The Missing Bill Murray Part from “Asteroid City”

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Shot in the style of a retro promotional trailer for a Hollywood film, this fake trailer features Bill Murray, in a fake role that was “cut” from “Asteroid City,” and Jason Schwartzman.

Wes Anderson’s new film, “Asteroid City,” has a proverbial cast of thousands—Jason Schwartzman! Scarlett Johansson! Tom Hanks! Jeffrey Wright! Edward Norton!—but one stalwart of Anderson’s troupe is conspicuously missing: Bill Murray, who has been in the director’s last nine features. Murray was originally cast as a motel manager in the desert town where the movie is set, in 1955. “Normally, I don’t think it’s such a nice idea to tell everyone the person who didn’t end up in the movie,” Anderson said recently. “But Bill got COVID in Ireland, and it was four days before he was supposed to work.” Murray was in Ireland for a family trip (“And usually golf has something to do with it,” Anderson said), en route to Spain, where “Asteroid City” was shooting. With Murray in quarantine, Anderson scrambled to recast the part. “The movie was a jigsaw puzzle of actors’ schedules, so we couldn’t wait,” he recalled. “We were extremely lucky that Steve Carell said yes—and was perfect in the part.”

Nonetheless, Murray did make it into the fictional world of the movie—sort of. Here’s what happened: once Murray recovered, he went to Spain anyway. The problem was that he had no part to play. “I kept trying to think of something for him, but you can’t really just add a new character into the movie,” Anderson said. Murray hung out on location, giving pep talks. (“He was good for morale,” the director noted.) Anderson eventually devised a character: Jock Larkings, the head of the Larkings Corporation, a fictitious armaments-and-aeronautics company in the film. Because “Asteroid City” has a framing device, in which a troupe of actors is performing a play that inexplicably becomes the movie we’re watching, Murray actually had two characters; he was also Tab Whitney, the mid-century actor playing Larkings. Anderson even had a Western-style costume made for him. But he never got a chance to put Larkings in a scene.

Then, the day after the movie wrapped, Anderson and Murray concocted an idea: in a metatheatrical curlicue, Murray would play a character who was cut from the film. Anderson corralled Schwartzman, who plays a war photographer (and the actor playing the war photographer), and they shot a short scene in the style of a retro promotional trailer for a Hollywood film, in which a director or a studio executive would give a stilted pitch for an exciting new picture. Think of the Paramount head Robert Evans boosting “Love Story” and “The Godfather,” or Cecil B. DeMille hyping his 1934 production of “Cleopatra.” Anderson recalled, “We made this very peculiar thing that is just a spontaneous creation before the set was going to be struck down. It was the last thing we did. And then we put all our things in the golf cart and drove off into the sunset.”

Anderson wasn’t sure how the scene would be used. But here it is, exclusively: a promotional extra for a movie-within-a-movie, based on a fictitious play, from the studio American Empirical Pictures (which sounds fake but is Anderson’s real production company). “It’s an odd little piece, but it does sort of say something I feel about the movie,” Anderson said. ♦


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