But the actor has a serious side, as well, and has shown it off most notably in movies like 'The Razor's Edge' and 'Lost in Translation.' In fact, even his comedic roles had bite and a certain pathos to them: Just remember his character Phil Connors in 'Groundhog Day,' who had us laughing even as we felt his frustration at being trapped in the same, mindless day, over and over again.
In the new indie 'Get Low' (in theaters July 30), Murray plays a character well suited to both his comedic and dramatic talents: funeral home director Frank Quinn, who's called into action when ornery hermit Felix Bush (Robert Duvall) wants to plan his own funeral party -- while he's still alive.
In town for the Tribeca Film Festival this past April, Murray shared his thoughts on regret, Hunter S. Thompson's funeral, his favorite New York City movie (it rhymes with 'Mostbusters'), and all those rumors about 'Ghostbusters 3' -- all before giving us a demonstration on Egoscue, his new stretching/exercise regimen of choice. But that's a story for another day.
How would you sell your movie, 'Get Low'?
They're selling this movie as a comedy, which I think is correct. There's a lot of laughs in this movie. Far more than you would think. I really enjoyed it ... It's really, really funny, but then on top of it you get this unbelievable turn by Robert Duvall at the end of the movie that's breathtaking. I've never seen an audience so quiet in a movie theater after laughing hard. It's really ... it's a unique film. It's really good. [The studio thinks] it's going to be like, you know, 'Driving Miss Daisy' or something.
At the end of the movie, Robert Duvall gives this speech about the big regret he has in his life. If you were in a similar position, would you make that one big speech? What would you say?
If you're a real person, you get down on your knees sort of figuratively at night, and you see the mistakes of your life. And you have to cop to them. You have to go like, "Well, if I'd done that ..." You have to understand cause and effect: "If I'd done that this, if I hadn't done that, this would have happened, if I'd done this, this would have happened. I caused a lot of pain when I did this, I received a lot of pain when this happened." You know, you have remorse, so his remorse was really just so powerful, but he couldn't express it until the very end of his life -- he felt like his penance was keeping it inside him and feeling all that pain, and I think that's not uncommon.
At the end of 'Zombieland,' you say 'Garfield' was your biggest regret. You're just like Robert Duvall!
[laughs] Yeah, that whole thing ... That was pretty good. That was certainly more than I'd bargained for. It was certainly more than I'd bargained for.
If you were going to plan your own funeral like Robert Duvall's character does in the movie, how would you like to go out?
Well, I don't think I'm quite ready yet. There are some people that are ready earlier than others. Like, I knew Hunter Thompson -- he was a friend -- and I remember when he did this crazy thing that they actually videotaped, he and Ralph Steadman going into an undertaker talking about this funeral they had planned, and he wanted to blow his ashes out of a double-thumbed fist built up on a stainless steel tower 150 feet high. And they were all laughing about it ... and damned if it didn't happen. That is his final funeral, [Hunter S. Thompson's] ashes were blasted out of the top of this 150-foot [tower] and showered all the people at the party. And it was the best funeral I've ever been to in my life. The funniest men, the most beautiful women, all the women he'd ever dated in his life showed up and that was considerable.
His wake was another enormous, great thing, too, where people got up and told stories about him for about 40 minutes a pop and then they'd take a break and go drink and smoke and then they'd go do it all over again. It lasted for many hours and the funeral itself was a fantastic party. I ended up swimming in a pool in a neighbor's house about two miles down the road somewhere between midnight and dawn. It was a lot of fun. It was that kind of night.
Is that what you'd want?
That's the standard. It's not enough to have a party and a band, a marching band or a New Orleans band or something. You have to think about what would be, what would really cinch it, what would put a bow on your life ... The thing is, if you live too long, no one knows you. You don't have any friends there, there's no friends anymore. I keep meeting people that are very old and they go, "You know, I went on back to my hometown, and there's no one there that knew me." There's nobody left. They're all dead. So if you live a long life, you outlive your peers, you outlive everyone. No one really appreciates you because they don't know what you did, you know.
Might as well have your funeral while you're alive, like Duvall's character does.
Well, I think it's really not a terrible idea if you have a funeral party while you're alive, and just get the memoriums so you can hear them. I really think there's something to that Persian custom, someone getting up and saying, "That guy was a real rat" -- and not that he was a total rat, but just point out all the terrible things you did, all the wrong things you did. "I remember when he did this, I remember when she did that," and you hear all that stuff and that's supposed to be intended to be a reminder for other people like, "Hey, this is your life, and these choices are real that you make, and you have to be responsible."
Since we're in New York, what's your favorite thing about the city?
My favorite thing about New York is the people, because I think they're misunderstood. I don't think people realize how kind New York people are. The drivers are far more considerate, they're just very aggressive. But I think the people here, came here -- they say if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere, and it's true -- they came here because this is the Big Apple and ... they came here at the top of their game to bring what they had to the big pot. ... Every year you see a new crop of people thinking they got it coming into town. You see them. They come in in the fall and you can see it and it's amazing to walk down the street, you go, "New, new, new, new." You can spot 'em and they come in and they think, well, they got it, they don't, and it's exciting. It's exciting. It's a cycle of life and this is the place where it happens. It's sort of a crucible.
What's your favorite movie set in New York?
'Ghostbusters.' Sure, why not? I was in it. It was great. There's a scene where Dan Aykroyd and Ernie Hudson drive across the Brooklyn Bridge and they go, "Judgment day." And that's the coolest scene in any movie that ever took place in New York. It's just wonderful to watch. And then they pull away and you see this big town in the background and these guys are heading right into the heart of the monster. What I really love about New York is that the first time I came, I think I came from the airport, and when you drive [from John F. Kennedy International Airport], there's a massive graveyard that you see just before, and there's New York. And I always say to people, those are the people that didn't make it [laughs]. They just threw them over here and then buried them.
Kind of related to that ... 'Ghostbusters 3'? Is there a timeline on that?
No, it's ridiculous. That's an absolutely, that's just a horrible rumor. It's like illegitimate children in Antarctica, it's ridiculous ... Mind you, we only made two, and the first one was still the better one, so another one wouldn't seem to be any better. The studio wants to make it because they can recreate the franchise and put new Ghostbusters in it. That's what it's about. It's about remaking.
More info on 'Get Low' | Watch the 'Get Low' trailer | Get showtimes & tickets