With his steely blue eyes, commanding presence, ghostly complexion, and knack for playing both the good and the bad guy, Irish actor Cillian Murphy has cemented his status as one of the world’s most dependable screen talents. Now, with his thought provoking supernatural thriller Red Lights opening in select theaters on Friday, the actor looks back on five of his favorite roles, and how he fancies drag.
Batman Begins (2005): Christopher Nolan’s moody and acclaimed reboot of the Batman franchise pits Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) against one his greatest foes, the Scarecrow (Murphy).
“It was a massive moment for me. Right at the beginning the whole attraction was Christopher Nolan. I’m not really into comic books, so it was the idea of working with him. Then you get the great responsibly of playing a Batman villain, and I recognize how important that character is. The fan base are so loyal so I had a responsibility to them. It was all amazingly exciting. I’ve never worked on anything that huge. You find yourself in a fight scene with Batman, and it’s definitely a pinch yourself moment. But I think the most outstanding thing was creating that relationship with him. He’s one in a million. There’s no one like him. I won’t forget that movie.”
Breakfast on Pluto (2005): A coming-of-age story set in the ’70s that sees transgender lad Patrick ‘Kitten’ Braden (Murphy) leave his quaint Irish town in search of his birth mother in London.
“Doing drag was completely new to me. I had read the book and adored it. I knew that Neil Jordan had a script, so I did a screen test for him where I kind of went a little bit glam. And then I kind of pestered him, telling him if we didn’t make it soon I was going to get old. Before shooting it, I did a lot of research. Men dress up as women all the time, but for her I wanted the character to be feminine. I didn’t want it to be camp. So I hung out with transvestites and did a lot of grooming. Neil was like, ‘Just treat yourself like a girl.’ So I did.”
Inception (2010): Murphy reunited with Nolan for the mega-successful mindbender that stars Leonardo DiCaprio as a thief who is tasked with ‘incepting’ someone’s mind to reunite with his family.
“You never petition these guys for work, but you hope that your work will be the calling card. When I read it I was absolutely knocked out. In fact, I read it three times. It’s hard to get your head around in the first read. The part was important because there was an emotional core to that character that was important to the film—his relationship to his dad. I think it kind of mirrored Leo’s relationship with Marion Cotillard. Again, there was no fuss with Chris [Nolan]. He loves actors and he really trusts our instincts. It was also great to do some action stuff.”
28 Days Later (2002): The film that made zombie flicks cool again, the stylish, Danny Boyle-directed horror stars Murphy as one of the few survivors of a zombie apocalypse, seeking a safe haven.
“I thought we were making a movie about rage. It was about the character for me. It was the first time I really worked with a name director. For me, Trainspotting and Shallow Grave, they were seminal movies. So to get to work with him was kind of extraordinary. We never expected people to react as strongly as they did to it, but people really connected to it. That film was watershed to me in terms of my career. We shot that infamous scene [the opening scene in a deserted London] in July, just as it was getting bright. It was a very guerrilla-style way of doing it. You give pretty girls high waist jackets and hopefully people will do what they say. But at the edge of every frame of that sequence, are people just going, “Come on!” Also, we shot it pre 9/11, so we got to shoot right by Downing Street. You wouldn’t be able to go near that nowadays.”
The Wind That Shakes the Barley (2006): Acclaimed filmmaker Ken Loach takes an unflinching look at the Irish Civil War in the early 20th century, by telling the tale of two brothers who were torn apart by the anti-Brit rebellion. Winner of the Palme d’Or in Cannes.
“That’s the purest experience I’ve ever had making a film, for many reasons. The way Ken Loach shoots—he shoots everything chronologically. We never saw the script. We would get the lines the night before or the day of. A lot of information was just kept back. Then the whole film was set in my country and my hometown. The story of the film was something that affected our country and divided it. Nobody had really talked about that particular part of our history until he did. It had such great resonance in Ireland. It was one of those movies that grandparents went with their kids to the cinema. It’s rare that that happens. It’s a political film, but the politics are secondary to the character’s stories. I feel very proud to have worked with Ken Loach, and to have made a film that affected my country. It was kind of magical making it.”