At the San Diego Film Festival last weekend, Theodore Melfi gave one of the best Q&A's to ever be given, sharing with the audience the details of how he nabbed the elusive Bill Murray for St. Vincent—his debut feature film that only took him around four weeks to write. While he chatted about the origins of the story (it's inspired by members of his own family, including his young daughter) and sang the praises of the entire cast (especially Melissa McCarthy), the big stories of the night revolved around Murray. Melfi shared a conversation he had with Murray the night before shooting began, when the eccentric actor suddenly decided that he would be doing an accent for the movie. Check out the best stories below (they may be long, but they're worth it), as told verbatim by Melfi, and join us in hoping that Melfi will turn his meeting with Bill Murray into a movie itself:
Tracking Bill Murray Down Via the Secret 800 Number & Ted's Epic Memorial Day Weekend
Melfi: I think by now everyone knows that Bill Murray has an 800 number. He doesn't have a manager or an agent, he has an 800 number. It's not an urban legend. You can't reach him outside of calling that 800 number and his voice isn't on the 800 number, it's just a "You have reached SkyTel voicemail, press five to leave a message." I got the number from a friend of mine who produced Lost in Translation, Fred Roos […]. I thought, "I got an in." I call Fred and say, "Fred, I need to get a hold of Bill." He goes, "I have an 800 number." So I just leave dozens and dozens of messages on the 800 number, not knowing if any message ever got to him and it's like Swingers, where you leave the message and you erase it and you start having an affair with this message machine.
Over the course of two months, I put in my calendar, "Call Bill. Call Bill. Call Bill." Finally, like, two or three weeks after leaving messages, [I thought], "I gotta find a better way," so I called his attorney, who's the only contact he has in Hollywood—he doesn't live in Hollywood […], he hates Hollywood. And so I call his attorney and I say, "David, I'm trying to get this script to Bill, I don't know what to do here." "Well, what number do you have?" "I have the 800 number." He goes, "Well, that's what I have."
Photo Courtesy of TWC
So, I just kept leaving messages and eventually two, three, four weeks pass by and [Bill] calls his attorney and says, "This guy keeps leaving me messages. Tell him to send me a letter. A one page letter and mail it to this post office box in Martha's Vineyard." So I write a Dear Bill letter and I think I spent six days on it 'cause it could only be one page, and I mail it to Martha's Vineyard and then a couple weeks later he calls his attorney again and says, "Okay, tell the guy that the letter's swell and to send me the script"—he said swell, he says words like that. And so we get a post office box in Nyack, New York now and so we snail mail a script […] and then two weeks after that [Bill randomly] calls the producer and he goes, "I never got that script." "Oh, okay Mr. Murray. Is there a better address?" And he goes, "Yeah yeah, FedEx it and send it to this house in South Carolina." So now we’ve been all over the world with Bill Murray.
[…] I'm driving down the road about two weeks after that and my phone rings—I was in the middle of a commercial job and it was a Wednesday, I'll never forget it 'cause I was up in Mulholland Hills [in Los Angeles]—and I go, "Hello?" And he goes, "Ted? It's Bill." "Bill?" "Yeah, Bill Murray." I go, "…Oh." "Is this a good time?" I go, "Yeah [laughs], it's a great time." I pull over and he says, "Listen, I got your script, I read it, I think it's really great and you know…who are you? I didn't Google you or anything—I don't Google people—so tell me about yourself."
GIF Courtesy of TWC
I went on my 20 minute spiel to tell him who I was and at the end of it he goes, "Okay, this sounds good. Do you want to meet and have a coffee?" And I said, "Yeah!" And he goes, "How about tomorrow?" I said, "Maybe tomorrow night..." He goes, "In New York." "No, I'm in LA. I'm working tomorrow, I can’t get to New York." He goes, "Okay…how about Friday?" I said, "Yeah! I can get there Friday." He goes, "No. In Cannes." I said, "Bill, I can't get to Cannes Friday, I'd have to leave now." He goes, "Oh, okay. Well, it's gonna be a good time […]. Alright don't worry about." I wish this was a joke, but it's not a joke. I remember the dialogue like…verbatim. And then he goes, "I'll call you in a couple weeks," and he hangs up and I thought, "I have just ruined my entire life. I just had Bill Murray on the phone, he exists, he's alive."
And so I tortured myself for two weeks and people are sending me pictures and he's on the red carpet at Cannes. It was [for] Moonrise Kingdom. Two weeks later, I'm so stressed out, I throw my back completely out and I'm lying in bed on Memorial Day weekend on a Sunday and I get a text, "Ted, it's Bill. Can you meet me at LAX? In an hour." I said, "Yes. I'll be there in an hour." And he texts me back, "United Airlines. Baggage claim." I take two vicodin, put on a back brace […] and I drive down to LAX. It's dead empty at 8 a.m. on Memorial Day weekend and I go into baggage claim and Bill comes walking down the causeway with a golf bag that looks like a tuba case; it's yellow, pleather.
Photo Courtesy of TWC
He goes, "Ted? It's Bill." I go, "Yes…I know." "Let's go for a drive. You wanna go for a drive, talk about the script?" So we get in this town car with this driver and I have no idea where we're going. He goes, "You hungry?" I said, "Yeah." "I'm gonna stop at In'N'Out Burger." I say, "Okay. I'm vegan." He goes, "Well, what are you gonna have?" I said, "I'm gonna have probably a grilled cheese." He goes, "Well, that's not vegan." I said, "Well, what else can I have?" He said, "Well, that's a terrible life. Terrible." And so we got four grilled cheeses. He got grilled cheese too 'cause he wanted to be polite; he actually ended up really liking them.
And we talked about the script—he had it in his attaché case, it was all dog-eared—for three hours. We're driving […] and I don't really know where we were except the next time I look up we're on the Pechanga Indian Reservation Casino—again, this is not a joke—and he's pointing out taco stands and all of a sudden we're on the back nine of a golf course…in like Temecula. I was lost. And we pull up to the back nine of a house and a horse trots by and he has an avocado tree and a Tangelo grove and he has a house there—he has a lot of houses.
GIF Courtesy of TWC
And we tour through his house and he walks me outside and he goes, "Listen. I think this is great, I think you're okay, so…do you want to do the movie?" I said, "Yeah, Bill, I want to do the movie really bad." He goes, "Do you want to do it with me?" I said, "Yes! I want to do it with you." He goes, "Okay, let's do it. Let's do the movie." I said, "Bill, that's fantastic, but just one thing, please, if you don't mind. Could you just tell someone other than me that this whole thing happened? 'Cause I can't go back to the studio and say, 'Listen, Bill said yes. In the back of a town car. Eating grilled cheese sandwiches.' No one's gonna buy it." And he goes, "What? Don't worry about the business. Don't let them stress you out." And he gave the driver, like $200 and said, "Take him home." And that was my nine hour adventure with Bill Murray over Memorial Day weekend.
Cameron Crowe Has a Kid to Thank For Landing Bill Murray
The first day they met I brought Jaeden [Lieberher] to set and I was like, "Bill, this is Jaeden." And Bill looks at him and goes, "Yeah," and he walks away. And Jaeden's like, "Does he like me?" "Well…that's just Bill." And then Bill [told me], "I don't wanna know the kid […] 'cause I'm not supposed to know the kid, so don't bring me the kid."
So, then they do that scene together in the house and Bill has the cat in his lap and I think that was one of their first scenes and after the scene Bill comes up to me and he goes, "The kid's good." I said, "I think so Bill, I think so." And then they became like best friends. Like…over the top best friends.
GIF Courtesy of TWC
In the middle of the shoot Jaeden leaves to go audition for a Cameron Crowe movie. He gets the movie, he comes back—he just went away for the weekend—and we're clapping for him and so excited for him, this kid's career is moving and he's only 11, you know? And Bill's like, "So, what'd you do?" "Well I went and I auditioned for this Cameron Crowe movie and I got it." And Bill goes, "Is the script any good?" And Jaeden goes, "I didn't read it. I just read my part." And Bill goes, "Oh…they sent it to me, you know. They want me to do a part." And Jaeden goes, "You should do it." And Bill goes, "You gonna do it?" "Yeah." "Okay, I'll go." So, that's how Bill Murray says yes. Cameron Crowe's calling Bill for…I don't know, [he] never returned [the calls], but Jaeden comes to set and says Bill should go.
So, Jaeden goes to Hawaii and nobody can get a hold of Bill and Cameron Crowe's freaked out—"Where's Bill? Where's Bill?"—and so they always ask Jaeden, "Where's Bill?" And he goes, "Hold on." And so Jaeden's texting Bill and Bill texts him back, "Tell them I'll be there. Tell them not to worry." So everything, every conduit for the entire production for a $50 million dollar movie is running through an 11-year-old to get Bill Murray there.