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There’s something comforting about unstoppable director-actor duos. Scorsese has DiCaprio (and De Niro), Gunn has Rooker, and the Burton film without a gratuitous Depp appearance is rare. Seeing an actor work under the guidance of a capable director to create movie magic is delightful enough the first time, and it becomes more endearing with each successive film. The working relationship between national treasure Bill Murray and hipster icon Wes Anderson is no exception to the rule. The collaboration is beneficial to both parties, as both filmmaker and actor have received continued critical praise with each successive movie.
Murray first worked with the Isle Of Dogs director on his 1998 sophomore feature Rushmore, a gig which pulled down the Screen Actors Guild minimum of $9,000. According to biographer Matt Zoller Seitz, Murray cut a $25,000 check to cover a portion of Rushmore’s filming costs, a check that Anderson has since kept, uncashed.
Three years later, Murray came back to the Anderson-verse as neurologist Raleigh St. Clair in The Royal Tenenbaums. He didn’t live far from New York, where Tenenbaums was filmed, and found the script interesting enough to jump onto the project (a tactic that has given Murray the varied resume he has). But before Tenenbaums even began filming, Anderson had spoken to Murray about a project that would, in 2004, become The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou. It was here that Murray took on the role of Cousteau-esque Steve Zissou, one of his most recognizable parts onscreen. The easygoing but commanding presence that Bill Murray is said to have in real life easily translated to the big screen, with Anderson explaining to Rolling Stone, “Most of the time I just try to stand back and let him do what he does."
Anderson continued the laissez-faire approach towards Murray’s performance with 2007’s The Darjeeling Limited, in which Murray had a brief cameo as a businessman abroad. Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) was Anderson’s first animated feature, a film requiring a fair amount of improvisational voice work from the principal actors involved. For Bill, the Second City alum and Saturday Night Live veteran, this wasn’t a problem. Voice and sound recording was done in Connecticut, where Murray brought life to the sensible Mr. Badger, opposite George Clooney’s Mr. Fox.
Moonrise Kingdom (2012) featured Murray working alongside Frances McDormand as married couple Walt and Laura Bishop, parents of young Suzy. (They would go on to work together in the Olive Kitteridge miniseries two years later.) His signature deadpan delivery was a perfect complement to Anderson’s direct (to the point of harshness) character dialogue and the fantastical but perilous tone of the film.
The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) had Bill Murray again playing a smaller role, though it’s a critical one that acts as a lynchpin at the film’s climax. Murray makes the most of his limited screentime as the benevolent M. Ivan. According to his interview with Collider, Murray reciprocates Anderson’s trust and process:
He’s got a pretty good vision of what he’s doing. There wasn’t a whole hell of a lot that we shot that was wrong, because I mean, if you read the script, it’s pretty spare, you know? It’s pretty clean. The storytelling—he spends a lot of time and he’s obviously very specific about how he wants things to look and sound. So there’s not a lot of overage. He’s got a lot of tricky camera moves, so you shoot a lot of goofy takes, where the camera isn’t absolutely perfect, so you do it again. So that’s the only time—that’s the overage. That’s the extra time, is he takes a lot of time to get it perfect.
This time around in Isle Of Dogs, Murray is with a few other Anderson familiars (Edward Norton! Frances McDormand! Bob Balaban!), as well as a Murderer’s Row of talent providing voice work (Bryan Cranston! F. Murray Abraham! Jeff Goldblum! Ken Watanabe! Greta Gerwig!). If their previous body of work together is any indication, Wes Anderson and Bill Murray’s creative accord will make for a unique and enjoyable viewing experience.