Sofia Coppola on Miley Cyrus and Which Star Didn’t Make the ‘Very Murray Christmas’ Cast

“She was a good sport… I was really impressed with the showmanship,” the director of the Bill Murray Netflix holiday special says of “Wrecking Ball” singer

Bill Murray has one of weirdest, widest-ranging on-screen careers in entertainment. His comedies (“Caddyshack,” “Stripes”) are beloved. His dramas (“Rushmore,” “Lost in Translation”) are respected. His exploits are the stuff of urban legend.

With the premiere Friday of his first holiday special, “A Very Murray Christmas” on Netflix, the mythology around the man expands. Murray is joined by a bevy of famous friends ranging from the mega-famous (George Clooney) to the weirdly hip (David Johansen). The plot is vintage Murray — a show-within-a-show structure in which a blizzard throws awry plans for the star to host a live Christmas special at the Carlyle hotel in New York.

Veteran Murray collaborator Sofia Coppola directed the special, and co-wrote it with Murray and Mitch Glazer.

“Mitch and I went to see Bill in Charleston and sat down and kind of fleshed out how we would do a holiday show,” the filmmaker told TheWrap. “It really came out of the fact that Bill was up for it and I wanted to see Bill sing.”

Coppola spoke with TheWrap about the special’s all-star cast, who didn’t make the cut, and the phenomenon that is Bill Murray.

Whose idea was it to have it be a show within a show?
Bill came up with that idea. We had different ideas for how he would be stuck in the hotel and how it starts out depressing and turns into the real joy of people being together at the holidays — which is something Bill is so good at, getting people together. Bill had the idea that he would be doing this kind of sellout corny Christmas show, then we thought of having the blizzard so they were trapped in the hotel. We wanted to have a small amount of storyline to have the variety show tradition of Christmas specials where there was no logic and anyone could drop by as long as they sang a holiday song.

Did you watch any old Christmas specials to prepare?
I watched a lot of them. The Carpenters had a very glamorous one that we looked at for the style of it — and Dean Martin and Bing Crosby and Andy Williams. I definitely watched a lot of variety shows. It was fun to revisit those and make our new version of it. I love that they haven’t been around for a while, so it was fun to think how we would do one.

How did the casting work?
We just thought of who we liked and admired. I love Chris Rock, and I knew that Bill knows him. So he called him up. Bill knew Jenny Lewis, so we got her to do a song. I knew Maya [Rudolph] had a great voice, but I didn’t know how impressive until she sang her song. So it was just getting people together who were game and who we admire. It’s like a party — putting together people who you think will hit it off.

Was there anyone who wanted to do it but couldn’t because of scheduling?
I think Danny McBride. We wanted him to be in it, then he had a conflict. I was really happy that Miley [Cyrus] was game. The people that ended up being in it were the ones who were up for it.

How did you reach out to Miley?
I knew her through Marc Jacobs, so I got a contact for her and asked. Her and Rashida and Maya just flew out for the day. She was a good sport. When we were short on a song, I asked if her and Paul [Shaffer] would be up for doing another song, and “Silent Night” they just figured out over lunch and added that. I was really impressed with the showmanship. And to hear her voice — I hadn’t heard her sing live without the whole thing behind her, so it was great.

Everyone in the show, but especially Bill, is drinking throughout. How much of that booze was real?
I don’t think any of it was, because it was early in the day. It wasn’t as boozy as it looked. I can only speak for myself though.

Bill Murray has this unique place in popular culture where moms and dads love him, young hipsters love him, and he has a sort of mythic status. Why is that?
There’s no one like him. He has lovable quality, it’s true, that many people are drawn to. But it’s hard to say why. I think it’s his combination of spontaneity and joy and charm. He brings joy wherever he goes.

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