Family & Companions
The younger brother of actor-comedian Bill Murray, Joel Murray was a regular presence on television and in the occasional feature beginning in the late 1980s, playing hapless sidekicks and overgrown adolescents on series like "Dharma & Greg" (ABC, 1997-2002) and "Still Standing" (CBS, 2002-06) until gaining a stellar showcase for his dramatic talents on "Mad Men" (AMC, 2007-15). Murray's hangdog visage and understated delivery, which had served him well in comic roles, underscored the sadness of his character, Freddy Rumsen, whose yeoman talents could not help him overcome a powerful alcohol addiction. The critical praise generated by "Mad Men" helped Murray land more nuanced parts on "Shameless" (Showtime, 2011- ) and his first feature lead in the black comedy "God Bless America." These and other turns helped to mint Joel Murray as a burgeoning dramatic actor on par with his older brother's successful second-act career.
Born April 17, 1963 in Wilmette, IL, Joel Murray was one of nine children by lumber salesman Edward Murray II and his wife, Lucille. Active in both sports and drama in high school, Murray later followed in the footsteps of his older brothers Bill Murray and Brian Doyle- Murray by performing improvisational comedy with the famed Second City and Improv Olympics troupes. Murray made his feature film debut in the broad comedy "One Crazy Summer" (1986), which also marked his first of several future collaborations with stand-up comedian Bobcat Goldthwait. Bit parts in features, including 1988's "Scrooged," a starring vehicle for Bill Murray, preceded a series regular role on the comedy "Grand" (NBC, 1990), produced by Marcy Werner and Tom Casey. Murray's character, an amiable if slow-witted pushover, would serve as the template for many of his subsequent roles.
Murray worked steadily on television throughout the 1990s, playing affable comic sidekicks and sad sacks on series like "Pacific Station" (NBC, 1991-92), though most of these efforts lasted no longer than a single season. He landed a hit in 1992 with "Love & War" (CBS, 1992-1995) opposite Jay Thomas and Annie Potts while balancing occasional bit roles in features like the dark cult comedies "Shakes the Clown" (1991) with Goldthwait and "The Cable Guy" (1996) with Jim Carrey. Following the demise of "Love & War," Murray segued onto another hit comedy, "Dharma & Greg" (ABC, 1997-2002), playing yet another likable slob second fiddle, this time to Thomas Gibson's uptight lawyer. Murray also made his directorial debut on the show, eventually helming five episodes prior to its final season. He logged a pair of seasons as best friend to Mark Addy on "Still Standing" (CBS, 2002-06), then served as writer-producer- director on "The Sweet Spot" (Comedy Central, 2002), a comic documentary featuring all four performing Murray brothers cutting up on various golf courses around the United States.
The following year, Murray finally earned his breakout role on "Mad Men." A talented copywriter for the show's original advertising firm, Sterling Cooper, Rumsen took Peggy Olsen (Elisabeth Moss) under his wing during her transition from secretary to the copy room. But his expertise was largely undone by a serious alcohol problem, which resulted in his dismissal from the company during the show's second season. A newly sober Rumsen would return in Season 4 with a major account that brought him back into the new company, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. Though something of an office clown, Murray imbued Rumsen with a genuine sense of pathos, which drew positive critical reaction. The performance also allowed him to finally step away from his second banana roles and tackle more substantive parts, including that of a deeply religious father who committed suicide upon learning of his daughter's sexual orientation on the Showtime series "Shameless" (2011- ).
Murray continued to log bit parts in features, including the Oscar-winning "The Artist" before earning his first lead in "God Bless America" (2011), a dark, violent satire about an Everyman whose frustration with the callousness of American culture spurred him to express his feelings through high-caliber firepower. Directed by Bobcat Goldthwait, the film enjoyed modest critical success and preceded more feature film appearances, including the comedy "Lay the Favorite" (2012) opposite Bruce Willis, and a vocal performance in the Pixar animated film "Monsters University" (2013).
By Paul Gaita
Cast (Feature Film)
Feature film debut, "One Crazy Summer"
TV-movie debut, "Long Gone" (HBO)
TV series debut in a regular role, "Grand" (NBC)
Landed a regular role on the CBS comedy series "Love & War"
Voiced title character on animated series "Beethoven" (CBS)
Cast in regular supporting role on ABC sitcom "Dharma & Greg"; made directorial debut during 2001-02 season
Made recurring appearance on CBS sitcom "Still Standing"
Played Sterling Cooper copywriter Fred 'Freddy' Rumsen on AMC's "Mad Men"
Landed recurring guest role on Showtime's "Shameless"
Cast in critically acclaimed black-and-white, nearly silent film "The Artist"
Cast opposite Bruce Willis and Catherine Zeta-Jones in comedy feature "Lay the Favorite"; film based on memoir by Beth Raymer