Bill Murray moved beyond the legacy of “Ghostbusters” long ago, but it still follows him around. At the Cannes Film Festival, the elusive deadpan legend showed up to support Jim Jarmusch’s “The Dead Don’t Die,” a zombie movie laced with social satire in which he plays one of the leads. In a few weeks, he’ll start production on Sofia Coppola’s New York-set “On the Rocks,” his first feature-length collaboration with the director since “Lost in Translation.” Since his Oscar-nominated turn in that beloved 2003 effort marked a turning point in his career, Murray’s profile has been more closely associated with edgier projects than the supernatural ‘80s franchise that Sony continues to reboot.
Murray famously declined to participate in another “Ghostbusters” movie for years, and his deal with the studio prevented the project from going forward without his consent, until he relinquished with a cameo in the all-female 2016 reboot. Now, director Jason Reitman — whose father, Ivan Reitman, directed the original — is set to direct a secretive “Ghostbusters” project scheduled for release next year, and Murray said in an interview from Cannes that he would have no problem participating in it.
“This franchise paid for my son’s college,” he said, as he sipped on coffee at the Carlton Hotel. “We made this thing. We are the caretakers of it. It’s a great thing and it was a really fun movie to make. It’s a real movie with some really funny stuff in it.” However, he added that his connection to the franchise was determined by his relationship to the actors in the original. “They’re wonderful people,” he said. “Danny [Ackroyd], Ernie [Hudson], Harold [Ramis], Rick Moranis, Annie Potts — they’re some of the coolest people and they had real careers. They treat people well. They really understand what it is to be a movie actor. It’s a complete collaboration.”
He drew a distinction between those personal connotations and the commercial history of the franchise. “The relationship you have with those people as collaborators is not necessarily the relationship I have with Sony,” he said. “For years, they said, ‘We can’t make another “Ghostbusters” because Bill Murray won’t change the deal he made in 1984.’ Well, no, I never did. And you know what? They made the movie. You’re the new guys, I’m the old guy. It was good enough for the other people so it’s going to have to be good enough for you.”
He chose to appear in the Paul Feig-directed “Ghostbusters” in 2016, he added, because of his friendship with co-stars Kate McKinnon and Melissa McCarthy, who share the actor’s roots in “Saturday Night Live” and made a similar jump to studio projects. “I was in that movie just because they asked me, and I knew if I said no, I was saying I didn’t support that movie,” he said. “I felt like, OK, I’m going to support them because I support them as people. So I did that one and I would do this next one.”
Murray’s disdain for Hollywood filmmaking has intensified in recent years as he has contemplated his currency as an actor. “The big studio movies now have their own computer-generated way of doing things and formula that they use,” he said. “I think they really do crunch the numbers of how many Twitter followers we have, and all that stuff. I think that actually is a factor, but since I have no Twitter followers, I’m not a bankable person in their world. I’m a big negative on a movie.”
At the same time, Murray added, he has taken a skeptical approach to the commercial system since the early days of his stardom. He laughed as he recalled an experience shooting the first “Ghostbusters” at Columbia Pictures in the early 1980s, shortly after Coca-Cola acquired the studio. “They came to set one day,” he said. “All of a sudden, there were like 25 guys from Coca-Cola hanging around in suits. You can smell people who don’t belong on sets, right? You can just smell ‘em. You can feel that there’s weird energies.” He leaned forward for dramatic effect. “You can almost smell the enemy,” he said, “because the enemy is distraction.”
He chuckled. “I just like to tell this story because it’s funny to me,” he continued. “So they came, and we’re in the middle of a scene. I immediately stopped what we were doing, and just sort of walked over and started talking to them. And I kept talking to them. It went on and on. It wasn’t two minutes, it wasn’t 10 minutes, it wasn’t half an hour. When we passed half an hour and got into the 40 minute range, they started going, ‘There’s 250 people watching us talk to this motherfucker. Maybe we should go.’ And they left, and never came back.”
Focus Features releases “The Dead Don’t Die” on June 14, 2019.