Jimmy Buffett on the Role He Was Born to Play: Himself

We talked to the king parrothead about his role in 'The Beach Bum,' working with Snoop Dogg, and why retirement is overrated.

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Mar 28 2019, 8:19pm

As Jimmy Buffett tells it, he’s got it pretty good. When the musician-turned-business-mogul-turned-sometimes-actor is not touring the world with his band The Coral Reefers, he’s floating on his paddle board in St. Barths or Miami or Sag Harbor, a fishing rod in hand and a mile-wide grin stretched across his face. Buffett knows he’s lucky, but he’s not willing to chalk it all up to good fortune.

“I had enough work ethic instilled in me by my parents,” he explains to Noisey over the phone a few days after the South By Southwest (SXSW) premiere of Harmony Korine’s The Beach Bum (produced by VICE Studios), where he plays himself. “I also had a slight bit of talent and a little bit of luck. That’s what it takes. It’s mostly perspiration.” 72 years young and 50 years into his career, Buffett is reaping the rewards of a whole lot of sweat. With 27 studio albums under his belt, 17 of which have charted; a Margaritaville empire that includes restaurants, hotels, and margarita machines; and yet another world tour planned for summer 2019, Jimmy Buffett knows what hard work is, though he knows some luck is required too.

And The Beach Bum a happy-go-lucky movie, a symbolic reflection of Buffett’s persona as everyone’s best friend, of a life where chill vibes and good times are paramount. Korine hasn’t explicitly named Buffett as the film’s North Star, but Jimmy is so emblematic of the Florida cool that pervades the film that the two become knottily tangled and inseparable.

Beach Bum is a stoner flick with a heart, a celebration of a goofball named Moondog who eschews the trappings of upper-class Miami in the hopes of spending one legendary night on the Keys. It’s a musical, a comedy, a tragedy, and a McConnaissance—all wrapped up into a technicolor acid trip that only Harmony Korine knows how to pull off.

At the film’s fringes is an affable Jimmy Buffett, a friend of Lingerie (played by Snoop Dogg), who is both Moondog’s best friend and the guy sleeping with his wife. But it’s Buffett who steals the show, sitting in a hot tub on a yacht with his shirt on, anything resembling a care or worry a million miles away. This is the guiding light for Moondog’s best self, spiritually if not palpably.

The Beach Bum accomplishes what each Jimmy Buffett show is about: For just an hour or two, the world, with all its horror and tragedy, melts away. It’s a triumph of a film in the silliest sense of the word, and while Buffett’s lines are scant and his screen time only slightly more significant, it gave us an excuse to talk to the legend about life, music, and getting high with your buddies before seeing The Beach Bum. Welcome to Margaritaville. It’s a pretty wonderful place.

Noisey: You’ve done film cameos in the past. How do you decide when you want to hop onto a movie?
Jimmy Buffett: I have friends that make movies. They occasionally ask me. The first one I ever did was a film called Repo Man.

It’s a classic.
You know the scene where the guy burns up on the bench and the agents are there? I’m one of those guys.

Were you friends with [director] Alex Cox?
I knew Alex, and I knew [Executive Producer] Michael Nesmith as well. Actually, the first film I did was Rancho Deluxe, but I just appeared in that—I didn’t have any parts. In Repo Man, I didn’t have any speaking lines, so I worked my way up. After that, I did one for my buddy Frank Marshall called From The Earth to the Moon, but I hit the cutting room. Then I was in Seabiscuit, and that hit the cutting room floor too. I made it into Congo—I was a pilot in a plane. What else? I was in Jurassic World.

You’re a veteran at this point.
Yeah! Oh, I was also in a film Ron Shelton did called Cobb, where I get beat up by Tommy Lee Jones. Is there anything else? TV-wise, I’ve been doing a recurring role on Hawaii Five-0. Normally, I do two days of work and two pages of dialogue [laughs].

That’s not so bad. What is it that you like about acting that doesn’t get satisfied with your music?
It’s just fun to do. I’m not taking this shit seriously! I’ve seen way too many people who are actors try to cross into my field and way too many people in my field cross into acting. In my humble opinion, very rarely does it work out that you have someone who can do both equally well. I just do this for fun.

The Beach Bum looked like an absolute blast to be around.
With Beach Bum, Harmony [Korine] was a good friend of my wife and daughter. He approached me about doing it, mentioning that I’d be doing most of the background music for the thing. I asked him what the role was, and he said, “It’ll be three weeks of shooting,” and I said, “Nope, not me!” I was supposed to have been Snoop’s character, [Lingerie]. That was the original role for me, as the guy that Moondog looks up to. When that didn’t happen, they wrote me into a little scene, and then they got Snoop Dogg. Obviously that worked out better than me [laughs].

It was just a hoot! It was all scripted out, but working with Harmony, he’d just let you flow. It was so much fun. I run a rock and roll band, and we try to make things easy while doing a really good job, and I felt the exact same way about the way Harmony ran his set and the way he worked with the actors.

It’s funny: The other day at South By Southwest (SXSW), we went on stage after the first screening, and just looking on the stage at the talent Harmony assembled was amazing. It seemed that the one theme, actor-wise, is that everybody wants to work with Harmony. I just did it because he asked me to do it. I saw Spring Breakers, and I was like, “Whoa” [laughs]. I just hope it does great. If you wanna go see this movie—it’s a stoner movie. Get a bunch of friends, get a little bit stoned, and go. If you’re looking for serious shit, go see Roma!

It was one of the most joyous movie-watching experiences I can remember.
Politics gets into everything, but there hasn’t been a fun summer movie or a fun summer song since Trump got in. I think this could be it. Everybody’s sick of waking up to the same old shit! I believe that people need a lot more comedy these days. This movie really, really tickles the funny bone. It’ll be interesting to see the reception at the premiere.

Plus, I get to be on James Corden. I’m a big fan of him. I think there’s something really special about him, but I asked, “Are you gonna make fun of me?” He said, “Absolutely not!” Good enough for me.

Do you mind talking about politics and what happened last year when you were outspoken in support of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum? A lot of your fans weren’t happy.
Everybody knows my politics. This isn’t new. I’ve been doing this for 40 years. I’ve been a Democrat for that long. I was raised by working class Democrats and Yellow dog Democrats in the South. That’s it. I’m a middle-of-the-road kind of guy.

Why do you think some of your fans reacted so angrily this time around?
I have no idea. Maybe because they don’t have enough fun!

Which is ironic, because that’s precisely what your music is about!
Well, we’re not here for that long of a time. It’s pretty insignificant in the plan of things. The older you get, the more you realize that, I believe. I’ve had a couple of close calls, and I was either supposed to be here or I wasn’t, and I still am. I was very, very lucky early on to find something that I loved doing. You get up there and do it. It worked for me, though.

Back when I got out of college, I was looking at my friends who were working, and I was like, “I don’t wanna do that.” I was playing on Bourbon Street [in New Orleans, Louisiana] for two years, putting myself through school, and I asked myself, “Why would I stop this to go get a real job?” I had real jobs that paid my way through school before that one, so I wasn’t really interested in going back.

Where did you go to school?
Several [laughs]. I went to junior college in Mississippi—Auburn—and I got my degree at Southern Miss. That was just a convenience. I wanted to go to Tulane, because by that time I was working in music and had a real job on Bourbon Street. I thought that was the epitome of everything. I didn’t want to go much further than that. But I couldn’t pay the out-of-state tuition, so I went to school in Mississippi, where I was born. I lived in the French Quarter and commuted 60 miles a day to go to class. I was learning more on the streets of the French Quarter than I was in the classrooms in Hattiesburg, I’ll tell you that.

What would Moondog’s favorite Jimmy Buffett song be?
Damn. Well, I’ll tell you what Jimmy Buffett’s favorite song in the movie is! When “[A] Pirate [Looks at Forty]” comes on, boy! I think all the music in that movie is fantastic—both the original stuff and what they chose. Who puts a Gordon Lightfoot song in a movie like this? And Gordon is one of my all-time heroes. The real thrill was writing songs for the movie. Snoop Dogg and I wrote a song together!

How was it working with Snoop?
A pleasure. What a pro. I mean, everyone was. That’s the thing: They just made it so easy, and I think it all stems from the way Harmony runs everything. I shot two days, and I only shot with Snoop, Matthew, and a couple of extras. I went back to visit the set to hang out, and everyone was still having a good time!

I was just seeing the movie in pieces, and I didn’t see the completed one until SXSW. It was a delight to see it; I just laughed my ass off. I’m a crowd watcher. That’s what I do for a living: seeing the energy and recognition. To see something that everyone has fun at is amazing. The movie is an oasis, and that’s why I like it so much. I think our band may be the only oasis for people who may differ on a lot of other things. Everybody needs a break, and they come to us from that.

So what’s your break?
I go fishing and I go surfing. Now I fly fish on my paddle board, and it’s a pretty restful place to be.

You’re going back on tour in late April. What keeps you going when you’ve achieved everything one can in this industry?
I’ll quote Willie Nelson on that one: “Retire for what?” We get paid well, we get to sing for a living, and we get to travel. What’s wrong with that job? Retirement doesn’t look very interesting to me. Don Shula and I used to sit next to each other at Miami Heat basketball games. One day we were sitting there and he said, “You still doing this?” I said, “Yeah.” And then he replied with, “Let me tell you something. Don’t ever stop. Retirement ain’t what it’s cracked up to be. There are only so many golf tournaments and so many chicken dinners. After that it gets real fucking boring.”

'The Beach Bum' was produced by VICE Studios.

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