[interview via GQ.com] When I arrived, he was standing alone in the corner of a New York hotel room, talking on a cell phone and wearing a ratty black polo, jeans, and yellow "tape measure" suspenders. I had been waiting for over an hour, which didn't seem like an unreasonable amount of time. Bill Murray famously does not give interviews—he's sat down for exactly four prolonged media encounters in the past ten years—and when he does, it's never clear what you're going to get. You just have to pray he's in a good mood. 

The very thing that makes Bill Murray, well, Bill Murray is what makes sitting down with him such an unpredictable enterprise. Bill Murray crashes parties, ditches promotional appearances, clashes with his friends, his collaborators, and his enemies. If you—movie director, journalist, dentist—want to speak to him, you don't go through any gatekeeper. You leave a message on an 800 number. If Bill Murray wants to speak with you, he'll call you back. If his three and a half decades in the public sphere have taught us anything about the 59-year-old actor, it's that he simply does not give a good goddamn.
His career is known to most any fan of modern comedy: the years on SNL; the series of epochal comedies like Stripes, Groundhog Day, and Caddyshack. And his current artistic period, which could be described as Reclusive National Treasure. 

He lives in Rockland County, New York, emerging only to make movies for directors he's interested in: Wes Anderson, Jim Jarmusch, Sofia Coppola. This summer he'll release a period indie called Get Low, in which he plays an undertaker throwing an early funeral for Robert Duvall. Today, Murray was in an expansive mood. Then, after he spoke about Ghostbusters 3, Barack Obama, and Garfield, he decided the interview was over and was gone. As best as I can tell, he was not fucking with me. But who knows? Bill Murray doesn't need you to be in on his joke. His life is all one performance-art piece—and he does everything for an audience of one. 

Bill Murray: How long do these things last? [picks up recorder] How much time is on these things?

GQ: A lot. They're digital.
Digital? I was thinking of recording myself sleeping. Would this work?

Well, assuming you don't make more than an hour and a half of noise each night, you'll be okay.
I dunno. That's why I need the recorder. Sometimes I snore, like when I get really tired. Smoke a cigar or something, you know. I have a brother with sleep apnea. That's terrifying. Jesus. But anyhow…you have questions.

I do. Here's my first one: Why the 800 number?
Well, it's what I finally went to. I have this phone number that they call and talk. And then I listen.

And you just weed 'em out?
I just sort of decide. I might listen and say, "Okay, why don't you put it on a piece of paper? Put it on a piece of paper, and if it's interesting, I'll call you back, and if it's not, I won't." It's exhausting otherwise. I don't want to have a relationship with someone if I'm not going to work with them. If you're talking about business, let's talk about business, but I don't want to hang out and bullshit.

But that's so much of how Hollywood does business.
Yeah, well, that always kind of creeped me out. And I don't like to work. I only like working when I'm working.

Well, I remember, you took a big break. It was in the late '80s, right?
It was in the middle of the '80s. Actually, I've taken a couple of breaks. I've retired a couple of times. It's great, because you can just say, "Oh, I'm sorry. I'm retired." [laughs] And people will actually believe that you've retired. There are nutters out there that will go, "Oh, okay!" and then leave you alone.

I'm always interested in how you pick your projects, because that's one damned random filmography. For Get Low, I dimly suspect that it came down to the line "One thing about Chicago, people know how to die."
[laughs] Well, that was appealing. No, [producer] Dean Zanuck and I had the nicest phone conversation, and I thought, Hmm… And then I saw the making-of DVD of his last movie. This really should be kept secret, but you can learn a lot by watching the making-of DVDs. Every actor should do it. You figure out what you're dealing with. And I thought, You know, this guy is all right. And it turned out beautifully. Where the hell did we take it? That's right. Poland. There's kind of a famous cinematography festival, in a place called Lodz, and God, they went nuts for it. These cinematographers were all, [deadpan Eastern European accent] "Oh yeah, dis good."

Like comedians, nodding at a joke.
Exactly! Oh yeah. [nods, stone-faced] "That's funny." They were just like that.

You have a lot of lines in this one that get tons of laughs I doubt were on the page. It's all in the rhythm, the delivery. How do you pitch something like that? How do you make something out of nothing?
I have developed a kind of different style over the years. I hate trying to re-create a tone or a pitch. Saying, "I want to make it sound like I made it sound the last time"? That's insane, because the last time doesn't exist. It's only this time. And everything is going to be different this time. There's only now. And I don't think a director, as often as not, knows what is going to play funny anyway. As often as not, the right one is the one that they're surprised by, so I don't think that they have the right tone in their head. And I think that good actors always—or if you're being good, anyway—you're making it better than the script. That's your fucking job. It's like, Okay, the script says this? Well, watch this. Let's just roar a little bit. Let's see how high we can go.

But you asked how you get the comic pitch. Well, obviously a lot of it is rhythm. And as often as not, it's the surprising rhythm. In life and in movies, you can usually guess what someone is going to say—you can actually hear it—before they say it. But if you undercut that just a little, it can make you fall off your chair. It's small and simple like that. You're always trying to get your distractions out of the way and be as calm as you can be [breathes in and out slowly], and emotion will just drive the machine. It will go through the machine without being interrupted, and it comes out in a rhythm that's naturally funny. And that funny rhythm is either humorous or touching. It can be either one. But it's always a surprise. I really don't know what's going to come out of my mouth.

Are you ever going to direct again? Quick Change is really one of the great lost movies about New York.
It's great. It's a great piece of writing. And how about the cast? You couldn't get that cast together for all the tea in China right now. I mean, Stanley Tucci, Tony Shalhoub…

Oh shit. The bluftoné. I forgot about the bluftoné.
Bluftoné! [laughs] Shalhoub gives one of the greatest comic performances I've ever seen! Though I do like Michael Caine and Maggie Smith in California Suite. Unfortunately, the last time I watched it was right after Kung Fu Hustle, which is the supreme achievement of the modern age in terms of comedy.

Kung Fu Hustle?
It's not even close. Quick Change after it looked like a home movie. It looked like a fucking high school film. I was like, "Oh man, I just saw this thing," and "God, that's just staggering, just staggering. That movie is just AHHHHHH!" And when I saw that, I was like: That. Just. Happened. There should have been a day of mourning for American comedy the day that movie came out.

You know, my younger brother will absolutely murder me if I don't ask you this question.…

All right. I should worry.
Is the third Ghostbusters movie happening? What's the story with that?
It's all a bunch of crock. It's a crock. There was a story—and I gotta be careful here, I don't want to hurt someone's feelings. When I hurt someone's feelings, I really want to hurt them. [laughs] Harold Ramis said, Oh, I've got these guys, they write on The Office, and they're really funny. They're going to write the next Ghostbusters. And they had just written this movie that he had directed.

Year One.
Year One. Well, I never went to see Year One, but people who did, including other Ghostbusters, said it was one of the worst things they had ever seen in their lives. So that dream just vaporized. That was gone. But it's the studio that really wants this thing. It's a franchise. It's a franchise, and they made a whole lot of money on Ghostbusters.

Oh, sure, I remember. The soundtrack. The lunchboxes. The action figures.
Right. And it's still one of the biggest movies of all time. And ever since that story broke, everywhere I go people are like, "So are you gonna make that movie?" I was down in Austin at South by Southwest, and you go at it hard down there—fun but, man, you need to sleep for days afterwards. Anyhow, I got into it one night with a bunch of younger people who were like, Oh, I love Peter Venkman! I grew up with Peter Venkman! We got to talking, and the more we talked about it, the more I thought, Oh Christ, I should just do this thing.

A generation awaits, for sure. You weren't even supposed to play that role, right?
Yeah. Originally it was Belushi. Like a lot of my movies. [beat] God, John died, what was it, twenty-five years ago?

It was '82, right?
Yeah, I think it was '82. I dunno. That part of life is getting fuzzy.

I read that you wanted to play a ghost in the movie. That's kind of brilliant.
Well, I hadn't wanted to do the movie. They kept asking, and I kept saying no. So once upon a time I said, just joking: "If you kill me off in the first reel, then fine, I'll do it." And then supposedly they came up with an idea where they kill me off and I was a ghost in the movie. Kinda clever, really.

But has the Zombieland cameo stolen that gag?
[genuinely confused] But that was a zombie. Not a ghost.

Okay. Well, how about Garfield? Can you explain that to me? Did you just do it for the dough?
No! I didn't make that for the dough! Well, not completely. I thought it would be kind of fun, because doing a voice is challenging, and I'd never done that. Plus, I looked at the script, and it said, "So-and-so and Joel Coen." And I thought: Christ, well, I love those Coens! They're funny. So I sorta read a few pages of it and thought, Yeah, I'd like to do that. I had these agents at the time, and I said, "What do they give you to do one of these things?" And they said, "Oh, they give you $50,000." So I said, "Okay, well, I don't even leave the fuckin' driveway for that kind of money."

And it's not like you're helping out an indie director by playing Garfield.
Exactly. He's in 3,000 newspapers every day; he's not hurtin'. Then this studio guy calls me up out of nowhere, and I had a nice conversation with him. No bullshit, no schmooze, none of that stuff. We just talked for a long time about the movie. And my agents called on Monday and said, "Well, they came back with another offer, and it was nowhere near $50,000." And I said, "That's more befitting of the work I expect to do!" So they went off and shot the movie, and I forgot all about it. Finally, I went out to L.A. to record my lines. And usually when you're looping a movie, if it takes two days, that's a lot. I don't know if I should even tell this story, because it's kind of mean. [beat] What the hell? It's interesting. So I worked all day and kept going, "That's the line? Well, I can't say that." And you sit there and go, What can I say that will make this funny? And make it make sense? And I worked. I was exhausted, soaked with sweat, and the lines got worse and worse. And I said, "Okay, you better show me the whole rest of the movie, so we can see what we're dealing with." So I sat down and watched the whole thing, and I kept saying, "Who the hell cut this thing? Who did this? What the fuck was Coen thinking?" And then they explained it to me: It wasn't written by that Joel Coen.

And the pieces fall into place.
[shakes head sadly] At least they had what's-her-name. The mind reader, pretty girl, really curvy girl, body's one in a million? What's her name? Help me. You know who I mean.

Jennifer Love Hewitt?
Right! At least they had her in good-looking clothes. Best thing about the movie. But that's all ugly. That's inappropriate. That's just… [laughs] That's why, when they say, "Any regrets?" at the end of Zombieland, I say, "Well, maybe Garfield."

If you do Ghostbusters, that'll be an odd thing, won't it? There's this whole generation of twentysomething kids who think you're an art-film guy. Coppola, Anderson, Jarmusch. You haven't done a big commercial comedy in a really long time.
I know. I know. There's this nice guy named Elvis Mitchell. Do you know him?

Yeah, sure. Old New York Times critic.
And he's the world's smartest man, you know. He's fun to talk to. And I was on my back on a marble floor late at night in Venice a couple of years ago, and I was just like, Fuuuuccckkk. And he was in the room, and Elvis says, "You know, Bill, you keep doing these sad movies. It's just gotta affect your life. Your life is hard anyway. And it's just gotta affect it." He gave me a big lecture about my choices, and it landed in all kinds of places, and I just thought, Well, okay, I want to go make a comedy like the ones I used to like to make. And…well, I think I can do it. I think I probably should direct one, too.

Like I said before: Quick Change.
You know we couldn't get anyone we liked to direct Quick Change? We asked [Jonathan] Demme, and Demme said no. And we asked Ron Howard, because Ron Howard had made something that I thought was funny. He made a funny movie back then—I can't remember what it was. And he said he didn't know who to root for in the script. And I was like, Hooooooo. He lost me at that moment. I've never gone back to him since.

Just out of curiosity, since you crossed paths way back in the day: Have you seen Community? What do you think of what Chevy Chase is doing?
I'm hoping it's funny. It looks kind of funny. Chevy in life can really be funny. I don't see him that often anymore, but in life he's a hell of a lot more fun than I am—he's always going; he really, really, really wants to make people laugh. But I haven't watched it. What about the other show that has the girl from Saturday Night Live?

Parks and Recreation? That is the best comedy on TV right now, to my eyes.
When are these things on, anyway?

Thursday nights.
Both of 'em?

Yeah. Eight and eight thirty.
That's good. I want those things to work, but I'm out of touch. I have no idea. I never saw the original Office. I never saw this Office. I never even saw Clerks. Like I never saw, what's-his-name, Larry 
David's show.

Curb Your Enthusiasm?
No! The other one. With the other guy.

Seinfeld! I never saw Seinfeld.

Come on.
Really! I never saw Seinfeld until the final episode, and that's the only one I saw. And it was terrible. I'm watching, thinking, "This isn't funny at all. It's terrible!"

So what the hell do you watch, then? Sports?
I watch sports, I watch movies, Current TV on the satellite—I kind of like that. Honestly, I'm just easily bored. C-SPAN can be really great. Like the night Obama won the election, C-SPAN was the greatest. There were no announcers, just Chicago. It was just that crowd in Grant Park, and it was just fuckin' jazz. You know, it was just wow. And that's my town, you know? It was just: "Oh, my God, it's gonna happen! [getting genuinely excited] It's gonna happen!" You just saw the pictures of it, like, oh, there's someone from the Northwest Side, there's someone from the South Side, someone from the suburbs. It was the most truly American thing you've ever seen. [pause] Oh God, I get jazzed just thinkin' about it. I don't know anyone that wasn't crying. It was just: Thank God this long national nightmare is over.

You're such a Chicago–New York guy. But you have had to spend a lot of time out in L.A.—

Really? Not even for the business? I would have thought that would have dragged you out there all the time.
No, no, no. Never. It just never took. It's like the first day you check into a hotel in L.A. there's a message under your door. The second day, there's eleven messages under your door. The third day, there's thirty, forty, fifty, sixty, seventy messages. And I realized that they just want fresh blood. They. Just. Want. Fresh. Blood. You gotta get the hell out of there. And you really feel, if you live in New York, that you're three hours ahead of them—I mean that literally. It's like, Oh man, we gotta help these people! And the longer you stay there, the less ahead of them you get, and then you're one of them. No way, man. Not for me.

Did you cross paths with John Hughes at all? Both of you are Chicago guys. He worked with some of your friends.
I don't think I'd have known him if I bumped into him. I was kind of surprised they gave him a big thing at the Oscars. I mean, I remember Hal Ashby barely got mentioned, and this guy made half a dozen unbelievable movies. The Breakfast Club is really an American gem, though. An amazing film. As important as any of Marty [Scorsese]'s movies. It's just a real fuckin' piece. And those kids were never better than that, and he let 'em roll. Dunno. Never met him. I guess he was famous for shooting 10 million feet of film. Steve Martin said to me once, "You'd hate him. He'd say, 'Do this, where you stick something in your nose!' " That kind of stuff drives me nuts.

What about Judd Apatow?
I know someone who knows him, and he apparently really wants to make a movie with me. And the only Apatow movie I ever saw was Celtic Pride. [laughs] That was the only movie I ever saw. Did you ever see it?

I'm from Boston and I didn't see that movie.
Well, there's a reason you didn't, and when you see it, you'll know what it is. It's just brutal! Totally brutal. And Danny [Aykroyd]'s in it! Danny doesn't even know how many players are on a team in basketball. And he's in this movie? Oh my Jesus mercy.

Everyone says Danny is the nicest guy on the planet.
Danny is…Canadian. [laughs] No, he's the only one I see much of. He's great. And I owe him. Back when I wanted to make The Razor's Edge, he sent me the first twenty-nine pages of Ghostbusters to read. And you know, they were great, even better than what we filmed, so I said, "Okay, okay, gotta do it." And Danny said, [pitch-perfect, like crazily eerily perfect Aykroyd impression] "Uummm, okay. Where should we, uh, er, do it?" And I said, "Well, I'm trying to get this movie made over at Columbia [Pictures]." And he said, "All right, well, you tell 'em that they do your movie there and they'll have the GBs." We had a caterer for Razor's Edge in forty-five minutes. Hell of a guy.

What's next? If not Ghostbusters 3, I mean.
I have this friend of mine now, Mitch Glazer, who wrote a screenplay that he wanted to direct. And some actor jumped, just got terrified at working with Mickey Rourke. Just jumped. And lost his balls, really. [Extensive Googling reveals he's talking about Toby Kebbell.] And Mitch called me and said, "I'm dead. I shoot in nine days." And the open part was much more interesting than what he originally wanted me to play. [beat] The movie is such a long shot. So impossible. But I live to go down with those guys that have no fuckin' chance. It's like that Tim Robbins movie I did. What was it called? About the '30s?

Cradle Will Rock?
Yeah. Okay, so I see the script, and he goes, "Whaddya think?" And I said, "It doesn't have a chance. It doesn't have a chance in hell, Tim! [laughs] But you know what? I gotta like you for trying." Those are my people, you know? The ones who are going to crash and burn.

Last question. I have to know, because I love this story and want it to be true. There have been stories about you sneaking up behind people in New York City, covering their eyes with your hands, and saying: Guess who. And when they turn around, they see Bill Murray and hear the words "No one will ever believe you." [long pause] I know. I know, I know, I know. I've heard about that from a lot of people. A lot of people. I don't know what to say. There's probably a really appropriate thing to say. Something exactly and just perfectly right. [long beat, and then he breaks into a huge grin] But by God, it sounds crazy, doesn't it? Just so crazy and unlikely and unusual?

Dan Fierman is a GQ senior editor.