

Murray's bit of method acting worked as far as giving a convincing performance. He inhabits Thompson as thoroughly as Depp, and it's a compelling performance. The problem wasn't Murray's work, but rather the fact that he couldn't turn it off. He stayed in-character as a kind of mix of himself and Thompson, and almost ended his career when it was just starting. 

Fear and Loathing on Saturday Night Live

Murray spent so much time with Thompson that he had absorbed some of his more chaotic behaviors, and Thompson even started hanging out on the "Saturday Night Live" set. One of the SNL writers at the time shared their unease with having Thompson around:

"Hunter might be a good person to go skiing with, take a vacation with, do drugs with, that's fine. But he doesn't put up with any s*** and he has no interest in helping what's going on....Hunter Thompson is not the person you want on a comedy show."

While some cast members and writers felt that Murray's pals John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd leaving the show left him feeling alienated, other thought that Thompson was just a bad influence. He even showed up to writing meetings dressed like Thompson, complete with cigarette holder, sunglasses, and hat. After "Where the Buffalo Roam" hit theaters, Murray finally shed the Thompson persona and became much more pleasant to work with. The movie did poorly both critically and commercially, and soon no one mentioned Murray's "Hunter Thompson period." 

One friend from Saturday Night Live described their joy at having Murray "back":

"You don't walk up to someone who's just emerged from a coma and tell them how hard they've been to get along with."

Murray would go on to be one of SNL's most famous performers with a career that any comedian might envy, so it's a good thing he purged that Gonzo demon in 1980 and didn't let it ride him to the end.