Article by Dale Pollock
Published – October 29th 1984
BEVERLY HILLS. Calif. – There’s little doubt of Bill Murray’s appeal after “Ghostbusters” this year’s megahit comedy with ticket sales to date of $210 million.
Columbia Pictures is curious whether Murray’s drawing power will extend to “The Razor’s Edge”, the actor’s first dramatic vehicle, after five previous comedies. The studio agreed to put the film into production only after Murray committed to doing “Ghostbusters”.
Murray plays a World War I vet in search of the meaning of life, with what might be described as a faint gleam of “Saturday Night Live” in his eye. “I want people to laugh all the way” Murray said, relaxing in a room at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel during a recent one-day stopover to check the advertising campaign on “Razor’s Edge”.
“We weren’t trying to make a funny movie, but the intention was to show that this search doesn’t mean you lose your sense of humor”, the actor explained. The film is based on W. Somerset Maugham’s 1944 novel and was previously made into a 1946 movie starring Tyrone Power as Larry Darrell (Murray’s character). Murray imitated the
way Power sought divine guidance with one of his patented stares at the ceiling, recreating the look of his character Todd Di Lamuca, the ultimate nerd from “Saturday Night Live”. “I’m not funny some of the time in the movie” he was quick to add. “but for every person who thinks it’s too funny, there will be a quarter of a million people who are going to sit through it because at least there’s some humor.”
“There are no dancing gophers or marshmallow men in this thing” Murray said. “I’ve been trying very hard to say this is not funny. And whether or not the audience reacts well is not going to drive me crazy. Because I really got enough out of it just doing it.”
A sense of humor is what carried Murray through the four-year struggle to get ‘Razor’s Edge’ made. He had never read Maugham’s novel before director John Byrum sent him a copy, but after 50 pages, “I knew right away it was what I wanted to do. I knew what the guy was talking about. I wanted to make a dramatic film, and this was a story that works.”
When Murray and Byrum went to Columbia and said they wanted to do “Razor’s Edge” they were greeted mostly with silence. “They were kind of hoping I was coming in with some ‘Mickey Goes to College’ movie, so they weren’t really happy about it. They didn’t want to say no, they wanted to say yes. But they needed a good reason.”
The good reason became “Ghostbusters”, a project conceived by “Saturday Night Live” cohort Dan Aykroyd, that became the hottest property in Hollywood three years ago. Akyroyd sent it to Murray and his reaction was immediate.
“Holy God!” he remembers thinking, “I gotta do this. This is a piece of cake. This is not just going to be a big movie, this is going to be a major social event”.
Although Columbia had put “Razor’s Edge” in development, the project wasn’t moving ahead very quickly. “People weren’t coming in early to check the rewrites” Murray recalled. “They were kind of hoping something else would come up, another comedy or I’d have a motorcycle accident or lose interest”. Murray wanted Columbia to get “Ghostbusters” but he also wanted to move “Razor’s Edge” off the dime.
“So Dan said, “Well just tell them they can have this for that. And within 40 minutes, we had a caterer and trailers rented for ‘Ghostbusters’. It was amazing. Literally
within an hour there were 10 people working on ‘Ghostbusters’ and like two people on ‘Razor’s Edge’ They were saying things like ‘I guess we’re going to need some paper and pencils now.’”
Byrum and Murray went off to France, England and lndia to make their movie. “Columbia gave us the money and then really forgot about it until we got to lndia. Then we started getting these phone calls. But it was basically just to be sure I’d be ready to start ‘Ghostbusters’. They didn’t want to talk about ‘Razor’s Edge’ at all. It was sort of nuisance”.
When Murray left India, he flew to London, saw a rough assemblage of scenes from “Razor’s Edge” got on the Concorde, flew to New York, went to Madison Avenue and 62nd Street and got into his Ghostbuster outfit, all in the same morning.
“It was unbelievable” he said shaking his head “I looked like a POW who just got out of Syria. I weighed 171 pounds. 35 less than I do now, and I was totally spaced. A week before, I had worked with yellow-hat lamas in the Himalayas, and now I was working with all these extras in New York saying, ‘Oh my God it’s a ghost'”
Murray says he always figured “Ghostbusters” would be bigger than “Tootsie” and smaller than “Star Wars” at the box office. But he remains disturbed by how much credit he’s given for that success, entirely too much, according to Murray.
“I was just doing what I do” he said “I just had better material than usual. They gave me all the lines. I was resisting it. I didn’t think it was right not to have it all balanced. But nobody wanted to hear about it. Dan didn’t want any more lines and Harold was the same.”
The focus on Murray has made him think about his role as Hollywood’s newest comic superstar. “People come up to me and then treat me so good, and it’s like embarrassing. I know what I am and at least I’ve got an idea, and I know I’m not as nice as that. I know I don’t deserve all this. But it’s only because l’ve made these laughers. For the first time I began to think I’ve done something good by being committed to this laugh thing.”
But there’s a dark side to being such a success. At one point Murray let his beard, hair and fingernails grow long in a vain attempt to conceal his identity. It didn’t help.
“People will scream your name and a thousand people will just turn and look at you. They scream your name like they’re being raped or killed, What can you do?”
That’s one of the reasons Murray wants to take a break from movies.