Bill Murray voicing Garfield in Garfield: The Movie has oddly become one of his most talked-about roles, and he only took the part after thinking the writer was someone else. Murray dominated the movie industry throughout the '80s and '90s, appearing in hits like Stripes, Ghostbusters, Scrooged, Groundhog Day, and Space Jam. After all of this success, though, Murray began seeking out big-name directors to work with.
He worked with Wes Anderson, Jim Jarmusch, and Sofia Coppola in the first few years of the 2000s, and has worked with all of them again since. These roles, while still comedic, allowed Murray to show his range an actor. As part of this mission to work with some rising talents in the movie industry, finding a time to work with Ethan and Joel Coen was something that interested him. After all, the brothers were fresh off a three-film run of Fargo, The Big Lebowski, and O Brother, Where Art Thou. Even though the brothers are in no way involved with Garfield: The Movie, Murray thought they were, and that's why he took the voice role.
As Murray has since revealed, he joined Garfield: The Movie without even reading the script. This wasn't out of the ordinary for Murray, though. When Murray saw the script, he thought that Joel Coen was the one responsible for it. Based on his recent track record, he felt he didn't need to read more and trusted that Joel Coen had another winner. Unfortunately for Murray, Joel Coen did not write the script for Garfield: The Movie; Murray mistakenly thought the movie's actual writer Joel Cohen was half of the Coen Brothers.
Even though Joel Cohen helped write the screenplay for Toy Story, the results of Garfield: The Movie was not quite as impressive. The movie was thrashed by critics and sits with a 15% critical rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with audiences not appreciating it that much more with a 37% rating. Lucky for Fox, the brand of Garfield still propelled the movie to success financially, as it earned over $200 million worldwide.
A sequel was made in 2006, which saw Joel Cohen once again write the script. Murray also came back to voice the role again, this time knowing what he walked into. However, Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties received worse reviews and earned only $141 million worldwide. While Murray did his part to the best of his ability, providing the voice of Garfield in these films is still an odd addition to his filmography at that time. But knowing that he thought he was joining a Coen Brothers movie helps this make a lot more sense, and likely taught Murray a valuable lesson of double-checking who is involved before joining projects.