Sunday 21 July 2019

Why 40 holds no fears for Cillian Murphy

The shy Corkman tells Stephen Milton about his venture to the small screen and how he's recently started getting offers to play 'dad' roles

Playing a blinder: Cillian Murphy
Playing a blinder: Cillian Murphy
With Leonardo DiCaprio in 'Inception'
In breakout role '28 Days Later
Peaky Blinders airs on BBC Two at 9pm
In 'Batman Begins'

Stephen Milton

There's always been something callow about Cillian Murphy's features; those intense baby blues and puffy cherubic lips.

Whether cruel or charismatic, his on-screen characters have promoted a youthful vitality and so often he's been the plucky acolyte, the gangly yet deadly villain or the under-developed freedom fighter.

Skirting 40, however, a change is in the air.

That once-youthful appeal is suddenly maturing and a blindsided Murphy is feeling vaguely unsettled.

"I don't know when it happened, but it happened quickly," smiles the actor, a few tell-tale lines crinkling round his eyes.

"As you go over 35, you're much closer to 40. It's a magnetic pull. I'm 37 now and I try not to think about it but it's harder to ignore when you're put forward for the 'dad roles'.

"And that's something very different for me. I've never been a parent on screen and it came out of nowhere.

"Recently I did a movie, Cry/Fly, where I play a dad for the first time, which was quite nice, given I have some experience there.

"But you know, it was different. You're suddenly perceived in a different light.

"You move into a new phase and it's strange. All you can do is try and embrace it and hope that you're gaining some wisdom."

Sitting at a river-view table overlooking the trundling bustle of London's South Bank below, Murphy seems far more at ease than our last encounter.

Casual in a black sweater, worn skinny jeans and scuffed army boots, the considered pauses are still on high alert when matters veer towards a personal nature, but he's smiling and laughing.

I'd dare say the publicity-shy star, who only agreed to his first TV interview three years ago, is actually enjoying himself.

However, last year was a very different story.

It probably stemmed from his stubborn refusal to admit his 'celebrity' status and my inability to accept that.

A flagrant usage of the term produced flinching responses and a pair of flared nostrils at one point.

Cillian could barely say 'the c word', let alone permit its use for self-description.

Twelve months on, does it still irk? "What, the word 'celebrity'," smirks the father of two.

"It is what it is. I understand what has to be written and like I said to you before, there's nothing intrusive or gossipy to ask about me so I think people got bored pretty early on."

More than a decade since surviving a population of raged-out zombies in Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later (in a lead originally earmarked for Ryan Gosling), Murphy has managed to endure and conquer the Hollywood machine with a steady course of blockbuster and budget. For Batman Begins and hijack thriller, Red Eye, there was The Wind That Shakes the Barley; for Inception and Tron: Legacy, it was close friend, John Carney's extra-terrestrial farce, Zonad.

Having spent the first four years of his professional career treading the boards with Cork's Corcadorca Theatre Company and stints in Dublin's Abbey and Gate, Ballintemple-raised Murphy, who turned down the lead in Carney's Once, owing to self-confessed lacking in vocal ability, ably quenched his desire for the stage with a recent London run of one-man show, Enda Walsh's Misterman.

It was only fair that the small screen was eventually included and now Peaky Blinders, a costly six-part series for the BBC centring on the gangland battles of post WWI Birmingham, accommodates a return to television since a 2001 period piece, The Way We Live Now.

Loosely based on historic events, Murphy is Tommy Selby, merciless leader of a family of war veterans aiming to keep their stranglehold on the illegal trade in guns, protection and betting in the once industrial capital of the world.

Wary of their increasing power, Winston Churchill deployed a special branch force, headed here by Sam Neill, in an effort to clean the streets of the Blinders, who got their name from the blades concealed in the peaks of their tweed caps.

Living in north-west London with partner Yvonne McGuinness and sons Malachy (8) and Carrick (6), the family make frequent pilgrimages to Ballintemple. "We're actually home this weekend. I like to get out with the boys into the countryside, it's important for all of us."

Given his love for home soil, I wonder if the actor seeks out Irish-based projects. He hasn't filmed here since 2008's Perrier's Bounty.

"I love to work at home but I'm not going to 'just to work at home'. It has to be something that I feel drawn to.

"I'm a big fan of what's being produced at home. I saw What Richard Did, loved it and I have the Love/Hate box-set, just waiting for a free weekend to dive into that."

Seventeen years since he left Cork after honing his craft with Corcadorca – and rejecting a tempting record contract for his long defunct band, The Sons of Greengenes with brother Paidi – Murphy once claimed he carried the 'performance gene'. "If it's in your DNA it needs to come out," he has been quoted as saying. "I always needed to get up and perform."

Is this gene visible in his own sons yet?

"It's a bit too soon to tell. They're both very different. Sometimes it comes out very early. Sometimes it comes out quite late," he says, his eyes narrowing at the vaguely personal probe.

Recently wrapped on artificial intelligence thriller Transcendence with Johnny Depp and Morgan Freeman, Murphy will enjoy a few days' respite before relocating to a vast purpose-built water container in Lanzarote for Ron Howard's In The Heart of The Sea with Chris Hemsworth and Brendan Gleeson.

"Well we'll be damp a lot of the time," Cillian tells me. "It won't be pleasant but it'll be a gang of lads so I'm sure we'll have a laugh."

Hollywood insiders are already likening the production to James Cameron's gruelling Titanic shoot. "Why, what was so bad about that?"

Unbelievably, Murphy has never read Kate Winslet's account of how she thought she would drown while filming Titanic.

"Is that what happened on that? Really! Well they're so hung up on health and safety now, I can't imagine anything happening like that. . . least, I hope not. I kind of like physicality, when you're thoroughly destroyed because you feel like you've been through something.

"Although, come back to me when we're promoting that movie and it could be another story. I'll be rocking back and forth in my chair, traumatised at the sight of a glass of water."

Peaky Blinders airs on BBC Two tomorrow at 9pm

Irish Independent

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