St. Vincent Director Theodore Melfi on Calling Bill Murray’s 1-800 Number
It’s been 15 years since Theodore Melfi last made a feature film, Winding Roads. While that movie featured a young pre-Party Down/Parks & Recreation Adam Scott, his newest endeavor St. Vincent has a bevy of notable actors lead by its star Bill Murray, and continuing through Melissa McCarthy, Naomi Watts and others. As the film begins its rollout in the United States, Melfi has been festival hopping, most recently stopping by the Opening Night of the Philadelphia Film Festival. On the red carpet, he spoke with WayTooIndie about what inspired the new project, the environment he likes to create on set, and calling Bill Murray’s 1-800 number.
Read the full interview below or watch part of it in the embedded video, also below.
Could you tell me about where the idea to write this film came from?
Eight years ago my oldest brother passed away and he left an eight-year-old daughter, and my wife & I adopted her. We moved her from Tennessee to Sherman Oaks, California, and we put her into a Catholic school, Notre Dame High School, and in her sophomore year, in her world religion class, she got a homework assignment to find a Catholic saint that inspired her and find someone in her real life that mimicked the qualities of that saint. She picked St. William of Rochester, the patron saint of adopted children, and she picked me. That’s the genesis of the story, whereby a young kid named Oliver chooses a drunk Bill Murray as a saint.
So inspired by real-life events?
Yeah, it’s a true story.
Did you write this with the idea being you would ultimately direct it as well?
Oh yeah. I was going to direct it from the beginning whether I had to do it 50 cents or a 100 million, it doesn’t matter I was going to do it no matter what.
You ended up getting Bill Murray in the movie. He’s a little notorious to track down, I was wondering what the process was like to getting him to star in the film?
That’s too long a story. That’s like 10 minutes long. But basically, I’ll tell you this, Bill Murray doesn’t have an agent or a manger, he has a 1-800 number. So you just call the 1-800 number and if he likes what you have to say he calls you back.
So you were one of the lucky call backs?
One of the lucky call backs, yeah.
What was it like to work with such him, being such an iconic star?
You know, Bill’s so spontaneous, so free, and so in the moment. You got to be prepared and ready for anything he’ll do, whatever he’ll do. It was truly inspirational working with him, one of the greatest actors in the world, of our time, so it was just awesome.
You also worked with a couple underrated funny women in Melissa McCarthy and Naomi Watts, what was the experience like of working with them?
Melissa and Naomi, again just like Bill, they’re the best actors in the world. So free, so ready to go, so dedicated, I don’t know it was just a dream come true to have Bill Murray and Melissa McCarthy in the same movie, and then you add Naomi Watts that’s even more [of a dream come true]. There’s Chris O’Down, and Terrence Howard, so it’s like having an all-star cast right off the bat. Everyone was kind of free, we had a good time.
Is that something important to you, to have an easy-going atmosphere on the set?
You know, stress is like death to comedy, so you can’t stress out. We had a lot of parties, a very free set. Very loose, very fun. It was hot in Brooklyn but we had a good time.
Did any movies in particular inspire this story aside from the true events?
My favorite movie of all time is It’s a Wonderful Life, where a guy who doesn’t think he has any value in his life learns he has lots to value. So that had a lot of meaning to me and the film Up. It’s one of my favorite movies, too. About a curmudgeonly guy who takes a boy scout under his wing. So those two movies.
BONUS CONTENT! Watch a brief interview with the child star of St. Vincent, Jaeden Lieberher: