Bill Murray is known for being spontaneous and showing up in peculiar places, but Sunday marked a first for the elusive actor: a national commercial. And not just any ad, a Super Bowl spot for Fiat Chrysler’s Jeep SUV brand.
The comedian is very particular about the roles he takes and isn’t known for acting in ads or endorsing products. He reportedly doesn’t have an agent and gives out a 1-800 number to people looking to contact him for roles, according to the Netflix documentary “The Bill Murray Stories.”
Persuading Murray to reprise his role as Phil Connors to recreate the 1993 film “Groundhog Day” on the biggest advertising night of the year came down to a chance meeting, a lengthy letter and surprise call two weeks before the big game — after Fiat Chrysler had already given up on Murray and decided against running a Super Bowl ad this year.
Fiat Chrysler Chief Marketing Officer Olivier Francois met Murray more than four years ago at a charity benefit in Massachusetts. The Frenchman gave a “totally fake and scripted” speech, as he describes it, followed by an unscripted Murray taking the stage and playfully making fun of the auto executive.
“It was in a very nice way, a very funny way. I thought it was incredibly smart, incredibly funny. It was ironic and respectful at the same time,” Francois told CNBC. “From that day, I got obsessed. I had to work with that guy.”
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Francois approached Murray after the lighthearted roasting, but he knew it was a “very long shot” to ever get him to appear in any ad for the Italian-American automaker.
‘Once in a lifetime opportunity’
Years went by and Murray remained on Francois’ mind. But it wasn’t until late last year that he thought he had the perfect opportunity to cast Murray. It was then Francois realized that the Super Bowl and Groundhog Day would be occurring on the same day for the first time in 54 years.
Francois penned a “long letter” to Murray in October with the idea of recreating the movie for a Super Bowl ad. He gave it to a “mutual friend” to hand deliver to Murray because he wanted to ensure the actor would read it.
Months went by without a response. Francois figured Murray wasn’t interested in the ad and decided the company would not advertise during the Super Bowl for a second year in a row.
“We decided to not go Super Bowl,” said Francois, who has always touted there needs to be relevance to the company’s Super Bowl ads. “And then all of a sudden something happened, and we had to do it ... The timing is really a big part of the magic.”
That “something”occurred on Jan. 17,when Francois received a call from Murray agreeing to do the ad, saying it was “a once in a lifetime opportunity,” according to Francois.
“He didn’t do that because it was an ad or because he likes me, we probably have a lot of mutual respect, but I think he is a smart man and we owed that to the fans,” Francois said. “His fans, and, more importantly, the fans of the movie, who are many in America. For whatever reason, he says, ‘Yes.’”
Francois is well-known for casting unique actors in unconventional commercials. Most notably, he persuaded Detroit rapper Eminem to star in an ad for the Chrysler 200 sedan in 2011. Since then, other ads for the automaker have featured actor Clint Eastwood and musician Bob Dylan as well as voiceovers by Oprah Winfrey and deceased legendary broadcaster Paul Harvey.
The 60-second commercial, Francois said, was created and filmed over three days from Jan. 24 through Jan. 26 in Woodstock, Illinois, where the movie was filmed. Fiat Chrysler worked with Fox to fit the ad in during the game. It also got the rights and licensing to recreate the movie and use the song “I Got You Babe” by Sonny & Cher, which Murray woke up to each day in the movie.
“That was very crazy, but then it worked out,” Francois said.
The ad features the same locations as the movie as well as appearances by Murray’s brother, Brian Doyle-Murray, who played the city of Punxsutawney’s mayor, and Stephen Tobolowsky as “Needlenose Ned” Ryerson.
Much of the ad, according to Francois, was unscripted. It was Murray, known for his improv and impulsiveness, doing what he wanted. Murray’s personality is exactly why Francois said he wanted him for a commercial for Jeep.
“We had three days to make up a commercial. I say ‘make up’ because not much was scripted,” said Francois, who flew from Italy to Chicago to film the ad. “He made it. His ideas, his lines. In collaboration with his brother.”
Fiat Chrysler declined to say how much the ad cost, including the fee for Murray.
The ad has received overwhelmingly positive reviews from USA Today, Ad Age and others. As of Monday morning, it had received more than 23 million views since being published on YouTube on Sunday at 6 a.m., a nod to when Murray’s character in the movie awoke each day.
Murray, in a release, said this was his first and last commercial: “This is my first commercial. I’m glad I did it with you (Jeep),” he said. “And I’m glad that this is my last commercial, as well.”
This story first appeared on CNBC.com. More from CNBC: