It’s been 25 years since the romantic comedy “Groundhog Day” hit theaters. Now a bona fide classic, a big part of why the film has endured is Bill Murray’s commitment to authenticity, his co-star Andie MacDowell told TheWrap in a recent interview.
“He asked me to really slap him,” MacDowell said of the multiple times the film features her character Rita striking him, after Murray’s glib Phil Connors attempts to woo her. “It’s hard to hit someone that many times!”
Of course, Murray plays a man who finds himself stuck repeating the same day over and over again. And his dedication to the role kept MacDowell on her toes constantly, she recalled.
“Bill is so funny. He’s a comic genius,” the actress said. “Listening and reacting to Bill — because Bill is not the same in every take — so listening and react. His nature is to improv and make it his own every take. It was mostly fresh. I had to really be in the scene and just listen to him.”
Casting MacDowell opposite Murray was a matter of balancing the energy he would bring to the role, she said of the making of the 1993 film. Producer Trevor Albert looked at talented comediennes for the part of Rita, but found the effortless grace MacDowell brought to the part was more suited to Rita’s warmth and spirit.
“If you put him with somebody who tries to match that, fighting for airtime and screen time, it’s challenging,” Albert told TheWrap. “Her strength doesn’t come in her repartee and her comedy, it comes in her grace and her confidence and her intelligence.”
“The way I go about comedy is to try and be a real character. The reason I was funny was because I was honest; I was purely honest,” MacDowell said about playing news producer Rita. “That was in there, to come from a very real, believable, honest place, and not try and be too big or too broad or colorful to be believable.”
After his perfect co-star was cast, Murray’s next challenge was to make his character sarcastic, blasé and cynical — and still make him likable. Phil Connors shows disdain at his job, looks down on the simpletons of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania and likens himself to a god. But he delivers his lines with a tossed off detachment, never spite or malice. And as he grows into a better person, he doesn’t lose that witty repartee that made him a lovable grump in the first place.
“He’s a jerk but he makes you laugh, even though you pull for him not to be a jerk,” MacDowell said.
“This is part of his magic,” added Albert. “He’s got that everyman quality, but he can still pour a beer on your head and people are still laughing about it.”
Screenwriter Danny Rubin agreed, telling TheWrap, “No one can do Bill better than Bill… I didn’t write it to be a broadly nasty person. If anything I just wrote him to be a normal, average person just stuck in a circumstance.” Director Harold Ramis, who died in 2014, eased the writer’s concerns over casting Murray. “He said, ‘Don’t worry. This is what Bill Murray can do. He can be that nasty and still make you like him.’ He reassured me about that. And he was correct,” recalled Rubin.
As for those very real slaps Murray voluntarily endured during filming, here’s a look back on how they played out on the big screen: