By Alastair Sharp
TORONTO (Reuters) - Everyone involved in the making of "St. Vincent" wants to talk about Bill Murray, who plays the grumpy and flawed namesake of director Ted Melfi's first film, but the quirky comedian has lived up to a reputation of being incredibly hard to pin down.
The star of "Stripes," and "Groundhog Day," has been omnipresent at this year's Toronto International Film Festival: he took fan questions after a 30th anniversary screening of "Ghostbusters" on Friday, hammed it up at the premiere of his new film later, and was spotted cycling around the city and on a late-night dance floor in random photos by onlookers.
The festival also declared last Friday "Bill Murray Day," and a cadre of loyal fans dressed up as some of his beloved characters in a costume contest.
But Murray also famously does his own thing, so it came as little surprise when he left partway through a grueling schedule of on-camera interviews on Saturday, deciding the fun was to be had elsewhere.
"If you get a glimpse, the party follows him," Naomi Watts, Murray's "St. Vincent" co-star, told Reuters, after returning from a two-hour lunch on Saturday at the home of two of Murray's friends. "He is such a joy to work with and every day on set felt like a party."
Murray has no agent or manager, and uses a 1-800 phone number and messaging service to field calls from producers and directors eager for his involvement in their projects.
Melfi, who also wrote the script for "St. Vincent," said he called the number dozens of times. Luckily for him, Murray finally called back.
"I try not to write with someone in mind because if you don't get them, it's just depressing," he said. "But Bill's the perfect blend of bitter and sweet - and heaven and hell, really. And once I started thinking of him, I couldn't stop thinking of him."
The film tells the story of Vincent - who drinks, gambles, and lives alone but has periodic visits with a pregnant Russian prostitute - and his unlikely friendship with the scrawny kid who moves in next door.
After a rousing audience reception at the world premiere, reviews have been mixed, with the BBC saying that the crowd "responded on Pavlovian cue to the film's cutesy, aging-rebel theatrics, but, really, Bill Murray deserves a better movie."
Yet Variety called the Weinstein Company movie a "window into the actor's own soul", which it describes as "a ticket to movie heaven."
Apart from praise for Murray, accolades were also heaped on the performance of Jaeden Lieberher, the 11-year-old actor whose character Oliver is taken under the wing of Murray's Vincent.
Initially nervous in Murray's presence, Lieberher said the iconic actor helped him relax and proved an instructive presence.
"I learned from him, but he didn't teach me with his words," he said. "He taught me how to do it when he didn't know he was teaching me."
(Editing by Jeffrey Hodgson, G Crosse)