The Truth About Wes Anderson And Bill Murray's Friendship

Hollywood is the home of many iconic actor-director pairings that have pushed the envelope of groundbreaking cinema. Bill Murray and Wes Anderson — longtime buddies, fellow oddballs, and film geniuses — are one such duo. Their relationship that began in 1998 with "Rushmore," when Anderson was still a fresh face in the film industry, has sustained for over two decades, with both men basking in each other's artistic glories. Their upcoming film, "Asteroid City," projected for release in 2022, would mark their tenth collaboration. 

So long has Murray hung around Anderson's sets that he has assumed the role as something of a chieftain leading the director's ensembles in every film — "I welcome others to come in, and I try to inform them of the rules of the place and how they have to behave," he said at Cannes. Anderson, for his part, once said in an interview, "I always write with Bill in mind" and that while shooting, "Most of the time I just try to stand back and let him do what he does." To put it simply, it just seems like Anderson and Murray get each other. 

This rare affinity between the two translates beautifully for film, resulting in widely acclaimed productions like "The Grand Budapest Hotel" and "The Royal Tenenbaums," to name a few. What goes into making their dynamic, on-screen and off, so successful? Read on as we bring you the best bits of the extraordinary friendship Bill Murray and Wes Anderson share.

Bill Murray and Wes Anderson have worked on 10 films together

Wes Anderson roped Bill Murray into his orbit almost as soon as he stepped foot into filmmaking and, needless to say, the relationship — which has been going strong for over two decades — has proved to be mutually beneficial. Save one (Anderson's debut, "Bottle Rocket"), Murray has appeared in all the zany worlds Anderson has created for the screen — including two animated ones in "Fantastic Mr. Fox" and "Isle of Dogs." Tallying up from their first project together ("Rushmore" in 1998) to their upcoming title ("Asteroid City," as confirmed by Variety), Murray and Anderson's collab count has hit a perfect 10!

Anderson's films invariably boast starry ensemble casts — of which old hands like Tilda Swinton and Anjelica Huston are reputable members — but the one actor whose presence he seems to truly relish is Murray's, no matter how fleeting. About "The Grand Budapest Hotel," for instance, Anderson said, "Bill's role is a small part — but it's very important. ... I decided I wanted to save Bill for this very quick but critical secret mission at the climax of the story." When asked what it was that kept drawing him to Anderson's films, Murray joked, "We are promised very long hours and low wages. And stale bread. That's pretty much it," as quoted by Esquire. "But you get to see the world, and see Wes live this wonderful, magical life, where his dreamscape comes true."

They hadn't met before their first film together

Bill Murray and Wes Anderson probably didn't know it, but at the time of their meeting, the tectonic plates were shifting and history was being made to give way to what would go on to become one of the most thrilling actor-director pairings in Hollywood. The legend is that Anderson, then a 20-something director only starting out in the industry, had already pursued Murray for a role in his debut outing "Bottle Rocket" in 1996, but to no avail (via The Daily Beast). Their first official interaction happened after Murray was sent the script for Anderson's second film, "Rushmore." Murray told Collider, "When I read the script, I knew this was a guy who knew exactly what he was gonna do." 

Picking up on that thread, Anderson told Rolling Stone, "One day I was in a Disney executive's office, and they say Bill Murray is on the line; I had no idea how he even knew I was there." This was reportedly within the week of Murray having received the script. When the two met in person in Los Angeles, before shooting for "Rushmore" began, Anderson recalled that they "ended up having some drinks at the bar downstairs, and Bill took the place over and started dancing." Murray later even took his teammates out for steak. Anderson calls him "the godfather of that film." Three years later, the duo regrouped for "The Royal Tenenbaums" — and the rest, as they say, is history.

Wes Anderson was a little scared of Bill Murray at first

It's safe to say that Bill Murray has commanded a daunting demeanor for the better part of his career. Notwithstanding his genius on screen, the 71-year-old has earned a bit of a reputation for not always being the easiest actor to work with. Murray's longtime buddy and close collaborator Harold Ramis, who directed him in the 1993 film "Groundhog Day," famously told The New Yorker, "At times, Bill was just really irrationally mean and unavailable; he was constantly late on set." Given the legendary tales around Murray's working style, it was only understandable what Anderson's initial impressions about him were.

In an interview with Independent, the filmmaker admitted that he was "terrified" of Murray before the two met. "If you're a shy person, there are parts of it where it's a little scary," he said. As per The Daily Beast, Anderson was careful around Murray at the beginning of their time on the set of their first film, "Rushmore," instructing the veteran actor in cautious whispers. However, Murray kindly acceded authority to Anderson, and even mingled well with the rest of the cast and crew. While admitting to Esquire that he has a "problem with obedience," Murray noted that several films hence, he has caught the pitch of Anderson's style — "you just have to relax and be part of the chemical process." 

Bill Murray feels Wes Anderson has validated his career

With over four decades of film work behind him, Bill Murray is nothing short of an industry giant. And yet, the actor, who only began working with Wes Anderson halfway through his screen journey — starting with "Rushmore" in 1998 — feels the auteur figures among the handful of people who have substantiated his career. Murray told iNews, "They've sort of validated my career in a way, the fact that these great directors keep calling me up every once in a while," pinpointing frequent collaborators Anderson, Jim Jarmusch, and Sofia Coppola. That these ace filmmakers are in his orbit is assurance enough for Murray that he will have work. "I mean if you did nine movies with Wes Anderson ... people will call that a career." 

In an interview with "Today," Murray said he gave an "automatic yes" every time Anderson pitched a film to him. "By this time, he just sends a message that says, 'Will you be available in the first week in February?' That's all. It's like Mission Impossible, if you choose to accept." Anderson revealed to Rolling Stone that he always writes with Murray in mind, adding, "The great thing about Bill as a leading man is that he's just a 'guy,' but he's got such a presence in real life — and it translates into what attracts people to him on screen." 

Wes Anderson claims he can always rely on Bill Murray

It wasn't without good reason that Bill Murray once held status as 'The Murricane' of Hollywood. The 71-year-old's temperament — of putting off commitment or just generally being unreachable — is notoriously part of the Murray myth. (His "Ghostbusters" director Ivan Reitman told Vanity Fair his nickname perfectly summed him up.) But Wes Anderson, for his part, has managed to cause a dent in that age-old image owing to the high praise he has sung of his friend and constant collaborator. "Even with just a few minutes of screen time, he truly steps right up to it and is someone that I can always rely on," Anderson told Rolling Stone when recalling Murray's off-center appearance in "The Grand Budapest Hotel." 

In fact, Murray appears to have been a rock for Anderson even behind the cameras. Matt Zoller Seitz, in his book "The Wes Anderson Collection," claimed that not only did Murray take minimum pay for "Rushmore" (his first film with Anderson), but he also wrote the director a sizeable check for renting out a helicopter for a sequence that ultimately didn't make it into the film (via Vulture). In regards to his portrait of being a difficult man to work with, Murray told The Guardian that he "only got that reputation from people I didn't like working with, or people who didn't know how to work, or what work is," naming Anderson among the directors who "understand how you're supposed to treat people." 

There's just one Wes Anderson film Bill Murray hasn't watched

Bill Murray is a constant fixture in all the films Wes Anderson has made to date, barring one. "Bottle Rocket,"Anderson's debut outing as a director in 1996, is his only film that Murray has neither starred in nor watched. Nevertheless, it was Murray's first introduction to Anderson, which kicked off a successful collaboration between the duo that has lasted over a decade. "I kept getting these notes from my agent, who kept sending me cassettes of his first film, 'Bottle Rocket,'" Murray told Collider in 2021. "I probably have the largest collection of 'Bottle Rocket' of any man on the planet, and I still haven't seen the movie." 

Interestingly, Murray almost made it to the film's credit roll, if only it hadn't been for his travels. Robert Schnakenberg's "The Big Bad Book of Bill Murray," as quoted in The Washington Post, claims that "Murray was traveling the country in a Winnebago at the time the film was being cast and never saw the screenplay" of Anderson's "Bottle Rocket." If Anderson could've gotten through to Murray, the veteran would have been roped in to play Abe Henry in the film, a role that ultimately went to James Caan (via Mental Floss). This lesser-known nugget is part of a larger legend surrounding Murray and his notorious unreachability. Per People, Murray has no agents, and an automated 1-800 number is just about the only way for directors to get in touch with him.

The two have bunked together while shooting

Bill Murray and Wes Anderson's friendship transcends the run-of-the-mill professional alliance that many actors and directors share — to the extent that the two artists have even cohabited with each other during shoots. On Anderson's on-location film sets, many of the cast members apparently bunk together and spend a lot of time in each other's company, something the director apparently insists on (via iNews). 

Recalling his experience living with Anderson and the others while shooting "The Grand Budapest Hotel" in Saxony, Murray told Esquire that they "were all just in this hotel. The hotel was also our restaurant, and where we'd do prep and makeup." Jeff Goldblum further described it as "movie camp," telling Vulture, "Not only does [Wes] want to make something very particular and special, he wants to have the process itself as an art project." It sounds like a big party, honestly!

Anderson has said he likes to have his team lodge together — "like our own theater company" (via Vanity Fair). For instance, despite a swanky hotel being booked for the cast for "Moonrise Kingdom," Murray, Edward Norton, and Jason Schwartzman moved into an old house Anderson and a few crew members had shacked up in. Murray hasn't held back on gushing about the "shared humanity" that is fostered on Anderson's shoots. "If we can live together, we can work together. If we're living together as humans ... there's going to be more exchange of emotion and intelligence," he told iNews.

They have great mutual liking for each other

As true friends do, Bill Murray and Wes Anderson appear to share a mutual liking and respect, as is apparent in how highly each speaks of the other behind the scenes. Murray once, in fact, spelled it out in as many words, telling The Talks, "We had a good relationship, I felt like I was looking out for him and I still am. I like him, he's my friend." 

As for Anderson, he started off as a fan of the funnyman before their iconic collaboration began. The 53-year-old told Vanity Fair, "I love working with him, and I think he has fun, too. There's nobody better to have on a movie set than Bill Murray." 

By virtue of their decades-long companionship, Murray — to the effect of a proud parent — has often reflected on Anderson's growth. "I like the way the showman has rounded out. I knew him when he was just nobody practically, just a child out of Texas. Just a kid with a saddle and a set of spurs. And now he's just rolling," Searchlight Pictures quoted Murray saying. At times, the two connect outside cinematic grounds too, though Anderson told Timeout that Murray "leads an international life, and we don't know all the aspects of it. Sometimes he's off the radar for a little while and then surfaces."

Bill Murray once defended Wes Anderson against an abusive co-star

Bill Murray can't exactly be called the torchbearer of non-violence, given the history of allegations on and off film sets that precedes him (as per Los Angeles Times). But Murray did step up to the cause for Wes Anderson when the director was allegedly at the receiving end of abuse by veteran actor Gene Hackman during the shoot of their 2001 film "The Royal Tenenbaums." It was only Anderson and Murray's second film together — the first being "Rushmore" — but Murray didn't hesitate in standing up for Anderson. In fact, Murray even went the mile of doing overtime by turning up on set on his off days to double as Anderson's protective gear against Hackman, per Far Out Magazine

At the 10-year reunion for "The Royal Tenenbaums" at the New York Film Festival in 2011, the cast recalled moments with Hackman. While Anderson and actors Gwyneth Paltrow and Anjelica Huston all admitted they'd been scared of the Academy awardee, Murray claimed not to be (via IndieWire). In quintessential plainspeak, Murray stated, "Gene is weak. That's what we found when you challenge someone like Gene, you find his weakness" — but not without adding how great an actor Hackman was. Despite allegedly having expletives hurled at him by Hackman, Anderson remembered the actor fondly, saying, "He's a huge force and I really enjoyed working with him. Even though he was very challenging with me, it was very exciting seeing him launch into these scenes." 

Bill Murray revealed the title of Wes Anderson's next film

By virtue of having worked with Wes Anderson a total of nine (going on 10) times, one is drawn to believe that Bill Murray enjoys first privileges when it comes to any of the director's projects. Who better than Murray, then, to dish some deets about Anderson's highly anticipated next project? At the BFI London Film Festival 2021, after a screening of his latest film with Anderson, "The French Dispatch," Murray shed light on their upcoming collaboration. He revealed the film is titled "Asteroid City" and that it was being shot in Spain, per Screen Daily. "That's what we do in show business," the actor quipped after the audience burst into applause. "We just say the name and people will clap. It has no meaning whatsoever ... I flew in from Spain. I want to get my money's worth." 

"Asteroid City," which will mark Anderson and Murray's tenth collaboration, features "the usual cast of characters," the actor added. Top-billed Anderson regulars Tilda Swinton, Adrien Brody, and Jason Schwartzman are part of the glittering ensemble in "Asteroid City," alongside notables like Tom Hanks, Scarlett Johansson, Margot Robbie, and Fisher Stevens, to name a few (via Deadline). While little is known of the zany world Anderson will bring to life this time, Stevens assured Vulture that "it's going to be quite an extravaganza."