Bill Murray Had To Invent His Entire Tootsie Role

"Tootsie" is the story of Michael Dorsey (Dustin Hoffman), an arrogant, out-of-work actor no one will hire because he is so difficult to work with. His roommate, Jeff (Bill Murray), has written a play that Dorsey believes will revitalize his acting career, but neither has any money to make it. To raise the money, Dorsey dresses up as a woman and auditions for a corny soap opera. Things get interesting and hilarious when he actually lands the role and becomes Dorothy Michaels.

While "Tootsie" is a comedy, the story wouldn't work if it wandered into absurdity, because we have to connect with Michael. We need to root for him, care for him, and cheer when he gets the girl at the end of the movie. These things can't happen if we don't take the film seriously and understand Michael's feelings about his time as Dorothy. This is where Murray's character comes in.

While dressing up as Dorothy begins as a selfish act for money, we watch Michael learn to care about her and others, which pulls the audience over to his side. In a conversation with his friend, Jeff, Michael admits he wishes he could do something to make Dorothy "prettier" because she "deserves it." He also slowly reveals his growing feelings for Julie through talks with Jeff. We grow to like and care about Michael through these conversations with his friend. 

Murray plays an important part in the finished film, but his character wasn't even in the original screenplay. Hoffman's star power allowed for a lot of creative freedom on set, and the chemistry the two actors shared helped create the character the story needed. 

'Sometimes, it looks pretty grim'

Like Michael Dorsey, Dustin Hoffman was difficult to work with on the set of "Tootsie," which led to a lot of tension with director Sydney Pollack. In an interview on The View, Murray smiled and chuckled as he touched on the friction between Hoffman and Pollack:

"Dustin and Sydney had this crazy relationship where Dustin would be very, very demanding. And, you know, as an actor, I knew ... Dustin was acting a lot of the time, but it was really fun to be a fly on the wall and watch these two heavyweights go after it."

While Murray believed Hoffman was acting during these arguments, Pollack had a very different interpretation of the disagreements. At times, the director even worried that the feuds might lead to the shutting down of production. While making the film, Pollack sat down for an interview, where he spoke about the squabbles between himself and the actor:

"Dustin and I are both trying very hard and we occasionally are working at cross purposes. Sometimes, it looks pretty grim. Sometimes, it looks like we're going to shut down and quit ... Legally, I have control over the picture, but that's only legally ... You can't make an actor do anything ... you can't make him do a scene my way if he doesn't believe in it ... I can't direct a scene that I don't believe in either. Both things have happened, where he just doesn't want to do it the way I want it to be done and I refuse to do it the way he would prefer it to be done. And then, we go in his trailer or my trailer, and scream and each other for an hour. And finally, come out and do it my way."

Pollack claimed he usually won the fights between himself and Hoffman, but I'm not sure that's true. Actors have a lot of pull on sets, especially big stars like Hoffman because they are the face of the whole operation. If the main actor is replaced, you have to reshoot everything. If a director is replaced, it just means the crew has to get used to a new face and boss, and most audiences will never know. In fact, before Pollack, Hoffman had already hired and fired two directors. So, he had a lot of leverage on the set of "Tootsie," which caused issues for Pollack, but would work in Murray's favor.

'Whatever we thought was funny'

Hoffman's demanding personality may have been a hindrance for Pollack, but it helped his co-star create an entire character.

In that same interview with The View, Murray explained how Hoffman helped him with his role. His character, Jeff, wasn't in the original script and was only later suggested by Elaine May, an uncredited writer on the film. She thought the audience needed a character to help their viewpoint, one who would reveal Michael's softer, more appealing side throughout the movie. 

On The View, Murray credited Hoffman with helping him find Jeff:

"Dustin Hoffman was really, really generous as an actor, to me ... Every time we got to work, we just got to do whatever we thought was funny."

Hoffman's pull on the film allowed Murray a lot of room, and time, to explore his character, which led to the two improvising a lot of the scenes we see in the movie. Improv can be tricky on film sets because it can cost a lot of time. In the film world, that old saying is true, time is money, especially when shooting on actual film stock, as "Tootsie" did. Hoffman's ability to demand this time and space for Murray to find his character, turned out to be a huge success for the movie. 

Hoffman and Murray have some of the funniest scenes in the film, which is impressive when you know that the actors created them from scratch, but Jeff had a much bigger purpose. Without Murray's character, we don't care as much about Michael or his journey, and the story of the film would not have been as interesting or successful. 

The greatest film ever made?

"Tootsie" was released in 1982, and it was a massive hit at the box office. The film earned $177 million domestically back in 1982, and it only cost $21 million to make. Along with being a financial success, people genuinely liked the movie — even actors, who we already know can be difficult to please. In 2015, Time Out asked 70 actors for their top ten favorite films, and "Tootsie" came out on top, beating greats like, "The Godfather" and "Taxi Driver."

Who would have called that? Well, Bill Freakin' Murray, of course.

In an interview with GQ, Murray smiled as he remembered interrupting an argument between Hoffman and Pollack and bringing their attention back to the great film they were making:

"I left the movie and I came back to visit, like, a couple of weeks later, and, there they were, they were fighting at it all over again ... I was like, 'you don't even know how good this movie is. You guys are just a couple of bozos. This is so good' ... Even when they're fighting, you look at the scene and go, this is amazing. This is amazing."

"Tootsie" was nominated for 10 Oscars. Hoffman and Pollack both received nominations for their work on the film, but neither won. I still like to imagine both of them on stage, fighting over a golden statue, with Bill Murray laughing from the audience.