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Last Updated: Sunday, 15 February, 2004, 21:25 GMT
Bill Murray finds peculiar niche
Bill Murray in Lost In Translation
Bill Murray has achieved high critical acclaim for Lost In Translation
Bafta and Golden Globe winner Bill Murray is winning acclaim for his role as a middle-aged movie star who finds his career and home life on the rocks in Lost In Translation.

"The last thing I want is to be obvious, direct and offensive," Bill Murray once said when talking about what he looked for in a film role.

It is fair to say that he has been successful in avoiding those character traits during his 25-year career.

Ironic, sardonic, and subtly hilarious would be more like it. Wry, scornful and slightly eccentric would also be accurate. All in all, Murray is something of a peculiarity in Hollywood.

He has had big box office hits - but has tried to avoid being swept into the commercial mainstream.

He has starred in plenty of zany films, but his humour is arguably funnier - and more touching - when it is understated.

And he has played roles from the goofball to the romantic leading man - yet he is neither just a wacky comedian nor a rom-com star.

Scarlett Johansson, Bill Murray and Sofia Coppola
Scarlett Johansson (left) also starred in Lost In Translation, while Sofia Coppola directed
After falling in and out of fashion with film-makers and fans during his career, but Murray is back at the top with Lost In Translation.

The closest he came to getting an Academy Award nomination before hitting the shortlist in 2004 was for the role that started his current renaissance, in 1998's Rushmore.

He said at the time that he was afraid "this awards thing" would "get weird" - but he hoped he did not turn into a person who wanted awards success.

"I see what happens to people who want it - they go absolutely nuts," he said.

He then went on to plan who he would thank in his acceptance speech.

"If I win an Oscar, I'm going to be standing on stage in front of one billion people. Most of them didn't know my mother," he said.

"And I don't have any intention of thanking the marketing department. I am just going to be funny."

TV beginnings

He missed out on a nomination then - but the plan for the acceptance speech probably remains the same, even if the film does not.

Murray has arrived at this point after starting his career on the highly fertile US comedy show, Saturday Night Live, in the 1970s.

He was already friends with John Belushi and Harold Ramis, and joined the show when Chevy Chase left for Hollywood.

Murray never did stand-up comedy, but knew he had a talent for what he described as comedy acting.

Hits and flops

His first film roles were the wacky teen-style movies that were fun but never taken seriously - such as Meatballs, Caddyshack and Stripes.

He also flopped as "gonzo" journalist Hunter S Thompson in 1980's Where the Buffalo Roam before appearing opposite Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie.

He really hit the A list in one of the comedy hits of the 1980s, Ghost Busters - but flopped again in a more personal project, drama The Razor's Edge, based on the book of the same name by W Somerset Maugham.

After that experience, he put his acting career on hold to move to Paris to study philosophy - particularly Gurdjieff - and history at the Sorbonne.

Depth

Slowly returning to the screen in films like Little Shop of Horrors, Scrooged and Ghostbusters II, he finally found a project that utilised the range of both his comic talent and acting depth.

In Groundhog Day, he played a weather man who realises he is stuck in a single day. With director Ramis, he turned it into something more meaningful and satisfying than the average comedy, while still being extremely funny.

But his career somehow faltered after that, reaching a low point with Larger Than Life - in which he starred opposite an elephant - in 1996 and The Man Who Knew Too Little the following year.

But he changed tack and took supporting roles in more credible and often quirky films, with Rushmore, by Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson, starting his comeback.

The roles of John Bosley in Charlie's Angels and Raleigh St Clair in The Royal Tenenbaums gained more acclaim, setting him up for a return as a leading man in Lost in Translation.




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