Casting Bill Murray Was a Challenge for Oscar Winning Director Schneider

By Amir Talai
Amir Talai
Amir Talai
September 16, 2009 Updated: October 1, 2015

Actor Bill Murray attends the 'Get Low' premiere after a party during the Toronto International Film Festival. (Teresa Barbieri/Getty Images )
Actor Bill Murray attends the 'Get Low' premiere after a party during the Toronto International Film Festival. (Teresa Barbieri/Getty Images )
TORONTO—Bill Murray is a tough nut to crack and a tough actor to get in touch with when you want to cast him in your film, even if you are an Academy Award winner and a third-generation Hollywood producer.

That was certainly the case for Aaron Schneider and Dean Zanuck, director and producer of the new film “Get Low,” starring Robert Duvall and Sissy Spacek.

Schneider, an Academy Award winning director for the short film “Two Soldiers” in 2003, slept with his phone by his bedside for six weeks waiting on a call from Murray.

“Dean and I had always loved him for the part, but you think well, what are the chances?” said Schneider.

Dean Zanuck, producer of “Road to Perdition” and comes from the Zanuck family of producers (he is the son of Academy Award winning Richard Daryl Zanuck and grandson of Daryl F. Zanuck, the former head of Universal Studios), took it from there.

“Dean knew the way to take your shot at Bill Murray was to contact his one rep. and send the synopsis of the story. He doesn’t read scripts and he doesn’t have an agent. And he’s got a 1-800 number that you call if you want to tell him about what you are doing. I guess he monitors that every now and then.”

And monitor it he did.

“I was heading back from our lead investor’s house and my colleague at the office [said] we’ve got an interesting message on the message machine and it's from Bill Murray and he’s wondering if the script is still available, and if it is please send it to this P.O. Box in upstate New York.

“And that’s what we did and we didn’t have him and weren’t close to having him at the time, but that was a tremendous shot in the arm for us, and this cast was shaping up. For me this is a producer’s dream to work with any one of you, but to have three amazing, amazing, American icons. I feel so blessed to have had this experience,” added Zanuck.

Murray eventually signed on, and the process seems to be a lesson for up-and-coming filmmakers on the persistence it takes to get good indie films made.

“Get Low” is the story of an elderly hermit in the south, played by Duvall, who stages his own funeral while he is alive, gathering a crowd of 10,000 people.

The film is loosely based on the true story of a man named Felix Bush.

Amir Talai
Amir Talai