It’s not like Bill Murray always imagined himself playing Franklin Roosevelt.
When he was originally offered the role in Hyde Park on the Hudson, he thought, “Can this guy be serious?” But in an interview with The New York Times, Murray admitted, “I wouldn’t have cast myself. But this guy did, and about halfway through I went, ‘Wow, he really was right.’ Not to compare myself, but certain personality things were similar, like the way he tried to leaven things and move attention around a room, get everyone their little slice of the sun.”
This similarity was one Murray picked up during his days doing improv theater in Chicago, before he began his career on Saturday Night Live. The experience of improvising “pays off in your life when you’re in an elevator and people are uncomfortable. You can just say, ‘That’s a beautiful scarf.’ It’s just thinking about making someone else feel comfortable. You don’t worry about yourself, because we’re vibrating together. If I can make yours just a little bit groovier, it’ll affect me. It comes back, somehow.”
This way of seeing the world bleeds into all areas of Murray’s life. “The more relaxed you are, the better you are at everything: the better you are with your loved ones, the better you are with your enemies, the better you are at your job, the better you are with yourself,” he said. This zen attitude also aided in his preparation for playing Roosevelt. “I’ve always tried to be a little bit loose,” Murray confessed.
Murray, also known for his roles in films like Ghostbusters and Lost in Translation, recalled advice he was given that has helped him with his acting endeavors. “This great director we had at Second City [Del Close] said: ‘You wear your characters like a trench coat. It’s still you in there, but there’s like a trench coat.’ So I figured this was like a winter trench coat, because there was just a little bit more character that comes to the party. So I did a lot more reading, a lot more studying.”
There were many obvious challenges that Murray faced when taking on the role of the much-beloved president. Roosevelt’s voice and mannerisms were very distinctive, but Murray and the director ultimately “had a discussion about it, and we agreed that you don’t want to do an impression. You want to get it in you, and then you want to play.”
The actor is already receiving rave reviews for his portrayal of the president, meaning he’ll probably be adding this role to a long list of memorable parts. Murray admitted he’s still surprised by how much his movies have resonated with audiences.
“When you did the job, you thought you were just trying to amuse your friends who are all on the job,” Murray said. “I’m just trying to make the sound guy laugh, the script supervisor. A movie like Caddyshack, I can walk on a golf course, and some guy will be screaming entire scenes at me and expecting me to do it word for word with him. It’s like: ‘Fella, I did that once. I improvised that scene. I don’t remember how it goes.’ But I’m charmed by it. I’m not like, ‘Hey, knock it off.’ It’s kind of cool.”
Hyde Park on the Hudson opens in theaters December 7.