"I feel very excited. I'm very happy to be alive. I feel like a groundhog."

Comic acting maestro Bill Murray is back in his first major movie role since 2005 with the family adventure 'City of Ember,' as the corrupt mayor of an underground metropolis built to save humanity from apocalypse.

Though the film resembles neither his earlier broad comedies like 'Caddyshack' nor his more recent, and more nuanced, work like 'Lost in Translation,' it contains plenty of classic wry Murray moments. In a revealing interview, Murray talks about finding his funny again, when he thought of retiring, which of his hits might get a new sequel ... and why he's just happy to be alive.


12 Questions With Bill Murray

    Comic acting maestro Bill Murray is back in his first major movie role since 2005 with the family adventure 'City of Ember,' as the corrupt mayor of an underground metropolis built to save humanity from apocalypse.

    Though the film resembles neither his earlier broad comedies like 'Caddyshack' nor his more recent, and more nuanced, work like 'Lost in Translation,' it contains plenty of classic wry Murray moments. In a revealing interview, Murray talks about finding his funny again, when he thought of retiring, which of his hits might get a new sequel ... and why he's just happy to be alive. -- By Kevin Polowy

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    1. What attracted you to 'City of Ember,' aside from that awesome wardrobe?

    Well, the wardrobe's the best I've ever seen in a movie. And the set, too, is the greatest set I've ever worked on. The largest thing I've ever been a part of, just massive and enormous. Those were just bonuses, I wasn't expecting those going in. I saw the drawings of the costumes [by Ruth Meyers], and I went, 'Wow this is gonna be really cool.' But the first thing was the script was written by Caroline Thompson, who's one of the writers I've always wanted to work with. She just has an unusual way of speaking. This is from a book, but to make that book come alive you really have to have a talented writer, and she did it really well.

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    2. With 'Space Jam,' 'Garfield' and now 'Ember,' you've done a fair share of family-oriented movies. What do you enjoy about making them?

    I think it's challenging to be funny or entertaining without using any kind of hard-edged dialogue. You work on television, you have to be sort of polite like that as well. I don't think of it as family so much -- it's just a nice bonus, people will say, "Oh my kids liked your movie." In the old days all movies were family movies. 'It Happened One Night' was a family movie. But I feel like there's good karma if you make a family movie that's good enough to be replayed around the house. If people will either buy or rent your movie and show it, you've earned merit points for babysitting duty.

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    3. Is it challenging to work with younger actors?

    It is challenging. It can be really difficult. There are some child actors who we haven't seen anymore because I just happened to have links of chain that I was able to wrap around their ankles. But this girl Saoirse Ronan who's in this movie, she's not going to be a child actor forever but she's always going to have this childlike light. She's really my favorite child actor ever, maybe, and I've had some fun ones. But she's really wonderful, and she's going to last a long time. She's like Liz Taylor as a kid. She's got this beautiful way about her and you can't take your eyes off her. Completely natural, she's a ball.

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    4. If you were mayor of a city, what new laws would you enact?

    My first reaction is the parking meter thing has gotta be available. It's gotta be accessible. I think there should be a guy whose job it is to walk up and down the street and help people who are just over the limit. We should have one guy on each street doing that. It's good for employment, it keeps everyone feeling good about the town. And only when someone abuses it do you say, "OK now we gotta do something about it."

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    5. So no radical reforms?

    I think nametags would be good for a while. I think until everyone knows each other's names, we should all wear nametags. I always wanted to do that at parties. Just put nametags on people. We used to do that all the time at work when we worked at National Lampoon's radio. We had nametags that we made, but we had fake names, we invented new names everyday. I think that's OK too, as long you have something cool, like Bruno or Skip. And all you need is a piece of white tape.

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    6. Do you consider yourself a very political person?

    In terms of political process, no, I try not to. I've only campaigned for one person ever, practically. At various times I've thought, well my job is not to polarize or make a decision so much as to take my own politics into life and into my work. I don't really get out there and roar so much for people that often. But everyone's feeling a little more political this time. The way the world's gone the last stretch, the beginning of this century, it's been rough. So people are feeling a sense of obligation that they have to be a little more alert, a little more aware. That's a good thing, because even if you're just being alert and aware about politics, it'll spill over into your ordinary life.

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    7. Which film of yours do fans like to talk to you about the most?

    They talk about a lot of them. I'm surprised how many they talk about. They talk about 'Groundhog Day,' a lot of people liked 'Groundhog Day.' I get a lot of stuff about 'Caddyshack.' There are a number of people who talk about 'The Man Who Knew Too Little,' which is kind of an undiscovered movie that had just a beautiful premise and some really, really funny scenes in it. And they talk about 'What About Bob?' because everyone has some sort of hanger-on that shows up and runs around the house like that, whether it's a relative or a neighbor who just shows up and they can't get rid of.

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    8. Do you have a personal favorite?

    I don't really have a personal favorite. It's sort of Sophie's Choice, they're all your children and you can't really pick one. I think I've gotten better at my job though. The last film I made before this was 'Broken Flowers,' I thought that was as good as I could do. I really thought about stopping. I thought the combination of Jim Jarmusch's work as the director and whatever I could do as the actor, I didn't know if I could do any better. I thought maybe I should stop.

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    9. What are your thoughts about a possible new 'Ghostbusters' sequel?

    Well, I never got very excited about doing it again because we made a sequel to begin with, and once you make a sequel it's kind of like, the first cut is the deepest. But we did a videogame of it last summer, and I really got into it again. I really got into this Peter Venkman, who's a real nut. I saw the characters as being funny again, and the possibilities. And then I heard they hired these two writers from 'The Office' to write a screenplay, and I thought maybe that's all that it took was to get two people to write and get a whole fresh take on it and see. It'll be a clean start for all of us.

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