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.


What was the biggest challenge in expressing this character’s issues?
We’ve seen a movie where there’s a guy who’s conflicted and he’s married [and] he’s away. The thing for anybody who’s ever been married and away - whether you’re a man or a woman - you’re married and you’re away, so what does that mean? Does that mean you don’t meet people? Does that mean you don’t talk to them? Does that mean you don’t have interchange? Does it mean you don’t flirt with them? Does it mean you don’t talk to them? Is it wrong to be up in the middle of the night with someone that’s not your spouse? Well, if you’re 13,000 miles away, all of a sudden it’s like what else am I going to do? It sort of comes to that. And then there’s 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 [it’s] like, “Well, I don't know. It’s not really on my mind. I’m 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 can’t call you. We can’t 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 there’s one interesting scene - well, there’s a lot of interesting scenes - but there’s sort of a tricky scene where they’re in the same room and they’re watching “8 ½” and they’re talking about stuff. I’ve been in this situation before and I’ve seen people do it. I’ve seen other people do it in other movies. I know that you sort of want to, because you’re so close to somebody… It’s so promising. It would be so easy to do this right now and all I’d 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 it’s true?” It validates all the complication of it. It’s going all the way and just saying, “Okay, and there’s more to it than this. Even though you’re with a beautiful girl and it’s the middle of the night in Tokyo, you’re never going to be one of my kids. Once you know that, now what are you going to do?

Let’s get that straight.” Instead of saying, “This is the end of the conversation. I’m not going to walk out the door and slam it or anything. It’s just matter of fact. This is who we are.”

I think he’s 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 it’s not like he’s flawless or anything, but he’s 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 film’s portrayal of celebrity?
It’s not just being awake in the middle of the night and being anonymous. It’s being awake in the middle of the night with yourself. Without your support, without your buffers, as we call them. Your comfort things, you’re laying down. He didn’t even have his TV stations. He was trapped. He didn’t have his stuff, he didn’t have his bedroom, he didn’t have his booze, he didn’t have his stuff, [and] he didn’t have his world. It’s just a shock of consciousness where all of a sudden you’re stuck with yourself. You’re stuck with yourself. That’s sort of what Scarlett had, too. “I’m stuck with myself. I don’t have my husband. He’s off shooting this thing. I have my friends, I’m calling somebody on the phone here and they don’t get it. I’m stuck with myself. And there’s nobody here that knows me. There’s nobody here that cares about me. So who am I when I don’t have all my posse, my stuff with me?” That’s 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, it’s just me here.” There’s 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 don’t know the words a person is using, it’s 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?
I’d 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. It’s like being in the South. They make fun of Tokyo people like Americans make fun of New Yorkers. They’re 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 don’t recognize you, so you have total freedom to behave and [act out] foul impulses that you can’t [control]. I don't know if that’s ‘lost in translation’ or not.

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

Interview with Writer/Director Sofia Coppola