SXSW/2010: Getting Low with Bill Murray, Sissy Spacek and Robert Duvall

Last night was pretty Amazing-with-a-capital-A! I don’t mean to brag, but I met Bill Murray, Robert Duvall and Sissy Spacek. I did it on your behalf, so I could get the scoop on their movie Get Low, directed by Aaron Schneider and written by Chris Provenzano and C. Gaby Mitchell.

All of the actors expressed a draw to the project because of who else was attached to the film. That seems to be the most popular comment by any actor at this festival – it’s like the chicken/egg scenario of the film industry, and who actually was attached first always remains a mystery to me in the moment the actors talk about it.

Anyway, Spacek (who is tiny and just a doll) said she was also sucked in because “the script was unique. I never knew what was gonna happen on any page – it’s an odd story.” Side note: she told the music industry reporter next to me that she couldn’t listen to anything on set because Bill Murray was always playing loud rap music! Murray actually made a point to give a big shout-out to Alison Krauss for her beautiful contribution to the film (‘cause obviously the guy who likes rap is gonna dig Alison Krauss too…).

As far as what drew him to the project, Murray had this to say: “The script is really great, and I just thought, ‘Wow.’ Then they said Bobby’s the guy, and when you get the chance to work opposite this guy, you take the gig.” Of course he was also excited about Sissy, who was excited about Bill. Who’s the chicken, who’s the egg??

I should let you know the basics of this script that people kept loving. The movie takes place in 1930s Tennessee and centers on a crazy-eyed old hermit Felix Bush (Duvall) who has basically imprisoned himself in a cabin in the woods, only occasionally to journey into town and scare the bejeezus out of the general public. Everybody has a Felix story that’s wilder than the previous one, and Felix decides he wants to throw himself a funeral party while he’s still alive so he can hear what his life has allegedly amounted to. Murray plays a witty, opportunistic funeral director with a charming Lucas Black playing his more compassionate lackey. As the film unravels, Spacek’s character Maddie Darrow is revealed to know far more about the real Felix than anyone else, and she seems to be wrapped up in the mystery as to why he’s chosen to shut himself away from the world.

The man at the top of everyone’s list, Duvall himself, said that if we wanted to know what he would have someone say at his funeral, we’d have to ask his wife! This film is her favorite he’s done since The Apostle, incidentally. That piqued my curiosity, so I asked what exactly Duvall has in common with his hermit counterpart, and he said he always has something in himself that’s like the character he plays, “except maybe Stalin.” I suspect his wife’s okay with that. As far as I could tell, both Felix and Duvall have a way with the ladies.

Director Schneider was super nice and humble, despite being the repeated butt of Murray’s jokes about being a terrible public speaker. It must have come from a loving place, because Murray told me he’d seen both the making-of and actual short film Two Soldiers, which Schneider won an Oscar for. Murray told me Schneider seemed talented but also just like a nice guy he’d want to work with. So what I heard was if you can win an Oscar for a short and you’re a decent person, you can get an awesome cast for your first feature.

I wouldn’t leave you without a sound bite from writer Provenzano. Turns out the film is loosely tied to “a true event, but there’s very little historical record…. The story came from a friend whose family is descended from a funeral director who really was approached by a hermit to give a live funeral that more than 10,000 people attended. “

So the writers dreamt up what might have been the reason behind the way this old man chose to live his life, and Get Low was born.

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Sara Scott

About Sara Scott

Sara Scott is a freelance writer-editor and a graduate of the school of journalism at The University of Texas at Austin. A self-proclaimed couch potato and remote control slinger, she is most delighted when covering television and film. Some of her favorites include Glee, 30 Rock, Lost, The X-Files, The Matrix, Waiting for Guffman, and Hairspray (2007). She currently resides in Austin where she spends her free time hula-hooping and indulging her obsession with musical theatre. You can follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/sassytater.

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