OSCAR-nominee Sofia Coppola nearly ruined her career as a filmmaker when filming on LOST IN TRANSLATION started - because she had failed to sign up lead Bill Murray.

The VIRGIN SUICIDES director, 32, left to begin principle photography in Japan without having a firm deal with GHOSTBUSTERS star Murray, who spends his free time as a showbusiness recluse.

And Coppola - who alongside Murray is tipped to take home an ACADEMY AWARD next month (FEB04) - admits that her $4 million (GBP2.35 million) budget would have been blown if Murray had decided not to make the movie.

She says, "I called his agents and they said, 'We haven't spoken to him in months.' I spent eight months trying to track him down. I was like a stalker. I got a voicemail number and I called every day. I was a crazy person.

"Whenever he did call, my phone wouldn't work. The one time he called back I had broken my toe and I'd gone to the doctor and you have to turn your phone off to X-ray your toe, and I looked later and it was like, 'Hi, this is Bill Murray calling.'

"We went to Japan to make the movie and my last conversation with him was he said he was inclined to do the film. I took that as an OK. My agent said, 'What if he doesn't come,' but we had no back-up plan. We were in Japan spending money. Luckily, a day before filming began, he showed up."

02/02/2004 09:29