FILM: ST. VINCENT
CAST: Bill Murray, Melissa McCarthy, Naomi Watts, Jaeden Lieberher, Chris O’ Dowd, Terrence Howard
DIRECTOR: Theodore Melfi
The singular Bill Murray teams with first-time director/screenwriter Ted Melfi for ‘St. Vincent’, the story of a young boy who develops an unusual friendship with the cantankerous old guy next door.
Maggie (Melissa McCarthy), a single mother, moves into a new home in Brooklyn with her 12-year old son, Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher). Forced to work long hours, she has no choice but to leave Oliver in the care of their new neighbor, Vincent (Bill Murray), a retired curmudgeon with a penchant for alcohol and gambling. An odd friendship soon blossoms between the improbable pair. Together with a pregnant stripper named Daka (Naomi Watts), Vincent brings Oliver along on all the stops that make up his daily routine – the race track, a strip club, and the local dive bar. Vincent helps Oliver grow to become a man, while Oliver begins to see in Vincent something that no one else is able to: a misunderstood man with a good heart.
The roots of the story of ‘St. Vincent’ were inspired by a life-altering moment in Melfi’s own life. When his older brother passed away at the age of thirty-eight seven years ago, he went to the funeral and realized his eleven year-old niece had nowhere to go. Melfi and his wife quickly decided to adopt her and move her from a small, rural town in Tennessee to where they lived in Sherman Oaks, California.
Once enrolled in Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks, Melfi’s niece received a homework assignment with the following prompt: Find the Catholic saint that inspires you, and find someone in your real life that mimics the qualities of that saint. She picked St. William of Rochester, who is the Patron Saint of Adopted Children, and selected Melfi as the match. A very moved Melfi realized that it was the perfect idea for a movie. Instead of characters like himself and his niece though, he wanted to use an old curmudgeonly guy who’d lost his will to live and a young boy. Bill Murray seemed to be perfect for the role. “That’s the genesis of the story: this young boy moves in next to this cantankerous alcoholic played by Bill Murray, and they become best friends. This little adopted eleven year-old boy makes Bill Murray the saint in his assignment, and they both change each other’s lives. That’s how this whole project started – from a homework assignment,” recalls the filmmaker.
Although Melfi had Murray in mind for the starring role, desiring to cast Murray and actually tracking him down are two very different animals. It is not a task for those easily discouraged. Melfi explains: “Bill has no manager or agent. He has just a 1-800 number, and so you spend a fair amount of time leaving messages on the 1-800 number and hoping that it’s actually his. You leave message after message and start having a relationship with an answering machine, kind of like in ‘Swingers’.” But Melfi kept trying.
After six months of playing phone tag, Melfi found himself meeting up with Murray at LAX at 9am one morning over Memorial Day weekend. Talking over the script and stopping at In N Out Burger along the way, the eight-hour meeting in the back of Murray’s Towncar solidified the actor’s interest in the project. Notes Murray: “The script was different. It had a different rhythm than most things have and had a lot of emotion in the story. Ted had a pretty good way of writing it that has the potential to not be sentimental at all, which is how I really like to see emotion delivered: without sentimentality at all. You feel it, and you’re not tricked into it. You’re not drenched in it. You just get it. It comes at you, and it comes as a natural outcome of the way the plot goes.”