Recently, Tim Robbins, Saoirse Ronan, and Bill Murray came together in New York to talk about their new film City of Ember directed by Gil Kenan, which will be in theaters October 10th. Tim, Saoirse, and Bill all joked around with one another and seemed to have a lot of respect for one another. Everyone seemed to want Tim to answer the political-types questions to which he answered,”I’m not takin’ that one. I always took that one.” The new commer (if you can still call her that) Saoirse Ronan, seemed to hold her own among the two film legends and even challenge them at times. At one point she tells Tim he can’t be in the sequel and when Bill says, I’m “boring you to tears” she says “yeah.” Bill Murray was extremely charming and sharp witted as he spoke about City of Ember as well as settling some rumors on the new Ghostbusters.
Without further ado, the three members of the City of Ember cast, Tim Robbins, Saoirse Ronan, and Bill Murray…
How’d you get involved with this movie? And what do you think is message of the movie? If there is one.
TIM ROBBINS: That’s a two-parter.
SAOIRSE RONAN: I know. (LAUGHTER) Yeah. Who wants–to go first? You haven’t answered this…
BILL MURRAY: I’ll go first with the how I got involved. I can’t remember, but someone sent me the script. And I opened the script and it said it was written by Caroline Thompson. And Caroline Thompson’s a writer that I met, mmmm, a long time ago when I first went to California and my agent sent me around to meet other writers.
We went out to a bar that was a diner during the day on Lincoln Avenue. At night, it became a Mexican horn bar. And it was like a full orchestra with, like, six horns. And the temperature was about 130 degrees. And all people did was– drink rum straight and dance. And I thought, I could work with this writer. (LAUGHTER) But I never saw her again. But she’s written some great films, Beetle Juice and a number of others. So I went over there. I went, “Caroline Thompson,” I went, “wait, is that the one?” And it was the one. So I got her number and I called her. And she was on a horse. She was on horseback (LAUGHTER) somewhere in the valley ridin’ a horse. And she said, “Oh, you’re gonna love this– this director,” this Gil Kenan. “You’re gonna like him.” So, then I figured out who he was and I saw the Monster House, which I’d already seen some on the satellite. And I figured this guy’s good enough to work with– my rugged standard. (LAUGHTER) So that was that. But in terms of what the movie means, I’m gonna pass it over to Tim Robbins.
TIM ROBBINS: Why do I get that question?
BILL MURRAY: Well, (LAUGHTER) I don’t know. I took the whole thing about how I got involved.
TIM ROBBINS: That was beautifully done, too, by the way.
BILL MURRAY: Thanks.
TIM ROBBINS: Yeah. (LAUGHTER) I think I was in that bar. It was at Lincoln and–
BILL MURRAY: Yeah, yeah–it was sorta like an old ship’s kinda lookin’ place.
TIM ROBBINS: Yeah.
BILL MURRAY: It was in a very old kinda ’60s looking place.
TIM ROBBINS: No.
BILL MURRAY: But it was good then, boy.
TIM ROBBINS: Mmmm.
SAOIRSE RONAN: Mmmm. (LAUGHTER)
TIM ROBBINS: So–
BILL MURRAY: You’ll be old enough to hear Mexican music someday. (LAUGHTER)
TIM ROBBINS: Yeah. I didn’t particularly think of it as a message thing. It was, for me, it was more about that spirit of the human being that finds a way to survive in the midst of the direst circumstances. And what I liked about this script, with these two young characters, this idea that there are some people that can still hope when others aren’t and that if they believe in it enough, anything is possible. And when I met Gil I came to quickly realize that that that he was not gonna fall into the traps of the movie, which would be that kind of darkness and nihilism and all that. And he had a real super positive energy. And I felt like he was gonna make a movie that accentuated the human spirit of these two main characters.
SAOIRSE RONAN: Does that mean it’s my turn now? (LAUGHTER)
TIM ROBBINS: Sure.
SAOIRSE RONAN: I was sent the script as well. And– my dad put me on tape. And it was sent over to Gil, who was in London at the time trying to look for– for Lina and Doon. And– we sent it over to ‘em. And then we sent it over to him, and then I went over and I met Gil. And we immediately clicked. And then I got a call, like a week later, to say that I had gotten the part. And, of course, I was thrilled. And I think basically what Tim and Bill said, is how I feel about the script. But I don’t think it’s really got enough about environmental issues. I suppose if you read into it, it would. But– it’s basically about the hope that the people of Ember have and– and the belief that there is a way out and there’s more to it than just this.
What type of research did you do to prepare the roles that you had to play?
BILL MURRAY: I dug a hole and I went inside of it. (LAUGHTER) A very deep hole.
SAOIRSE RONAN: And brought a light bulb with you?
BILL MURRAY: A very deep hole. And then I covered myself.
TIM ROBBINS: Good.
BILL MURRAY: And yeah, I had a little light. And then I waited till the light was extinguished and then I had it all right there.
BILL MURRAY: No, that was– no– you go ahead. I went for the humor. You go ahead.
TIM ROBBINS: Okay.
SAOIRSE RONAN: Me?
TIM ROBBINS: Yeah.
SAOIRSE RONAN: I mean, I don’t know. It’s kind of one of those characters– I don’t think you can really research somebody who is buried underground, who lives underground. And obviously nobody here (LAUGHTER) would have experienced that. So– I think it was one of those characters where you just have to do it in the moment. And– as long as I had Gil there, I was fine, you know. And he was, like, my research guide, (LAUGHTER) if that makes sense.
BILL MURRAY: I did a little research. I found that the book was a book that kids in America read in school now. They read it in middle school. And– when I told my sons I was gonna be in– might be in the City of Ember, they said, “Oh! You’re gonna be the mayor?” And I hadn’t even read the script or the movie yet. And I thought, “They already know what’s being spoken about and I don’t.” So when I read it, I read it from their point of view. I tried to think of, like, what they made of– what this guy was– you know, what this mayor was– the book and the– and the script. And, I think to the degree that a mayor can be a father figure who can disappoint you. I’m a father figure and I’ve probably disappointed on occasion. So, I just thought of when you’re most disappointed is when you talk the talk and you don’t live up to it. And that’s pretty much what he did. So, I felt like as long as I was really, really successful in talking the talk, that the disappointment would be there (BREATH) just like a– a– a gasp.
The City of Ember itself was practically built for this film, the set was nearly 360 degrees. What was it like, in an era of CGI and green screens, to actually being immersed into a real world like that?
SAOIRSE RONAN: It was an amazing set that Martin Lang had designed. And it was just. It was in the Titanic quarters. It was actually where the Titanic was built and painted. Or was it where it was painted? No, it wasn’t. It was just where it was built. But so it was huge. And the whole city, was actually like a little mini city. So, there wasn’t that much green screen at all, so, we didn’t really have to imagine what the city would look like.
BILL MURRAY: Yeah, well when you when you walk in and there’s a street and an underground city that’s 55 or 60 feet high with tunnels underneath it and there’s decaying doors and windows and bricks build in to this– bricks built as a street and concrete and plaster that’s made its walls, real doors that open, real glass, and beautiful design work, too. The emblems of the city built into the street and into the fountains into the street, fountains that work– it’s not so hard to say, “I– I’m living in a crumbling society,” when you walk in for work and there it is. It was so simple. And the costumes [were] the best costumes I’ve ever worn.
TIM ROBBINS: Yeah.
BILL MURRAY: The most beautiful I’ve ever seen in any film by far.
TIM ROBBINS: She’s a genius.
TIM ROBBINS: She is. She’s a genius.
SAOIRSE RONAN: She is.
TIM ROBBINS: Ruth Myers is amazing.
BILL MURRAY: Well, it’s just my opinion, but that’s what I do for a living. And– I’ve never seen anything like it. You know, the costumes that win the awards, are the ones that look the most like the ones, in the pictures in the book. And these were all original, all created. And they’re beautiful.
Did any of you perceive any correlations or metaphors to our current situation in this film?
BILL MURRAY: Tim, would you take that one?
TIM ROBBINS: (LAUGHTER) No. I’m not takin’ that one. I always took that one. (LAUGHTER)
BILL MURRAY: Well, you certainly feel it. And it came up today, this idea that– is this movie like what we’re living through now. And– was it intentionally written to be like what we’re going through now. And to be fair, you don’t wanna accuse a writer of being intentionally mirror-like, you know, intentionally mirroring the situation, or being metaphorical about your current situation. But I think what it is, is that the same combination of problems happen in that world that happen in our world– that even– whatever– whatever your intention is, you’re still gonna encounter a lot of the same difficulties. So whether you say, “Oh, it’s a movie about, oh, preserving our environmental resources,” well, no, not necessarily.
I think it’s more like what Tim said, that it’s a person or about a person that finds a way to survive in spite of all that’s around him, that finds their personal will and can follow their will and their spirit to emerge from a difficult situation. And on the way to that, you encounter this ecological consideration that we have of, like, “Well, how am I gonna live my life? Am I gonna live my wife, or is behaving as an eco-creature gonna help me serve my spirit?” So I think [it is] perhaps coincidental. And they work that way. I think it’s maybe inevitability coincidental. But I don’t think it was intentionally written that way. I think when you go on this search, this seeking for your– your own personal answer, that– you just are going to encounter those things. And I think that’s just sort of a mathematical situation, where if you say, “I’m gonna go– I’m gonna answer this one thing,” you’re gonna collide with all this resistance on the way, including that.
Have all of you read the book?
SAOIRSE RONAN: I read the book.
TIM ROBBINS: I have to plead guilty (LAUGHTER) to not reading the book.
BILL MURRAY: Had you read the book?
BILL MURRAY: So it’s really just you and Tim.
There are a couple sequels to the book. I know, Bill, you were eaten by a mole, so you’re probably not coming back, but for Tim and Saoirse, do you think it’s possible to bring your characters back for a sequel?
BILL MURRAY: I may have been injured by the mole. I see myself in a sling in the sequel. I think actually when you’re eaten by a mole, that it doesn’t really digest you and you.
Have you been regurgitated as a whole?
BILL MURRAY: Yes, yes. (LAUGHTER) I believe that’s the scientific fact.
TIM ROBBINS: Apparently there is–’cause I haven’t read the book either. But apparently Saoirse knows more than I do. So–
TIM ROBBINS: Apparently both characters are in the next book.
SAOIRSE RONAN: Yeah. You’re not. (LAUGHTER)
TIM ROBBINS: You don’t– Saoirse, you’re not listening. He was, he was, he was grieving
BILL MURRAY: Tell it to the producers, baby.
SAOIRSE RONAN: Oh! He’s not in, I don’t, well, I actually (LAUGHTER) haven’t read the second book. But I don’t think you’re in it.
BILL MURRAY: Talk to my people, baby.
SAOIRSE RONAN: I actually asked Gil when we were on set whether we were gonna do a sequel or not. And he said, “Get all of your friends to go and see it and then we’ll see.” (LAUGHTER) So, I think it’s just basically how– how this one goes and then we’ll see.
So would you like to do a second one if it was made?
SAOIRSE RONAN: If…yeah, yeah, if Gil was still gonna do it and– and we still had all the cast and everything. Then, yeah.
A lot of City of Ember was shot in Ireland, how was it spending time out there?
SAOIRSE RONAN: It was great for me to work in Ireland being an Irish person, being around an Irish crew who, I thought, were second to none. I thought they were fantastic and very, very professional. And it was just really nice to– to go somewhere that– that you already knew, you know.
TIM ROBBINS: And I love Ireland. I’ve been several times and absolutely love it. I think it’s a great country, all over. I’ve been in the north, the south, the west–
TIM ROBBINS: Well, yeah. The east, (LAUGHTER) the north, the south and the west. Yes. Middle? I’ve been in the middle.
BILL MURRAY: You were just guessing with east, weren’t ya? (LAUGHTER)
TIM ROBBINS: And the northeast. And I was in the southeast and a little bit in the–
BILL MURRAY: Southwest. (LAUGHTER)
TIM ROBBINS: Northwest as well. Middle East? (LAUGHTER)
BILL MURRAY: I’m from the Midwest. (LAUGHTER) So we don’t have anything like that there. But as far as Ireland goes, what Saoirse says is correct. The crews were amazingly professional and devoted to the work. And the extras were unlike any extras I’ve ever worked with anywhere in the world. They were so completely devoted to the scene and to being in the scene. It was so helpful. I mean, you know, people say, “Oh, I brought this costume designer with me along to the next movie.” But, you know, you’d almost think about bringing those extras along. They were that good. They were very proud of their work. And I respected ‘em a lot. Good on ya.
Have you ever been in a blackout, earthquake experience, or any of the disasters you experienced in the film?
TIM ROBBINS: Well–
SAOIRSE RONAN: Well–
TIM ROBBINS: Go ahead. (LAUGHTER)
SAOIRSE RONAN: I live in Ireland, so you don’t really get anything like that. So, no, I haven’t been in– in an earthquake or a blackout or anything like that.
TIM ROBBINS: I was in the blackout, the famous one many years ago. ’77. I was here. I was also here for the last one. That was fun. (LAUGHTER) It was fun. The people started barbeques on the street. It was really fun. I got out my camera and I – stayed up all night and took pictures. And earthquakes, I’ve been in a couple a those. I was in the a hotel once, and it moved. I was way up high and it moved. That was really scary. And then I looked out the window and I saw those flashes of light that happens when the electrical substations have interruptions of power? That was, like, apocalyptic and crazy.
BILL MURRAY: I’ve never been in– I missed all the big blackouts, but I was in the pretty good sized hurricane that came a few years ago and the power went out in my neighborhood. All the power went out except for this kind of alarm system I have in the house that, you know, is for fires and everything. And it has backup batteries which will last for several days. (LAUGHTER). Even though the power is all out, the batteries will still sound the alarm. But because the company that services it is about 60 miles away, it– I was the last person on their list. And they had 450 people between me and they before they got here. So I left my home. And I moved to the Plaza Hotel, New York City with an entire group of kids and a dog. And they gave us the Presidential Suite, which is kinda funny. ‘Cause, you know, it’s the same architect built my house as built the Presidential Suite in the Plaza Hotel.
BILL MURRAY: Yeah. So it felt like I was home. It was very strange. Does that answer your question? It’s just an odd point of fact? But I don’t know what the question was. But, yeah, in terms of tragedies, that’s about as bad as it got.
TIM ROBBINS: You know, the last blackout there, I would look out, I have this view of Northern Manhattan.There was one light on in the entire city. You know what it was? It was the letters G-E on the top of the G.E.
BILL MURRAY: That’s funny.
TIM ROBBINS: But they somehow kept that lit. (LAUGHTER) I don’t know, it was bizarre.
Bill, you play a hero in Ghostbusters and a villain in this movie. Is it more fun playing a good guy or a bad guy? And what persuaded you to do another sequel?
BILL MURRAY: The sequel of what?
BILL MURRAY: Well, you’re way ahead of me. But that’s okay. There’s someone trying to write a script for another Ghostbusters movie. There’s two fellows from The Office that are writing a script. But I have yet to see it. And I’m more involved with, you know, trying to get the dessert we order at lunch than I am with the new– Ghostbuster sequel. (LAUGHTER) But it’s possible. It’s a great idea that they hired these two guys to do it, ’cause I think it’ll be a fresh look at it. And it could be funny. I think the original, the first Ghostbusters we did a sequel and it was sort of, rather unsatisfying for me, because the first one to me was the goods. It was the real thing. And the sequel, you know, it was a few years later. There was an idea pitched. And it was like, well, they got us all together in a room. We just laughed for a couple of hours. And then they said, “What if we did another one? Here’s an idea these guys have got.” So they had this idea, but it didn’t turn out to be the idea when I arrived on the set.
They’d written a whole different movie than the one. And the special effects guys got it and got their hands on it. And it was, like, just not the same movie. There were a few great scenes in it. But it wasn’t the same movie. So there’s never been an interest in a third Ghostbusters ’cause the second one was kind of disappointing for me, anyway. But, the third one could happen. They’ve hired two guys from The Office to write a screenplay, which I think is a smart idea. It’s a fresh look at it.
But you asked me a question about bein’ a bad guy and a good guy. And, it’s so much easier to be a bad guy. It’s a piece a cake. It’s a joke. (LAUGHTER) And, you know, it’s, I keep saying, “Why do they give Oscars to guys that play bad guys,” ’cause it’s so simple. Play a good guy some time. That’s hard. Play a really, decent good person. That’s hard.
So would you go back for another Ghostbusters?
BILL MURRAY: Only if I could play an evil person. (LAUGHTER) No, mostly it’s all about the script. I don’t, it’s not like I have any obligation to the franchise or anyone. If the script were good and I thought we could do it, it’d be fun. But, you know, it’s only now that this has ever been a prospect. No one’s ever talked about it for a long time, ’cause the second one was the way it was. This is just, it’s kind of a clever idea. I think they see that and the fact that every interview today has asked me about the Ghostbusters movie every single person means that there is some interest for it.
TIM ROBBINS: Me, too. They asked me about that, too. (LAUGHTER)
SAOIRSE RONAN: Well–
BILL MURRAY: You think you’re talking about the City of Ember, but I’ve answered as many questions about Ghostbusters as I have about– well, not as many, but, I mean, on every single one. So there’s interest in it. And (LAUGHTER) if it’s funny, it’s funny. I’m boring you to tears. But it’s–
BILL MURRAY: It’s a movie. I’ll getcha a copy of it. (LAUGHTER)
SAOIRSE RONAN: Is it the writers from the English Office or the American Office?
BILL MURRAY: I don’t know. See, like I say, I’m waitin’ on dessert. (LAUGHTER)
The American Office.
SAOIRSE RONAN: ‘Cause if you got Ricky Gervase that would be pretty cool.
BILL MURRAY: I don’t– is he a writer?
SAOIRSE RONAN: Yeah! Well, he wrote Extras and everything. Bill, come on!
BILL MURRAY: I don’t get out much. (LAUGHTER) I’m tellin’ ya.
What’s next for everyone?
TIM ROBBINS: I’ve written a pilot for Showtime that I’m gonna direct in December. I’m casting that right now. And I’m putting together a movie to shoot in May hopefully.
What’s the show about?
TIM ROBBINS: Well, it’s about the pharmaceutical industry.
Black comedy type?
TIM ROBBINS: Yeah. Yeah. (LAUGHTER)
Saoirse, how different an experience was Lovely Bones versus City of Ember?
SAOIRSE RONAN: I’ve been asked about the Lovely Bones and how it’s goin’ and everything. And, you know, a lot of people assume that it’s gonna be this, probably like this as well, that it’s actually gonna be a dark depressing movie. And it really, really isn’t. I mean, obviously the topic isn’t the brightest topic, that I’m killed.
But it’s so beautiful. And the way Peter and and Fran and Philippa have written it, they’re just-gotten it perfect, I think. And they really know what they’re gonna do with it. But, yeah, it’s completely different, as every film is, really. But, it was it was great to come from this and go on and do that.
Bill I heard you’ll be playing a role in Wes Anderson’s upcoming animated film The Fantastic Mr. Fox, what can you tell us about that?
BILL MURRAY: I’ll be playing the badger.
SAOIRSE RONAN: Cool.
Is this your badger voice?
SAOIRSE RONAN: Oh God.
BILL MURRAY: No. Unfortunately, my badger– I worked really, really hard on a Wisconsin accent, ’cause I thought that would be an appropriate badger voice. And I did the–
SAOIRSE RONAN: And you researched?
BILL MURRAY: First couple scenes…
SAOIRSE RONAN: The badgers?
BILL MURRAY: Well…
SAOIRSE RONAN: Okay. (LAUGHTER)
BILL MURRAY: I just know they’re fierce. And a fight between a badger and a wolverine, that’s a ticket. (LAUGHTER) I know that much. But I did this Wisconsin badger voice that I thought was so funny. I did the first couple scenes and then he goes, “Nah, I don’t think so.” (LAUGHTER)
And now, a very random question, have you ever stolen anything?
BILL MURRAY: Have I ever stolen anything? You know, not so much intentionally, not since I’ve been of age of reason. But I take (LAUGHTER) things without intending to give them back… and don’t. I have some things I go, “Yeah, I’ve had that a long time.” I’m not really much for– every once in awhile there are things you feel like you have to appropriate, I guess. But I don’t think it’s– I don’t think it’s so much stealing as being a part of the flow of the universe (LAUGHTER) where there’s an exchange. It’s positive. It’s negative. There’s an exchange of goods and services. And if you give a certain amount, sometimes you feel like you’ve earned something, (LAUGHTER) you know, for what you’ve done. Stealing, to me, I don’t know. I guess it’s–
SAOIRSE RONAN: I don’t– I don’t like the word “steal.”
BILL MURRAY: It’s terrible.
SAOIRSE RONAN: You know?
BILL MURRAY: It’s terrible.
SAOIRSE RONAN:It’s a big negative.
BILL MURRAY: It’s so… not okay.
TIM ROBBINS: –borrowed–
SAOIRSE RONAN: Yeah.
BILL MURRAY: No, there are things that you, that are on loan. I mean, you really can’t own anything here. And you have to believe you’re just– you’re just passing through. And sometimes you encounter an object or a thing that isn’t really being used correctly or properly. And you see how you could make this serve someone else’s development. (LAUGHTER) In some cases, it’s your own.
But, do I ever steal anything? I don’t know. I don’t think of myself as much of a thief. But occasionally there are things that are just laying there doin’ nothin’. (LAUGHTER) I don’t consider that theft. Theft would be, like, if I took your sunglasses or if I took your purse or something, if you took your coat. I don’t need your coat, your purse, your glasses, (LAUGHTER) your earrings. I don’t need that stuff. But if there was something that was laying around, in your garage and it had been there for nine years and it was just covered with dust and it was like, “Are you kidding? This thing’s great.” Sometimes I feel the need, not to steal it from you, but to liberate that object from its bondage. (LAUGHTER)
The film will be in theaters October 10th. For more info check out the website cityofember.com
Check out the trailer below: