Like many great comedic actors, Bill Murray became a movie star by mostly playing variations of the same persona. There wasn't a whole of difference between the characters he played in "Stripes," "Ghostbusters" and "Groundhog Day." And it worked for him. (Murray has a lead role in five of Yahoo! Movies' 100 Funniest Movies to See Before You Die, more than any other actor.)
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But in the latter part of his career, Murray has been stretching himself with more dramatic and varied roles. He has earned acclaim for roles in Wes Anderson films like "Rushmore" and "The Life Aquatic," and he was nominated for an Oscar for "Lost in Translation." Now he has taken on maybe the biggest stretch of his career, playing President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the upcoming "Hyde Park on Hudson."
It's always a challenge for an actor to play a historical character, but FDR has an additional degree of difficulty because there is so much footage of how he actually looked and talked. However, it does not look like Murray is going for a flat-out impersonation of Roosevelt. He is not under a layer of prosthetic makeup in an attempt to look more like FDR (which is good, considering how creepy Jon Voight looked in "Pearl Harbor"). And Murray doesn't exactly imitate Roosevelt's voice so much as adopt his vocal cadences.
It's not the first time Murray has played a real person on screen. He portrayed author Hunter S. Thompson -- another figure often seen with a cigarette holder in his teeth -- in 1980's "Where the Buffalo Roam" (18 years before Johnny Depp played him in "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas"). Murray also played Bunny Breckinridge, one of the stars on the infamously bad movie "Plan 9 From Outer Space," in director Tim Burton's "Ed Wood" (which, coincidentally, also starred Johnny Depp). Plus, Murray has played "Bill Murray" more than once, most notably in "Zombieland."
"Hyde Park on Hudson" tells the true story of the first time a reigning British monarch made a visit to America. In June of 1939, King George VI -- the subject of the Oscar-winning film "The King's Speech" -- and Queen Elizabeth, came to stay with Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt (played by Murray's "Rushmore" costar Olivia Williams) at their house in Hyde Park, NY. Also in attendance was Margaret Suckley, played in the film by Laura Linney. Suckley was FDR's distant cousin, close friend, and reported mistress.
The visit of the royals really did have an element of culture shock as portrayed in the trailer. The Roosevelts really did serve them hot dogs on their Sunday picnic. But more importantly, the visit helped strengthen diplomatic ties between the U.S. and Great Britain, which was essential when war broke out with Germany just a few months later.
"Hyde Park on Hudson" opens on December 7.