When thinking of the legend of Bill Murray, films like Ghostbusters, Caddyshack, and Lost in Translation come to mind.
The Bill Murray Stories: Life Lessons Learned from a Mythical Man, the 2018 documentary which was recently released on Netflix, tells a different story. The film evokes an approachable-but-eccentric celebrity who tends to pop up in the weirdest, most random places. Filmmaker Tommy Avallone directed and wrote this poetic paean to the extracurricular activities of Murray; a tale strung together with sporadic accounts from ordinary folks across the country showing the most wonderfully random run-ins with the entertainment icon. Whether it’s joining someone’s ball game at the park, photobombing wedding shots, crashing parties, to just showing up at a doorstep, Murray’s curiously arbitrary thrill-seeking exploits have become the stuff of legend, lending the film its Bigfoot-esque theme.
We tried to get to the bottom of these intriguing inclinations when we caught up with Avallone and company at SXSW last year. As he theorizes of Murray’s motivations, “Bill’s honestly intrigued by other people. He doesn’t want to go to the bar and talk about Wes Anderson movies or Ghostbusters or Scrooged. He honesty wants to know who are you [sic], what do you do and what makes you tick. He’s actually legit interested in people.” He adds that Murray “always loved the idea of play and the idea of just connecting with people and just kind of living in the moment, seeing where an adventure will take him.”
Producer Derrick Kunzer chalks it up to the humility of Murray, who he says will sometimes introduce himself to random people in the street. It’s a habit that producer/co-writer Max Paolucci doesn’t believe to be self-serving, stating, “There’s no moment where [Murray] is trying to use his celebrity, use his fame, use his wealth in any way.” Indeed, he explains that Murray doesn’t treat these encounters as if they are supposed to be big moments for ordinary people in a “Hi, I’m Bill, are you ready for your Bill Murray story?” manner. Paolucci adds, “He’s a normal guy and I think he really craves that, I think he really appreciates that.”
This inherent ability to interact and adapt is reflective in Murray’s career trajectory, going back to his time in the famed Second City improvisation troupe to his star-making Saturday Night Live television tenure. Indeed, amongst the alumni from SNL’s “Golden Age” first five years (1975-1980), the satirical schtick of Bill Murray – a second season addition – not only aced the test of time, but remains the most poignant to this day, having successfully transitioned to prestige projects and even Oscar-nominated glory in 2004 for Lost in Translation. Yet, despite his array of comedy classics – Caddyshack, Meatballs, Stripes, Ghostbusters and Wes Anderson films like Rushmore to a memorable undead cameo in Zombieland to name a scant few – the DNA of his brand of humor remains recognizable, despite four decades of clear evolution.
Avallone further muses, “I think being the celebrity kind of affords him to get into certain parties, but also is a disadvantage where it’s almost harder to blend in.” He points out a recurring theme amongst the accounted stories, claiming that Murray doesn’t seem out there to attract attention so much as he shows up at places purely just to hang out. It’s a habit he may have formed during his time in Second City; an ensemble instinct to make someone else look good.
“He’s a good supporting character in anyone’s story,” the director fondly observes.
The Bill Murray Stories: Life Lessons Learned from a Mythical Man is available to stream on Netflix for those curious enough delve into the myth of Murray.