TORONTO: Most stars shun the “O word” (Oscar) when they might be in the running for an Academy Award, not wanting to jinx their chances or look too eager. Bill Murray has no problem dissecting Hollywood’s highest honors.
A best actor nominee for 2003’s “Lost in Translation,” Murray could have Oscar prospects again as Franklin Delano Roosevelt in “Hyde Park on the Hudson,” a comic drama that played the ongoing Toronto International Film Festival.
Murray won a string of key prizes for “Lost in Translation” leading up to the Oscars, including a Golden Globe, an Independent Spirit Award and honors from many critics groups.
When he lost on Oscar night, it was a lesson not to get your hopes up too high, Murray said in an interview.
“You can’t get all ramped up and amped up about this thing all the time,” Murray said. “I mean, I got excited about it once, and it was odd. I won all the prizes, I won literally all the prizes all the way up to the last one. And I really thought, well, ‘I’ve just to go get this thing, I’ll be right back.’
“And then I didn’t win, and I thought, ‘Well, that’s odd. How odd is that? I’m feeling so odd now.’ And I came all dressed up and didn’t win. So I’m not going to get all crazy about that.”
Murray is a rare comic actor who has evolved into a performer with the depth to create characters that put him into the awards mix with such films as “Rushmore” and “Broken Flowers.”
The former “Saturday Night Live” regular and crazy man of “Ghostbusters,” “Caddyshack” and “Stripes” first dabbled in heavy drama with a 1984 adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham’s “The Razor’s Edge.” Neither audiences nor critics were kind.
The reaction toughened him up for the inevitable double-takes as people mull over the notion of Bill Murray as Franklin Roosevelt.
After “The Razor’s Edge,” “I remember a certain famous movie reviewer saying, ‘Bill Murray should not be allowed to do anything but comedy,’ which I reminded him of at the Cannes Film Festival when I was nominated for an Oscar,” Murray said.
“Sometimes when you’ve got a biopic and they go, ‘Jerry Lewis will play Albert Einstein’ or something, the first thing is, ‘No, don’t buy it. Not for a second.’”
Murray knows people may have trouble buying him as Roosevelt. He approached the character with the same thoughts he had when he played writer Hunter S. Thompson in 1980’s “Where the Buffalo Roam.”
The actor already was friends with Thompson, and when it came time to capture the writer on film, Murray aimed to bring out the writer’s brightest qualities.
“I had the feeling of, like, ‘I’ve got to revere the best of this person,’” Murray said. “The same with Roosevelt. I had to revere the best of him.”
Murray is a very credible Roosevelt, capturing the grace, humor, subtle tact and homey wisdom of the president as he plays host to the king and queen of Britain, who have come over to seek U.S. support as World War II approaches.
Directed by Roger Michell (“Notting Hill”), “Hyde Park on the Hudson” is told largely through the eyes of Roosevelt’s spinster cousin (Laura Linney), a confidant of the president.
Murray’s sister had polio, the disease that crippled Roosevelt, so the actor said he had a strong sense of how to play the president’s body language as he struggles on crutches, is pushed about in a wheelchair or is curled like a child in the arms of aides who lift him into cars.
Capturing Roosevelt’s voice was the bigger challenge. Murray worked with a voice coach to break down the unusual mix of vowel sounds in Roosevelt’s speech.
“It’s upstate New York, it’s a little bit of Dutch in it, because he’s Dutch. It almost sounds Scandinavian. They’ve got kind of an ‘oot’ and ‘aboot’ thing, like Minnesota, Wisconsin, in there sometime,” Murray said.
“It’s just an inconsistent voice. It jumps around a little bit, so you had to be kind of flexible with it. I just tried to get as much of it in me as I could.”
The intimate film shows Roosevelt in private life, so Murray wasn’t called on for any grand oratory.
Though he was ready for some public speaking of his own at the Oscars for “Lost in Translation,” Murray has a practical attitude about the value of his awards prospects this time: If he’s got Oscar buzz, it will draw audience attention to the film.
“It was OK that I didn’t win, and I don’t have any hard feelings about it. It was like, ‘Okay, that was cool. I’m fine. I’m fine with the way my career’s gone. I’m happy with it. It’s gone great.’
“The great thing about the Oscars that’s cool is it means people are going to see your movie.
“That’s really the deal.”
For more details about the Toronto International Film Festival, see http://tiff.net/thefestival