Hailing from the sprawling suburban streets of Cork, Ireland, Cillian Murphy began his foray into the arts, not with the grandeur of Hollywood lights, but with the authentic resonance of his hometown's rich cultural tapestry.
Today, he stands not merely as an actor but as a cinematic force, influencing audiences globally; additionally, his meteoric ascent in the world of international cinema is a testament to unyielding dedication and raw talent. The depth and intricacy of his roles speak volumes of his capability. As Thomas Shelby, the cunning and ambitious leader in Peaky Blinders, Murphy delivers an aura of brooding intensity, effortlessly capturing the zeitgeist of post-war Birmingham. Contrastingly, in Danny Boyle’s post-apocalyptic horror 28 Days Later, he showcases vulnerability and raw emotion, encapsulating the sheer desperation of a world fallen into chaos. Through such varied roles, Murphy has demonstrated an artistry that's not just diverse but unparalleled in its depth.
Now, will he finally receive the Oscar nomination that seems to have been awaiting him? His continued collaboration with filmmaker Christopher Nolan has reached a deafening crescendo which the Awards bodies cannot ignore. With previous roles in The Dark Knight Trilogy as Dr Jonathan Crane – who becomes the Batman villain, Scarecrow – Fischer in the 2010 mind-bending sci-fi trip Inception, and a credit simply known as ‘the Shivering Soldier’ whose whole existence in the film is to provide a precursor to the true horrors of Dunkirk, Murphy’s portrayal of J. Robert Oppenheimer in the eponymous biographical epic is one he plays perfectly, and will surely yield reward. Even as a movie where it seems to be just men talking in rooms for almost three hours, Murphy, Nolan and accompanying others come together to make it one of the most visceral and complex pieces of dramatic art seen for many a year. It’s almost nailed on for the Academy Award – but will Murphy clinch the Best Actor gong?
Away from the lenses and scripts, Murphy paints a picture of a private life that’s as fascinating as his on-screen personas. He carries an air of thoughtful contemplation, an innate charisma that draws people in, yet remains deeply rooted, cherishing the values and memories of his Irish upbringing.
BLUSH. Your career is adorned with a diverse range of characters. What helps you gravitate towards a particular role?
CILLIAN MURPHY. From my earliest days in acting, I found myself irresistibly pulled towards characters that seemed to unravel, each thread revealing a nuance, a story, a dilemma. It isn't just the mere portrayal of a role that intrigues me, but the deep dive into a psyche that's layered, often conflicted and always seeking.
Complexity and depth are more than just descriptors; they are gateways into understanding the human condition. When I encounter a character that not only challenges my boundaries as an actor but also compels me to introspect and question, I know I'm onto something special.
These roles, which pose more questions than they provide resolutions, are the ones that leave a lasting impression on both the actor and the audience. They beckon me to explore, to debate and immerse myself completely, and it means that the journey of understanding the character becomes as transformative for me as it is for those watching.
BLUSH. Can you share a glimpse into your acting process?
CILLIAN MURPHY. To me, acting is not just a profession but a journey into the depths of the human soul. When I take on a role, it's not a superficial commitment; it's an expedition into the very core of the character. This means that I like to take time to immerse myself, peeling back layer after layer to truly grasp the intricacies of their psyche.
It's a profound exploration, attempting to understand not just what drives a character, but also their deepest insecurities, their unspoken dreams, and the intricate web of experiences that have shaped them. I dissect scripts, often finding myself lost in thought, walking in their shoes, living their dilemmas, celebrating their joys and feeling their sorrows.
With the role of Oppenheimer, I at least had to stick to the truth so, of course, I had far less leeway on where I could take that. However, you still have to portray the man in your own way, while still staying faithful to the events during the course of history and how that affected him.
Obviously, things can get a little intensive and sometimes fairly solitary, and it's this solitude that fosters an intimacy between me and the character. It's like forging a bond, a shared understanding. By the time I step onto the set, the distinction between who I am in real-life and the role I’m undertaking at that point, starts to blur.
So, I feel that when people ask me how I get a character to be so authentic, I’d say I do all of that to make it happen and I’m of course very thankful that people appreciate my work.
BLUSH. So, are you going to win the Oscar for Oppenheimer?
CILLIAN MURPHY. [Laughs]. Well, I’ve done my part… but I do make those decisions. I mean, it would obviously be incredible to receive that recognition, but that’s not why I do it – I don’t know many actors who do it for back-slapping or awards, if I’m honest.
If people like what you’re doing, that means you’re doing something that people like – nothing more. If an audience wants to watch every film or television show I’m in, that’s enough for me. So, if I win, I win and I’ll celebrate and if I don’t, then I’ll be disappointed, but there’s always the next movie. Until there isn’t, of course!
BLUSH. Apart from acting, how do you usually unwind?
CILLIAN MURPHY. I've always been passionate about music, listening to and playing myself. I love my guitar and I was in a band with my brother before all this Hollywood stuff began to start taking up my time and I had to quit the band, you know! [Laughs].
I like a good book, a long walk, or just spending quality time with my family.
BLUSH. Speaking of family, how do you strike a balance between your hectic film schedules, British radio commitments, and personal life?
CILLIAN MURPHY. Balancing the demands of an ever-evolving career with personal life is not always easy, but Yvonne [his wife] and I have an appreciation of each other’s work, time and needs. The unpredictable schedules, the long hours on set and the constant travel might seem overwhelming, but there's a bedrock of support that keeps me grounded – my family.
I’m truly fortunate to have a family who understands the intricacies of my profession, who see beyond the glamour to recognise the commitment and passion it demands. They've been my silent cheerleaders, making sacrifices, showing patience and offering unwavering support and my support and love is very much requited.
BLUSH. I’ve read that you don’t have Wi-Fi at home, are not on social media or even own a mobile phone… Is that really true?
CILLIAN MURPHY. You bet your life it is! As the parent of two teens, I vividly recall my own younger days and I also understand the myriad challenges that today's youth face in our evolving society.
Growing up in this era is hard, with rapid changes constantly reshaping their world. The pervasive influence of the internet and the digital realm is undeniable, but it’s not the be-all and end-all – in fact, quite the opposite.
To me, it sometimes seems like many youngsters live their lives tethered to their screens. However, I also read something… and that was a respected study which told of integrating empathy into education and to me, that sounds like a forward-thinking move.
I firmly believe that today's youth have an innate capacity for care, compassion and genuine connection – you just have to coax it out of them. Of course I do have a phone for times when I need to be in contact, but generally it stays off because I find the intrusion constant and it’s not healthy.
BLUSH. What’s next for Cillian Murphy? I saw that you have a production with Emily Watson and Ciarán Hinds which is the bringing to life of Claire Keegan’s brilliant book Small Things Like These.
CILLIAN MURPHY. I'm very excited about that. I have a dep love of the book and anyone who has read it will know it’s an evolving and intriguing plot. With these books, we try to move things around without spoiling the original meaning. It’s a tricky act and it’s something that has to be approached with sensitivity, but I feel we have the right balance.