Actor of the Week: Cillian Murphy
Time for yet another dose of Actor of the Week! This week, we’ve gone for a guy who has starred in a fair few Life of Films favourites - the fantastic Cillian Murphy. If Christopher Nolan calls on you regularly, then you’re right on top of your game, and Murphy certainly fits that mould.
A man of broad talent and interests, Murphy initially studied law at University, before dropping out and joining a theatre company in his native Ireland, where he starred in many plays and got the springboard for his career in acting. He also had a passion for music, and played guitar in a number of bands.
The film that shot him to a wide awareness came in 2002, where he starred as Jim in 28 Days Later…, a horror/drama about a mystery virus spreading through the UK, and a group of survivors trying to find safety. Directed by a hugely respected and award-winning Danny Boyle, it shows how highly rated Murphy was so early on, being recruited by such a figure. 28 Days Later… was a huge hit, almost as something of a surprise in many respects, and is also widely recognised as giving new life, if you’ll pardon the pun, to the zombie template. Early in the film, having woken up from a coma, we see Jim wandering around a completely empty London, which is incredibly surreal, simply shouting ‘Hello?’ repeatedly. Whilst it may seem very simple acting, and to a man of such skill it probably is, Murphy plays his part in what is a fantastically shot opening sequence, and really draws you into that feeling of bewilderment and helplessness. You can see this in the video below.
A few years later, he was cast as Dr. Jonathan Crane, aka The Scarecrow, in Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins. This saw the beginning of the aforementioned long working relationship between the two men, working together on multiple films hereafter. Murphy’s eyes have also become super famous, almost more so than Murphy himself, and Nolan infamously tried to come up with ways to have his character Crane remove his glasses to exploit his assets. Murphy’s Crane is absolutely brilliant, and without doubt one of my favourite cogs in the hugely successful Nolan-Batman machine. He is captivating in his portrayal of Crane, both in and out of the signature mask he wears as The Scarecrow, and those eyes play a huge part in that. They help draw you into the intensity of his voice-scrambled dialogue in the mask, and help emphasise his forthright, threatening-at-times persona out of it. They are tools he knows full well he has by now, and he uses them to such great effect, it’s very clever acting and a joy to see. Murphy went on to reprise his role as Crane/The Scarecrow in the subsequent two films in the Dark Knight trilogy, albeit appearing far less frequently, but is excellent nonetheless. Also, in these films, he appeared alongside two other Nolan favourites, and former Actors of the Week, in Tom Hardy and Christian Bale.
It would remiss of me to write this without mentioning Murphy’s role as Thomas Shelby in the supremely popular BBC series Peaky Blinders. Set in 1919 Birmingham, England, Peaky Blinders is based on the deeds of a gang of the same name, with Murphy’s Shelby leading the group. They are famous for sewing razor blade into the peaks of their caps. Receiving seemingly nothing but rave reviews, Peaky Blinders has gone from strength to strength in its four seasons to date, and Cillian plays a massive part in that, as you’d expect. He delivers cunning and fierceness in his turn as Shelby, and really hammers home the brutality associated with the real-life versions of such men in such gangs.
Some other high-profile films Murphy is well worth seeing in are Dunkirk, Girl with a Pearl Earring and Inception. Inception sees Murphy play Robert Fischer, who is the heir to his father’s multi-billion dollar fortune, and the target of Leonardo DiCaprio, another former Actor of the Week, and his team, intent on planting an idea in Fischer’s dream, thus achieving 'Inception'.
As with many Actor of the Week winners, I look forward to seeing more of their work, and can’t wait to see how they execute the various roles they take on. Cillian Murphy sits right at the top of that tree, because of the vast skill set he has at his disposal. He is a fantastic actor and one who seemingly just started out world class. Hats, and caps, off Cillian!