BY GENE TRIPLETT
LOS ANGELES – Of all the stars sitting at the head table during the press conference for the new World War II action drama “The Monuments Men,” Bill Murray looked the least happy to be present.
In fact, he looked like some kind of stern-faced monument himself, sitting with diminutive actor Bob Balaban on his right and lovely Cate Blanchett on his left, staring stoically over the heads of the reporters that filled the ballroom of the Four Seasons Hotel, firing questions at the cast of the fact-based film, directed, co-written and co-produced by its star, George Clooney, who was fielding most of these queries from his seat at the center of the long table, mostly in a light-hearted manner, which is the kind of demeanor most would expect from Murray, known for his deadpan style of humor since his days on TV’s “Saturday Night Live.”
But a lot of actors and filmmakers don’t like this part of making movies, where their contract requires them to sit through these movie junket interviews and answer a lot of questions – a lot them pretty dumb – about the work they’ve just completed.
“The Monuments Men” is a fact-based story of how a bunch of artists and art experts actually suited up and went into battle in the latter days of World War II to save tons of great art objects that had been looted by the Nazis.
Murray’s character is based on Robert Posey, an architect who discovered the salt mine at Altaussee where the German forces had hidden many great works of art.
When Murray first heard of the film project, he was eager to be a part of it. He’s quoted in the film’s publicity notes as saying, “I really liked the story, chasing down stolen art in World War II. It has everything. It’s an action movie, but it’s also about good guys on the hunt in the name of something beautiful and wonderful. I just thought it’d be great.”
But when Clooney and his producing and writing partner Grant Heslov decided they wanted Murray for the part, there were certain twisted formalities that had to be performed in order to reach him. There was a special number that had to be called, a message that had to be left, and then one had to wait.
But Clooney said Murray called back rather quickly, and asked where he had to be, and when.
“I said yes, and the story is fascinating and, as they say, untold,” Murray said at the Four Seasons press conference, when somone finally brought him to life with a question.
“Most people don’t know this story,” Murray said. “And to do this story with this group of people is not just enobling, because they’re all so good. Everyone’s such a good actor but they’re so much fun.
“I watched the movie for the first time last night, and on a number of occasions I went, ‘Oh, yeah, we got that shot and then we sat down and laughed for about 40 minutes. Oh, yeah, we stopped right there and then we just started crackin’ wise and then laughed for 40 minutes right there.’
“And it was like that,” Murray said. “George and Grant take care of everyone on the job. I never felt so protected and covered. And all of us as actors, everyone had great scenes to do. Everyone had a chance to have a turn, to do a wonderful piece of work. Everyone had great scenes and we get to see a wonderful story unfold.
“We got to go to great places, we got to eat well, we laughed a lot, and I think we’d all do it again tomorrow,” Murray said. “If we had to start tomorrow.”
Matt Damon finished for Murray: “And if enough people see the movie, we will. Please, tell everybody you know.”
The audience of reporters laughed, and Murray gave a little smile and went silent once again.