Groundhog Day is a film about a man who has to relive the worst day of his life over and over again. In the midst of filming for Groundhog Day, life imitated art in a sad way: Murray’s marriage to his first wife, Margaret Kelly, started to come undone, and ultimately resulted in divorce in 1996. While his marriage was still on the rocks, the actor was reportedly unruly and difficult to work with — “really irrationally mean and unavailable,” according to Groundhog Day director Harold Ramis (via The New Yorker).
In a 2012 interview with Entertainment Weekly, Ramis further described Murray’s personality during this period of time, revealing that he was often irritable and wasn’t easy to communicate with. “I learned to step back. You don’t step in front of a train. You just let it go by,” said Ramis.
The director also shared that Murray resented Groundhog Day on the whole, telling EW, “Bill had all these obvious resentments toward the production, so it was very hard for a time to communicate with him. Calls would go unreturned. Production assistants couldn’t find him.” It sounds as though Murray had a tough time separating his personal life from his professional one, making everyone’s job all the more difficult.
Ramis went on to discuss Murray’s handling of a suggestion that he get a personal assistant to take care of the minutiae of his work so he wouldn’t have to focus on it himself. Things didn’t pan out as expected. “He hired a personal assistant who was profoundly deaf, did not have oral speech, spoke only American sign language, which Bill did not speak, nor did anyone else in the production,” Ramis explained. “But Bill said, ‘Don’t worry, I’m going to learn sign language.’ And I think it was so inconvenient that in a couple weeks, he gave that up.”
That stress was only the beginning of what would prove to be an incredibly contentious production.