The first Hall H panel of 2015's Comic-Con International held a huge surprise for those fans who had waited many hours in long lines in Bill Murray, an unnanounced guest making his first ever appearance at the annual event. The actor entered the hall from the rear as Deep Purple's "Smoke on the Water" blasted over the sound system, singing along as he made his way to the stage, high-fiving fans who had risen from their seats.
Murray arrived in character as Richie Lanz, his role in director Barry Levinson's upcoming movie "Rock the Kasbah," the story of a down-on-his-luck music manager (Lanz) stuck in Afghanistan. During this time, Lanz discovers a teenage girl with an extraordinary voice and takes her to Kabul to compete on a popular television show called "Afghan Star."
After giving the audience some tips on staying hydrated while partying, he introduced the writer of the film, Mitch Glazer, along with the moderator for this panel, MTV's Josh Horowitz.
Horowitz began the panel officially by welcoming Murray to his first Comic-Con and asking him his thoughts on the experience thus far. The actor said he felt comfortable. "I could fall down in any one of these aisles and be left alone until I woke."
The moderator then turned to Glazer and thanked him for writing one of Horowitz's favorite Christmas movies, "Scrooged," which also happened to star Murray. The writer accepted the compliment, saying, "'Scrooged' was the first thing I ever wrote for Bill professionally, but we had met years before at 'Saturday Night Live.' He was introduced to me by John Belushi as 'the new kid.'"
Playing a music manager was a new experience for Murray, but the actor said he was familiar with being around musicians and managers. As a matter of fact, Murray said he got some of the inspiration for Lanz from Van Morrison's manager, who he had worked with a few times before. Murray described the manager as "a pathological liar and a wonderful guy."
Asked if the recognition and reception he got in Morocco, where the film was shot, differed greatly from the one he receives in America, Murray confessed, "You do get a lot more salaam alaikum."
"Whether you know it or not, there is a mystique, an aura, a legend of Bill Murray that might intimidate some actors if they haven't worked with you before," Horowitz said. "How do you approach actors you haven't worked with?"
"Well, I like to go to work with a knife strapped to my leg, and it just means people are going to know their lines and be ready to go," Murray replied with a smile. He then talked about his training with Chicago's Second City comedy troupe, and how he learned to work through scenes with other actors.
"When actors see, 'Holy cow, he's not going to try to upstage me -- he wants to make me look good,' then everybody relaxes. And we had a lot of fun."
Murray had many kind words to say about all his costars in the film, which included Danny McBride, Zoe Deschanel and Kate Hudson. He said they all had a great time together, but one stood out in particular: "Bruce Willis, in the role of a lifetime -- he had so much fun, we own him now."
The actor also mentioned that he had an "ancient connection" with Willis that he wasn't aware of until they worked together on the film "Moonrise Kingdom." "When I was on 'Saturday Night Live,' it turns out Bruce was a page… His job was to refill the M&M and peanut bowls. Years later, after a few tequilas, Bruce said, 'Only you and Gilda [Radner] were nice to me.'"
Shifting back to the film, Glazer discussed its true life indluences. "When I was doing research for this story, I discovered there actually is a version of 'American Idol' in Afghanistan, and it's been there for eight seasons." The show is called "Afghan Star," and there was an Afghan woman who wanted to enter in its third season. "She was warned not to sing or dance, and there were death threats against her," Glazer recounted. "But she did it anyway. She didn't win, but she was an astounding talent. She broke a lot of ground.
"Our character in the film that's like this is played by Leem Lubany," he continued. "She's a Palestinian girl from Nazareth, and she's a great singer and an amazing actress. She and Bill were great together." Glazer also pointed out that the girl only sings songs by Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens) in the movie, as he is Muslim.
The moderator then asked Murray about the kind of music he listens to, and if he feels like he can connect to today's music. "I like music," the actor responded. "I don't care where it's coming from. We did this Christmas show, and we had a lot of unusual people and musicians in it… and out of nowhere comes Miley Cyrus. I've gotta say -- and I'm going to say this officially -- Miley Cyrus is really fucking good. I thought she was just a nutty, crazy girl -- the kind you'd want to go on a road trip with and maybe not have ID, but she was amazing."
As the panel opened up to questions from the floor, Murray's answer to the question of what his favorite role was got the hall suitably excited. "Well, once upon a time, I did save the city of New York, and I had the coolest damn car to drive around Manhattan," he said to cheers from the audience.
A fan mentioned that she thought it was great Murray was teaching people about Afghanistan and its culture in this movie. She then asked him if he worries about teaching people things via his movies.
"When you say you're going to educate people with your work, you're aiming at the curb and not at the stars," he replied, explaining some of his thoughts about getting ideas across through acting. "If you're trying to be real and present in a film, you can make your character real and universal in their message of what they do."
After this, an audience member called out the actor for his reputation of doing "strange and random" things with people he meets, only to then tell them, "No one will ever believe that this happened."
Murray played coy, but Glazer decided to jump on this topic. First, he explained that his wife is actress Kelly Lynch, who starred in the movie "Road House." He then told the crowd, "For about five or six years, anytime 'Road House' was on -- and it was on TNT every 15 minutes -- Bill would call me and say, 'Your wife is banging Patrick Swayze.' He did this once at four in the morning from a wedding in Russia. And then his brothers starting calling me at all weird hours doing the same thing in a deep voice…Kelly and I were haunted."
Finally, Murray was asked about his thoughts on Comic-Con now that he was finishing his first panel. "I didn't know what to expect, and I wasn't sure what my place was before I came… I must say, it feels wonderful to be in this room. I like when people get excited about something… It's nerdy, but that's pretty cool. Some of the best parties I've ever been to were with really insane nerds."
True to his life-loving ways, Murray closed out the panel by walking back across the hall through the audience, shaking hands and pausing for selfie after selfie with fans. It appears that some people will believe this happened.