Christopher Guerrero, a 27-year-old USC grad student, wrote one of the main roles in his thesis film for actor Bill Murray. The problem is what it always is: Actually getting Bill Murray.
Overtures to the star's business manager and lawyer didn't work. Neither would calls to agents or publicists: Murray has none. He fired them three years ago.
Appealing to Murray's pocketbook was out of the question; the guy has a reported net worth of $120 million. Besides, with $200,000 worth of student-loan debt, Guerrero isn't exactly flush with cash. Nor does he know people who know people. Not that being a person who knows people necessarily helps with respect to Murray. Sofia Coppola famously pursued him for eight months for Lost in Translation. Until the first day of shooting, she wasn't even sure he would turn up.
In the end, Guerrero resorted to that old tried-and-true method — appeals to an actor's vanity. He created a Bill Murray holiday.
Guerrero may not have showbiz clout, but he has what 21st century 20-somethings possess in abundance: Twitter, Facebook and very big dreams. He considered multicity flash mobs (too dispersed) and putting signs up all over town (too random) but ultimately settled on a costumed pub crawl open to the public at large (utter perfection). Henceforth, he declared, Feb. 2 — formerly known as Groundhog Day — will be known as the Los Angeles Bill Murray Appreciation Day, or BMAD.
On the appointed day, Guerrero and his classmates and co-producers, 26-year-old Will Goldstein and 28-year-old Colin Reeves-Fortney, were killing time at a Mexican restaurant near the rendezvous point, the Vista Theater on Sunset Boulevard in Silver Lake.
Guerrero's loosely autobiographical film, You Had Me at Goodbye, is, in his words, a comedy about “a punk-rock student and IT specialist at UC Santa Cruz, who finds himself on a mission to reclaim the chancellor's laptop from a group of anarchists.” The hero enlists the help of “a ragtag group of weirdos”: a goth roommate, an overweight ecstasy dealer and a “tough-as-nails” Roller Derby girl.
Murray, as Guerrero envisions it, would play the chancellor, a “conservative, masculine man who's been embezzling money from the university to nourish his own unusual hobby.” Though if Murray coveted a different role — the Roller Derby girl, perhaps — he would be welcome to it.
While it is Guerrero's dream to put Murray in his movie, that's practically a collective dream. Mr. Murray is much in demand. Amy Poehler wants him to play the mayor in Parks and Recreation. George Clooney is directing him in a World War II Nazi art-heist drama. Wes Andersen has him in his next film, again. Pretty much everyone has been after him for Ghostbusters 3.
Murray doesn't make it easy. When studio executives demanded he hire an assistant to facilitate communication during the filming of Groundhog Day, he allegedly hired a deaf-mute who spoke only American Sign Language.
As Rob Burnett, executive producer of Late Show With David Letterman, told Entertainment Weekly, “Getting in touch with Bill Murray remains one of life's greatest mysteries.”
Still, it could happen. The famously elusive actor has a fondness for impromptu public appearances. Last year, in lieu of an autograph, he let a couple of fans film him walking in slow motion down a hallway. The video has since gone viral.
“You get the idea that he's an actor who seeks out roles that would surprise the audience,” Guerrero says. He and his producers are carrying rolled-up scripts in their pockets today, just in case Murray shows up.
“When we were considering who to cast, Chris said, 'I think we're gonna try to get a couple of names,' ” Goldstein recalls, thinking back on how the madness began. “The natural reaction was, 'That's ridiculous.' But instead I said, 'Let's go for it.' ”
“I don't want to settle,” Guerrero says, scooping up a handful of free tortilla chips. Murray, he understands, will be at Pebble Beach soon at a celebrity golf tournament. The filmmakers considered trying to accidentally-on-purpose bump into him there but ultimately decided against it. (As Goldstein explains, “We felt that was creepy.”)
As of that evening, they'd made it as far as a phone conversation with Murray's business manager's secretary. Guerrero, however, couldn't let go of a persistent fantasy that Murray will pull up to the curb tonight in a stretch limousine, roll down the window, stick his head out — à la groundhog — look around for 10 seconds, then drive away.
He smiles at the thought, then mentions that he's scheduled to graduate in two years, so his film doesn't have to be finished until then. “We're not waiting two years for Bill Murray,” Goldstein interrupts.
“I'm not gonna lose hope even if he doesn't show up tonight,” Guerrero continues, undaunted. “It doesn't stop today. It's not February. It's Febru-Murray.”
“No,” says Goldstein, leaning forward. “No. Let's not go there. It's Black History Month. Take it easy.”
Guerrero shrugs. “Well. It's given me something to live for.”
Bill Murray Appreciation Day is not exactly official yet. Guerrero recently launched a petition on whitehouse.gov asking the Obama administration to recognize Feb. 2 as Bill Murray Appreciation Day. They need 100,000 signatures to guarantee a White House response. “I think we have, like, 20 signatures so far?” Goldstein says.
Outside, 30 or so people are milling about in front of the theater. Guerrero had urged supporters to come dressed as their favorite character from the actor's oeuvre, and there were Murrays aplenty. There was Stripes Bill Murray, What About Bob? Bill Murray, Broken Flowers Bill Murray, Hyde Park on Hudson/FDR Bill Murray. Even a Garfield Bill Murray. Guerrero was dressed as Bill Murray from The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, while Goldstein was channeling a world-weary but charming Bill Murray as Hunter S. Thompson from Where the Buffalo Roam.
From the Vista, the many Murrays proceed to the nearby Good Luck Bar to get drunk.
The shooting of You Had Me at Goodbye is scheduled to begin in May. Should Bill Murray Appreciation Day fail to impress its target demographic, for whom every day may already be Bill Murray Appreciation Day, the role of Chancellor likely will go to an unknown.
Murray is obviously Guerrero's first choice, though not his only one. He also has considered Ted Danson, Dustin Hoffman, Nick Offerman, Malcolm McDowell and Patrick Stewart.
But whoever wins the role must be prepared to step aside should the man himself appear at the eleventh hour. “They would essentially be an understudy,” Goldstein says.
Until then, if you are Bill Murray, Guerrero may be reached at (213) 207-6812.