American hero Bill Murray made his first-ever trip to Comic-Con on Thursday as the booming sounds of “Smoke on the Water” reverberated throughout a cavernous Hall H filled with 6,000 screaming fans.
There, on the hallowed stage built for the mass marketing of superheroes and billion-dollar blockbusters, Murray kicked off the biggest pop culture confab of the year by big-upping Islam, defending Bruce Willis and Miley Cyrus, and giving a moving shout-out to South Carolina’s historic decision to remove the Confederate flag from the state capitol.
Decked out in aviators and a suede jacket with a flowery bandanna wrapped around his head, the comedy icon walked through the crowd like a rock god to introduce his upcoming Kabul-set comedy, Rock the Kasbah.
In it, he plays Richie Lantz, a washed up music manager who discovers a young Afghan woman with a golden voice and shepherds her toward a big break on Afghan Star—the local version of American Idol.
Holding court in Hall H for over an hour is no easy task for mere mortal celebs. But this is Bill Murray. “I’m rock and roll,” he purred to the crowd. “That’s what I am.”
Filming took place in Morocco with the tourist-friendly country standing in for Afghanistan. During one break in filming, screenwriter and longtime collaborator Mitch Glazer revealed that Murray rode around in a pimped out party bus on Ramadan.
“There’s no traffic,” Murray quipped. “It’s a good time. There’s less public drinking in Morocco. It’s a Muslim country but… I like their interpretation of the book. They’re gentle, lovely people.”
Murray may have been shilling a studio-made comedy to the geek hardcore, where every other question in his high-profile Q&A session was about Ghostbusters or Star Wars. (No, he doesn’t know if he was ever on the shortlist to play Han Solo.) Thanks to Rock the Kasbah’s subject matter and setting, chatter got way more political than usual at Comic-Con.
“The world is changing,” Murray said. “It’s very slow and it doesn’t change the way we want it, but there is a justice in the world. It just doesn’t come when we want it. It comes slowly… There’s a flag flying over a building in South Carolina that people are really upset about, you know? It’s going to change. But it doesn’t change because someone says so.”
He compared the battle to end the flying of the Confederate flag in the wake of the Charleston church shooting to the long fight to end slavery.
“We were a country founded with a glorious Declaration of Independence in a time when we still had slavery,” he told a receptive crowd decked out in lanyards and superhero T-shirts. “The deal was, okay, we’ll sign it. But in 1820 the law started changing and people had to start giving away their slaves. They made a deal, like, ‘We’re going to end slavery—but we can’t get it done today.’ They made like a 50-year plan to get it done. It’s insane, but they had to make some sort of compromise for the people who wouldn’t bend.”
“So how do you make a change? It really starts with yourself,” Murray said. “We are slaves ourselves. We’re slaves to our own weakness, we’re slaves to our bodies, we’re emotional slaves. If you can free your own self, that’s a huge help. That’s really the best thing you can do. That state that you enter then, that you attain, affects everyone around you.”
So sayeth the Dalai Murray.
Of course, this is Comic-Con. Murray slayed the crowd interacting with his adoring public. He cheered co-star Zooey Deschanel’s karaoke game (“If she died tomorrow I’d say her karaoke work will live forever.”) He rattled off his fave SiriusXM stations (“Channel 15, the pulse, chill, it’s a mood swing thing”).
Asked if Moonrise Kingdom and Rock the Kasbah co-star Bruce Willis “is a jackass,” Murray launched into a surprisingly passionate defense of the Movie Star.
“When you’re the movie star, a real movie star… you have to sometimes take matters into your own hands in the name of entertainment, in the name of respecting the crew,” he said. “I don’t want to say producer slime or a certain kind of person, but there are people who want to take advantage of a group situation and dominate. That’s a personality flaw. And a movie star can step in the middle and say, ‘No, that ain’t gonna happen, boss. That’s not going to happen.’ They’ll get a little loud, they’ll get in someone’s face, and that story gets repeated because that person got loud and got in someone’s face.”
Murray also used his Comic-Con appearance to defend Miley Cyrus, who taped a guest appearance on his upcoming Netflix Christmas special.
“I’m gonna say this officially: Miley Cyrus… is good,” he said. “I was not particularly convinced. Miley Cyrus is really fuckin’ good. She can really sing. I just thought she was a knucklehead crazy girl, the kind of girl you want to go on a road trip with who didn’t have ID or something, but she can really sing. So I don’t want to hear any more bad rapping on Miley Cyrus, OK?”
He paused, thinking for a beat. “Rick Ross is the guy we can run down.”