Interview with "Lost in Translation" Star Bill Murray

Bill Murray in Lost in Translation movie
Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson in "Lost in Translation.". Focus Features

American actor Bill Murray stars as American movie star Bob Harris in Sofia Coppola's "Lost in Translation." Set in Japan, "Lost in Translation" follows two strangers (Murray and Scarlett Johansson), both insomniacs, who meet in a hotel bar and strike up a surprising friendship.

BILL MURRAY INTERVIEW:

What was the biggest challenge in expressing this characters issues?
Weve seen a movie where theres a guy whos conflicted and hes married [and] hes away. The thing for anybody whos ever been married and away - whether youre a man or a woman - youre married and youre away, so what does that mean? Does that mean you dont meet people? Does that mean you dont talk to them? Does that mean you dont have interchange? Does it mean you dont flirt with them? Does it mean you dont talk to them? Is it wrong to be up in the middle of the night with someone thats not your spouse? Well, if youre 13,000 miles away, all of a sudden its like what else am I going to do? It sort of comes to that. And then theres this moment where you kind of go, Oh, we could sort of tumble down and end up complicating things more. Are we going to do that? Then [its] like, Well, I don't know. Its not really on my mind. Im just sort of lonely, really. So you go a little further and you spend more time with someone.

As an actor, and as a writer/director, the question is is it going to be very noble here? [Is] this guy going to say, I just cant call you. We cant share room service anymore? Is it going to be like that sort of thing, or is it going to be a little more real where they actually get really close to it?

I think theres one interesting scene - well, theres a lot of interesting scenes - but theres sort of a tricky scene where theyre in the same room and theyre watching 8 ½ and theyre talking about stuff. Ive been in this situation before and Ive seen people do it. Ive seen other people do it in other movies. I know that you sort of want to, because youre so close to somebody… Its so promising. It would be so easy to do this right now and all Id have to say is, My wife is a bitch. My wife is a pain and my kids drive me nuts. I love them but they drive me nuts. And that, to me, was the moment where, Okay, how is this guy going to be respectable and not in a politically correct way, but in a way that I can feel like its true? It validates all the complication of it. Its going all the way and just saying, Okay, and theres more to it than this. Even though youre with a beautiful girl and its the middle of the night in Tokyo, youre never going to be one of my kids. Once you know that, now what are you going to do?

Lets get that straight. Instead of saying, This is the end of the conversation. Im not going to walk out the door and slam it or anything. Its just matter of fact. This is who we are.

I think hes also a guy that ends up having too much to drink and he ends up with a crazy dingbat singer. These are the nightmares that people have. These are the nightmares that people live through. So its not like hes flawless or anything, but hes trying. He picks his fights and he fights as much as he can, like anybody.

Page 2: Japanese Comedians and "Lost in Translation's" View of Celebrity

Do you believe there is romance involved in friendship?

How did you relate to the films portrayal of celebrity?
Its not just being awake in the middle of the night and being anonymous. Its being awake in the middle of the night with yourself. Without your support, without your buffers, as we call them. Your comfort things, youre laying down. He didnt even have his TV stations. He was trapped. He didnt have his stuff, he didnt have his bedroom, he didnt have his booze, he didnt have his stuff, [and] he didnt have his world. Its just a shock of consciousness where all of a sudden youre stuck with yourself. Youre stuck with yourself. Thats sort of what Scarlett had, too. Im stuck with myself. I dont have my husband. Hes off shooting this thing. I have my friends, Im calling somebody on the phone here and they dont get it. Im stuck with myself. And theres nobody here that knows me. Theres nobody here that cares about me. So who am I when I dont have all my posse, my stuff with me? Thats what it is. When you go to a foreign country, truly foreign, there is a major shock of consciousness that comes on you when you see that, Oh God, its just me here.

Theres nobody, no neighbors, no friends, no phone calls - just room service.

Did you improvise with the Japanese comedians?
They found some real oddballs over there. There are really strange people over there and they managed to get em. There are certain rhythms that are the same, no matter whether you know what the words are or not. The inflections and the intention and tone are the same really. Even if you dont know the words a person is using, its objective rhythms so if you know your rhythms, you can jump in and out. I got some great guys over there. That one guy in the hospital, wow. I should have his home phone number. It was really something else.

Did you have any Lost in Translation moments in Japan?
Id been to Fukuoka. I spent 10 days in Fukuoka with a friend of mine going to a golf tournament down there. We just had fun down there. They make fun of [people from Tokyo] down in Fukuoka. Its like being in the South. They make fun of Tokyo people like Americans make fun of New Yorkers. Theyre all so uptight. It was always fun down there. I liked being in a place where no one could understand me, the words. It was also nice to be in a place where people dont recognize you, so you have total freedom to behave and [act out] foul impulses that you cant [control]. I don't know if thats lost in translation or not.

Your character whispers something to Scarletts character in a crucial scene. Can we know what you said?
You never will.

Interview with Writer/Director Sofia Coppola