Returning to the Woodstock Square to film the Super Bowl commercial was super-special. Bill is one of the best actors I have ever worked with. There was never a take where he wasn’t in the moment a hundred percent, and a la Ed K. Martin, told the truth. They brought me in from the airport for the commercial, and Bill is there at the bar. He said, “Do you want to have a drink?”, and I said, “Sure,” so we sat down, and this was the day before we were going to shoot the commercial. Bill said, “Do you remember much about shooting ‘Groundhog Day’?” And I go, “Bill, I remember a lot.” He says, “Tell me about the first day because I don’t remember any of it,” so I told him the stories I told you. I also reminded him of the day that he looked at the crowd of 500 people and said, “These people need danishes.” He had me come with him to the donut shop and Bill pulled out a wad of money, put it on the counter and said, “Give me every donut, muffin and danish you have.” He piled up the boxes on my arms, then started throwing the donuts to the crowd and they started screaming.
This is before we had shot anything, and I thought, ‘What a brilliant move.’ In one moment, Bill unified the entire town when they could’ve been put off about a movie disrupting everything. I also recalled how Bill and I initially had nine street scenes, and it was cut down to five. Harold Ramis had not decided what the day of the movie would be because it had to be repeated meteorologically, and since we are shooting outside of Chicago, you get every kind of weather. So Bill and I had no schedule. We were both put on “will notify,” so we had to be near a telephone, and if the weather changed and Bill is working on another scene, Harold would round up the troops and say, “Get Stephen, get Bill—we have to do the street scene number one in the snow,” or the rain, or the fog, or the sleet, or the hail, or the sunshine. So Bill and I did all of those street scenes in every weather condition. At the end of it, Harold picked the gloomy day to be the day that is repeated, and when the snow starts to fall, that is when time starts.
The only scene that does not fit the template was a result of the fact that we only had the groundhog for two hours, so when Bill steals the groundhog and starts driving, the sun came out. It is the only scene in the movie that has the sun, and Harold told John Bailey, the cinematographer, to just make it look as gloomy as he could. He did a pretty good job. John was a brilliant cinematographer, one of the best of all time. Let me close by sharing with you the most important moment I had with Harold Ramis. After the film was done, we were in Los Angeles and Trevor Albert, the producer, had a party at his house up in the mountains overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Harold Ramis showed up and we were sitting outside. He pulled out his guitar and started plucking it, and I said, “Harold, everybody is asking me all the time how long Bill is trapped in the town.” Harold just smiled and said, “Well, Stephen, it’s 10,000 years.” I asked, “Why is it 10,000 years?” He answered, “Well, I’m a practicing Buddhist, and we believe in Buddhism that it takes 10,000 years to perfect the human soul, and that is the story of ‘Groundhog Day’—the perfection of the human soul.”
The Groundhog Day Celebration honoring Harold Ramis will be held at 3pm CT at Harry Caray’s Tavern, 700 E. Grand Avenue, in Chicago’s Navy Pier. For tickets to the free event, click here.