The movie’s over. The audience has laughed, cried, recoiled in horror at the bad behavior on display. But Bill Murray isn’t finished. The titular star of “St. Vincent” – instantly a hallmark role of his career – creaks open the screen door to his character’s pitiful backyard, headphones attached to a (yes!) portable cassette player, and starts singing along to Bob Dylan’s “Shelter From the Storm.”
For the next five minutes, as the credits roll for this feel-good comedy about a feel-bad guy, Murray fools around with a garden hose and echoes the Dylan verse on the sound track. How “beauty walks the razor’s edge,” how “nothing really matters much, it’s doom alone that counts.”
He’s wearing droopy camo cargo shorts and poking around for a cigarette. And he’s sublime.
In “St. Vincent,” opening in select theaters Friday, Murray is Vincent de Van Nuys, a loner, a crank, a boozer, a gambler, a guy who pays a Russian stripper to come over to the house, and who reluctantly becomes baby sitter to a kid – Jaeden Lieberher – who moves in next door. The blotto Brooklynite takes the boy to the track, to his favorite bar. Melissa McCarthy plays the overtaxed mom; Naomi Watts is the aforementioned pole dancer from Putin land. Chris O’Dowd and Terrence Howard also star.
It was Murray’s idea to use the Dylan tune in the movie. It was director Ted Melfi’s to shoot Murray, in character, singing along to the “Blood on the Tracks” classic as the credits roll.
“It’s a beautiful way to end the movie,” Murray says, camped in a hotel suite the day after “St. Vincent’s” gala premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival last month. “That song has always puzzled me. It comes alive.”
Which leads Murray to consider Dylan’s place in the firmament, then and now. Kind of a god, yes, but kind of allowed to go where he pleases, too.
“I hope he gets some recognition,” he deadpans. “It’s crazy. He’s probably happy-sad about it. I’m sure he thinks” – here he goes into a dead-on Dylan impression – “‘How can they be in love with Miley Cyrus when I’m doing this amazing work?’
“There’s some voice in him that gets to say that, but at the same time, it means he’s free from that kind of lunacy to do what he does. You know, he’s a private cat. He has borders. … I don’t know how he keeps making music.”
Murray – the knucklehead god of “Meatballs,” “Caddyshack” and “Ghostbusters,” the smug weatherman living out the comic existential nightmare of “Groundhog Day,” the melancholy star adrift in Tokyo in “Lost in Translation,” Herman Blume in “Rushmore” – is a private cat, too. With borders.
Originally from Chicago and one of the first “Saturday Night Live” alums to launch a movie career, Murray, 64, is famous for not showing up for appointments – not just with the media, but with writers, actors, directors who want to work with him. He moved to Paris for a couple of years. He goes back to his home in Sullivan’s Island, S.C., near Charleston, and spends time with his sons (he has six – two from his first marriage, four from his second, which ended in divorce in 2008).
He wanders. Not to pry, but can he say why?
“Well, whatever this life has become, or whatever my job is, there’s this kind of odd celebrity aspect,” he says, disarmingly happy to explain himself. “Because you are famous people ask you to do things. Sometimes it’s nice, but usually it’s just, ‘Well, why don’t you write a letter to my mother because I haven’t gotten around to that.’ … Wait a minute, you want me to do what?
“I’m sure that’s a fine thing. It’s wonderful that you want to write your mother and I’m sure I could write a good letter to your mother, but … it’s not what I’m sort of on the planet for.”
Murray, considering a jar of jelly beans on the table in front of him, goes on.
“I’m not going to bitch about being a celebrity, because I hate people that do that. It’s my thing and I’ll deal with it and I’m not going to complain about it, but I live my life somehow with it.
“But I had the experience of going to Morocco – I just made this movie in Morocco, ‘Rock the Casbah’ – and I don’t have a very professional phone. It just didn’t work in Morocco. So I didn’t get any messages, and I’m not an Internet guy, so all those people that wanted me for three whole months, you know, nothing. It was great. I got to just live without any of that. I got to experience Morocco, which is fantastic. … I got to do this job, I got to see things, I got to be just in my own life – my life, really mine.
“So everyone needs to get away from their job, and get away from the sort of automatic social things that drag you down. They’re not all necessary. You need to be part of life, and society, and everything, and you have to have relationships. But getting away – you know, it relieves other people of you as a burden, too.
“Anyway, getting away from the world – well, not the world, but getting away from the people that are looking for you to do things – is dreamy.”
Murray’s performance in “St. Vincent” – in a part that may or may not have been offered first to Jack Nicholson, depending on whom you talk to – walks the line between the goofball comedies of Murray’s early filmography and the more sober, stretchy stuff he’s been trying out since 1984’s adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham’s “The Razor’s Edge.”
Two years ago, Murray even managed to pull off the thoughtful and affecting portrayal of FDR – immersed in an affair, stricken with polio, his nation on the brink of war – in “Hyde Park on Hudson.” He got a Golden Globe best actor nomination for it, and some folks thought he should have had an Oscar nomination, too.
“People always say, ‘Oh, yeah, Jerry Lewis wants to do Shakespeare, comedians want to be serious,’” Murray says, thinking about “funny movies” vs. the weightier stuff.
“I’d done funny movies, but at Second City” – the renowned Chicago proving ground and improv theater – “what I learned was that to be funny, you’ve got to be able to play straight. So it wasn’t like a big thing for me. It was a big thing for other people. That’s their problem, that they had it in their minds that I could only do funny.”
In “St. Vincent,” Murray does funny, he does sad, and he does Bob Dylan. Give the guy a smoke.