Late actor and director Harold Ramis was “a kind, gentle soul” who valued not the sleazy world of Hollywood nor the trappings of fame but his family, actress Andie MacDowell recalled in an interview with Newsweek. “There was not an arrogant bone in his body,” she said.
MacDowell propelled to stardom on the strength of her turn in Ramis’ 1993 masterpiece, Groundhog Day, in which she plays Rita, the love interest with whom misanthropic weatherman Phil Connors (Bill Murray) must begin anew, day after day after day, in a punishing time loop. She reunited with Ramis for 1996’s Multiplicity — but the film flopped, and it would prove to be her final major contact with the director.
MacDowell described Ramis’ warm, collaborative spirit and the creative process that launched Groundhog Day to 1990s pop culture gold, though not without spawning a rift between Ramis and longtime collaborator Bill Murray. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What was it like to work with Harold Ramis on Groundhog Day and Multiplicity?
Harold was just a super nice person. He was just a kind, gentle soul. A lot of the time you’re feeling like you’re above-the-line or below-the-line, but not with Harold. He was just a very humble person. There was not an arrogant bone in his body.
And he was a genius. He used to do the New York Times crossword puzzle and time himself. He was extremely smart, but he’d do it with a smile on his face and not take it very seriously. There was nothing slimy about him. He didn’t have any of that idea of what you would find in Hollywood — that just wasn’t Harold. Harold was a wholesome man. He was a good man, a funny person, genuine. Loved his family. There were always families on the set. People could bring their families, you didn’t feel bad about bringing your kids.
How did you come to first work with him [on Groundhog Day]?
I just remember coming in for a reading with [co-star] Bill [Murray]. It’s been a long time. I remember reading the script and loving the script and having the opportunity to get to go and be in the room. I don’t even think we actually read. It was more just to meet and to be with him. And that was how I was cast.
You never had to read from the script?
It was more like, get it together, look at it together. A lot of the time they’ll do that to see how people are with each other.
Was this an earlier version of the script? I know it apparently went through many changes…
The script that I saw — I don’t remember it changing that much. I know Bill had a lot of freedom. Bill was great at improv, he had a lot of freedom with how he did things. But it’s been a long time. And there may have been some drafts that I wasn’t privy to. I don’t remember any drastic changes.
What was the atmosphere like on set with Harold?
A lot of game-playing — there were different kinds of games. Inclusive. It was fun to go to work. It wasn’t hard, nothing was hard. It was a really joyful experience. Creative. He always had sort of a smile on his face. Whenever I would do something, he would always say, ‘That was really good. Just do it again.’ He always had this look on his face of just complete pleasure. I never saw him get angry or lose his temper. He was a happy person.
His family must just be... it’s such a loss. To have someone that pleasant in your life and that intelligent and smart and kind. It’s an amazing loss. Having the chance to work with him twice, I feel very fortunate. There was an open expression of creativity because he was so receptive. He was just a great man.
Do you think he had any awareness then that Groundhog Day would turn into such a cult success movie?
I don’t think anybody could really predict that in the business. Especially something like Groundhog Day [laughs].
I know Harold was a little sad about the way [Multiplicity] was distributed. There were some major changes in the studio. Whoever was supposed to be behind it was no longer there. So it didn’t get the attention it deserved. I think it was an underrated film. Michael Keaton was wonderful in it, and it was highly creative. Whereas Groundhog Day got so much attention and everyone still knows it and appreciates it, Multiplicity got lost, because of what happened at the studio when it came out.
And that was the last time you worked with him.
That was the last time. He was working on something in London and I saw him and [producer] Trevor [Albert] for a brief second. I would’ve loved to have been able to work with him again, but I’m thankful for the opportunities I had.
Did you stay in touch?
Not really. I remember when he was moving to Chicago and just by accident I saw him one time when I was over there. But I was off living my life…
There are stories about him letting the cast take votes on what Bill Murray should be wearing in the final scene of Groundhog Day.
[Laughs] That just sounds like something he would do. He just engaged everyone and made everyone feel like they were participants. Every day he loved to play games and keep people’s spirits up. Morale, he knew how to lift people’s morale, because there are long days.
Do you think he connected with actors so well because he had been one?
I do believe that directors that have experienced it have more compassion for actors and empathy and sort of understand their struggles and where they're coming from.
Stephen Tobolowsky wrote an essay for Slate where he talked about Harold’s theory of comedy as the relationship between two characters, the two shot. Was that something he impressed upon you?
I wish I had had that conversation with him. But I didn’t. I can see it in filming. I can see it if I watch the works.
There were also stories that Harold and Bill [Murray] had a falling out over Groundhog Day and didn’t speak for years...
You know, I’m the kind of person that just goes in and does my job. Especially when you’re working with someone like Bill, who’s extraordinarily gifted and talented and strong. So I kind of kept out of everything.
One of the other people I spoke with asked me about that last scene when we’re on the bed and whether we consummated or don’t consummate the relationship and Harold didn’t really want it to be about that. We shot it so many times. And still to this day, I don’t know why — I never got up. Bill would go up and talk to Harold. I would just stay where I was. Harold very rarely gave me a direction. I just kept out of it. And to this day I don’t know what they were talking about. I don’t know what the fight was about, and to this day it makes me sad. Because these were two people that had this powerful, long-term relationship. I don’t even know if it’s true. I heard the same rumor. There’s all kinds of rumors that aren’t true. I hope it’s not true.
Have you revisited the town of Woodstock since then?
No, but I loved it. It was really sweet. It was a beautiful location. And I love how Groundhog Day is now a holiday and the movie keeps living forever and ever and little kids know it. And I’m thankful for Harold, that he has this incredible legacy. And I like that everybody attaches this deeper Buddhist meaning to it. It’s lighthearted entertainment, but with a really deeper meaning.
Is there anything else that you think people should know about Harold?
I think the sweet thing about Harold is he just truly loved his family. That’s what was so dear. At the time I was working with him my kids were still little and I was always afraid people would think I’m a less serious actor if I brought my kids around. I always had that concern.
But with Harold, everybody was welcome. And the kids were allowed. And it was a safe environment, and you were always having fun. It was an unusual experience, because work was also family. It was nice. And that’s so unusual in Hollywood that you have someone who embraces bringing your family. Because that was who he was.