Stephen Tobolowsky on difficult Groundhog Day shoot

Groundhog Day
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Tobolowsky, who played Ned Ryerson in Groundhog Day, remembers when the writers weren’t sure which direction the tone should lean.

It might be Thanksgiving, but for Phil Connors, every day is Groundhog Day. And poor Ned Ryerson (Needlenose Ned, Ned the Head), he was sucked right into the weatherman’s seemingly endless loop of misery. But his portrayer, Stephen Tobolowsky, remains proud of what is surely his most popular movie, even though the production was doozier than a Punxsutawney puddle – something we detailed in an episode of “WTF Happened To This Movie?!”

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On the occasion of Groundhog Day’s 30th anniversary, Tobolowsky said the production brought much debate between co-screenwriters Harold Ramis and Danny Rubin. “After the first week, Harold Ramis got with Danny Rubin, our writer, and he says, ‘What’s the story we’re really telling here?’ Are we going to have a series of sequences where Bill just has no consequences and acts crazy, like he was doing in all of those movies back then, or are we telling the story about, what is the time of our life, and how do we use it? And Harold Ramis and Danny thought, ‘Number two.’” Seems like something that could have been figured out before cameras started rolling in Woodstock, Illinois (no, not a tiny village in western Pennsylvania), but who are we to dictate what one of the greatest screenplays ever is really about?

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Tobolowsky continued, “So they started cutting out scenes right and left that were in the original script, and reshaped it. We were getting new pages every day; it was like guerilla theatre, doing Groundhog Day. And in a way, that either leads to disaster, or leads to something brilliant. In terms of Groundhog Day it led to something just brilliant, what Harold Ramis and Danny Rubin did.”

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And brilliant it is, as Groundhog Day stands as one of the most original (despite some claims), inventive and psychologically complex comedies ever, boasting a prime example of Bill Murray’s abilities to skillfully balance between comedy and drama. To me, and with all due credit to Lost in Translation, this is his best performance. Retrospectively, Groundhog Day has in fact earned the reputation it has always deserved, ranking #282 on They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They?’s most recent list of the 1000 Greatest Films and its screenplay being named the 27th best ever by the WGA, behind classics such as Double Indemnity and The Wizard of Oz.

What is your favorite scene in Groundhog Day? Give us your pick below!

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