“There’s a couple of you I’d like to touch, but most of you, I’ll be hilarious with,” Bill Murray said in response to a question about how he found the tonal balance between touching and hilarious in “Get Low,” the period dramedy that premiered in Austin Wednesday night. Even before he walked on stage, Murray was cracking the audience up, urging the film’s soft-spoken director Aaron Schneider to project more during his introduction, which led Schneider to remark “There’s this idea that I directed these actors…,” looking over at Murray and co-stars Robert Duvall and Sissy Spacek. Moments later, Duvall called on the audience for a hearty amen, which he received; Murray’s call for a fight on St. Patrick’s Day was less successful, though he did take a moment to tell the crowd sincerely, “you’re all very lucky to be here tonight.”
The film, which stars Duvall as a societal outcast in 1930s Tennessee inspired to stage his own funeral while he’s still alive with the help of a funeral director (Murray) and his assistant (Lucas Black), played to an enthusiastic response and a standing ovation for Duvall when he came out for the post-screening Q & A. Nearly all the questions revolved around just how a first-time director like Schneider was able to collect such an impressive cast — when one audience member asked him how lucky he felt, Murray chimed in, “We were saying that a lot. We were telling him how lucky he was.”
It was just one of many breaks for the $7.5 million film that Schneider had to edit in his house since he couldn’t afford an editing bay. Screenwriter Chris Provenzano said the basis for the story came from his own family tree from a relative who set up his own wake several generations before and once the production starting gaining momentum, Schneider felt particularly lucky to find a Civil War Park Preserve in Georgia to play the role of Duvall’s recluse Felix Bush’s 300-acre estate.
Spacek declared early that “I think we should call Bill and Robert honorary Texans,” a sentiment echoed at the end of the evening by Murray. “Austin’s not a safe town for people like us,” he said, pausing for the irony to settle in. “But for two or three hours, we can come here and feel safe.”
[Photo: “Get Low,” Sony Pictures Classics, 2010]