Inarguably one of Bill Murray’s best performances is Don Johnston from Jim Jarmusch’s Broken Flowers. Murray has successfully played a variety of characters over his career, so pinning down Murray’s defining performance isn’t easy, but Broken Flowers is certainly close to the top in that regard. It’s a performance devoid of any associations we have of Murray as an actor. There’s no overt charm to Johnston. The jumpsuit-wearing character has a dry humor to him, but he’s not one of Murray’s characters we’d all jump at the chance to hang out with.
However, we certainly want to watch him through Jarmusch’s lens for a few hours. The journey that the Don Juan character goes on is quielty powerful, leaving you completely feeling for this guy who’s hurt more than a few people in his life. It’s a testament to Jarmusch as a filmmaker, but also to Murray as an actor.
Murray considers Johnston his finest work. Recently on Reddit, Murray mentioned how he briefly retired after Broken Flowers, believing he couldn’t do any better. And yet, he came back, for reasons he didn’t really discuss in that Q&A.
Recently while covering a press day for Wes Anderson’s newest film, The Grand Budapest Hotel, we had the chance to talk to Murray at a roundtable discussion for Anderson’s latest. “I thought some other career path would open,” Murray half-joked, explaining why he returned to acting. “I really thought, ‘I can’t do any better than that.’ It was a perfectly written film, I acted as well as I’ve acted, it was edited perfectly, and I thought it was just a beautiful film. I can’t do any better, so I thought, ‘It’s time to stop.’ I retired again, thinking something would show up, like, organic gardening. Nothing happened. It was six months or year where I went through that.”
Since then Murray has done quality work, especially in Moonrise Kingdom, but he’s yet to match Broken Flowers, and there’s nothing wrong with that. He doesn’t need to start a race with himself. He’s likely to give us another performance of that caliber, just like Jarmusch recently did with his Only Lovers Left Alive.
A world without Bill Murray on the big screen isn’t a world I want to see, but if someday organic gardening gives Murray more satisfaction than acting, then who can blame him for the career change? For now, let’s hope organic gardening is as boring as it sounds.
The Grand Budapest Hotel opens in theaters on March 7th.