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The Life Aquatic - Working with Bill is a bit like being on a high diving board and not knowing quite how deep the water is that you're jumping into



Feature by: Jack Foley

BILL Murray is rightly regarded as a comic genius; someone who is seldom unable to elicit a laugh from people no matter how mundane the material he is working with.

Hilarious turns in comedies such as Caddyshack and Stripes first brought him to the attention, before he really found his feet in timeless comedies such as Ghostbusters and Groundhog Day.

Of late, he seems to be going from strength to strength, appearing in the Oscar-nominated Lost in Translation, as well as the quirky, character-driven comedies of Wes Anderson, such as Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums.

His latest collaboration marks Anderson's most ambitious project yet, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, and finds Murray taking centre stage as the jaded oceanographer and film-maker, Steve Zissou, who is approaching a mid-life crisis.

When his best friend and partner is killed by a mysterious jaguar shark on their last adventure, Zissou resolves to track down and kill the beast, enlisting the help of his fellow crew members to help him enact revenge.

But he also has to contend with the arrival of a young man, Ned (Owen Wilson), who claims to be his son, and the presence of a feisty journalist (Cate Blanchett), who seems intent on destroying the remnants of his floundering reputation.

The ensuing mix of comedy and tragedy provides Murray with the perfect platform for his deadpan genius and is another career high in a CV packed with them.

Needless to say, both director, Anderson, and co-star, Angelica Huston, found plenty to say about him when promoting the film at a recent London press conference.

"Working with Bill is a bit like being on a high diving board and not knowing quite how deep the water is that you're jumping into," explained Huston.

"There are moments with Bill where your trailer door will fly open at 7am and he'll come in with an arm-load of flowers and start your coffee maker and you'll feel like he really truly loves you, and then there'll be another day where he invites the entire cast and crew to dinner but not you! And you'll wonder if this has anything to do with, I don't know, halitosis!

"And so it's a little bit hard to negotiate sometimes that idea, because I think most actors like to be liked.

"But the thing about Bill is, I think, that his particular brand of intelligence requires a certain comeback, so sometimes when I've felt myself getting a bit trepidatious around him, I think he can kind of run over you like a steamroller; I think he likes you to come back at him and I felt that on the days where I did kind of come back at him he kind of liked me better than the other days.

"Sso I find him something of a man of mystery, but I find him also extremely charming and really smart."

Anderson, too, feels a certain kind of awe whenever he is around Murray, explaining still further:

"He's a very powerful force and you will feel it - what his mood is and all that kind of stuff.

"And there is also something sort of heroic about him, too, because he's someone who can, for instance, we can be up here saying whatever we've got to say and we may be trying very hard to be interesting, but if he happened to be standing in the back of the room it'd be hard for us to keeping everyone looking at us, because he'd be doing little things with his face and you would laugh because he can sort of sweep everyone up.

"And I think that's part of what makes him a star. I remember going to a Sheryl Crow concert in Central Park, which Bill introduced.

"Afterwards, I was walking with him to the parking garage, and we walked across Fifth Avenue and like five or six people kind of followed and then I saw more people gathering as we were walking.

"Every street we crossed there were people jaywalking diagonally and by the time we got to the parking garage there were like 40 people walking with Bill Murray across town and I had never seen anything like it in my life.

"And he was talking a little bit to each one and then they all waited while the guy got the car and brought it down, and then he waved as he drove off and left this crowd on the street.

"But the secret to his whole thing - or whatever that is - is that he's someone who is comfortable with that. There are some celebrities that would get really freaked out by that, but he's someone who can always think of something to say and can always think of something great to say. He has no insecurity about that."

Anderson actually wrote The Life Aquatic with Murray and Huston in mind, after noticing they had a terrific on-screen rapport during the scene they shared in The Royal Tenenbaums.

Yet the concept for the film has been around since he was at college, when Anderson wrote a brief description of the character, who is based on his love of Jacques Cousteau.

"I wrote a little short story when I was in college," he explains, "but it was actually one paragraph, which was a description of this character and Angelica's character and this ship, The Belafonte, and the sort of setting.

"But I didn't mean for it to be a movie, I was just trying to write a story and I never really got any further.

"It was actually Owen Wilson who kept bringing it up from time to time over the years and always reminding be about it and saying that I ought to think about it some more.

"And then I remember that day on The Royal Tenenbaums seeing Angelica and Bill together and thought this is it - you know, because all they had together was 35 seconds outside a bathroom door, but I thought there was a great kind of rapport between the two of them that seemed like it would be worth exploring."

Having been approached, however, both Huston and Murray leapt at the chance of working together and Huston has since gone on to hail Anderson as a genius.

She concluded: "I love working with Wes because he's very intelligent and also I think he's an author and I really like his sensibility.

"I think his films are really smart, I think they're really beautiful and the whole package appeals to me."

Audiences can judge for themselves when the movie opens in London on February 18 and nationwide on February 25.

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