4 sep 2020

Cillian Murphy: the rise of the “Peaky Blinders” hero

Embodying Thomas Shelby in the series “Peaky Blinders” since 2013, Cillian Murphy is one of the actors to watch. Already in five Christopher Nolan movies and the upcoming Luc Besson movie “Anna”, we certainly haven’t heard the last of Irish actor Cillian Murphy.

At the age of 43, Cillian Murphy is cinema’s hot ticket right now. With a bewitching aura calibrated by an icy gaze, his mind-bogglingly diverse palette of roles has made him an unmissable actor but one who rarely aspires to leading roles. In spite of starring in Luc Besson’s latest super-production, Anna in US movie theatres from June 21th, where he will play an agent trying to solve crimes in which the title character is involved, cinema wasn’t his original plan. Dreaming of becoming a pro-musician, Cillian Murphy was a rock aficionado with his brother. He ended up doing a theatre course and his performances in Neil LaBute’s The Shape Of Things and the drama Disco Pigs brought his talents to light.


A first experience in horror movies


Director Danny Boyle loved his candid, almost virginal appearance, and cast Murphy for his horror film 28 Days Later. He plays Jim, a courier who wakes up from a coma to discover a completely deserted London. Warmly praised by the critics, the film deliberately used little known actors and was at the “crossroads of a war film, a 1960's zombie film and English science fiction” explained the scriptwriter Alex Garland. The same year Cillian Murphy joined John Crowley alongside his friend Colin Farrell in Intermission which was awarded four IFTA’s – the Irish equivalent of the Oscars. Cillian Murphy employed his delicate features to embody a transgender character in Neil Jordan’s adaptation of Pat McCabe’s novel Breakfast on Pluto. A year later in 2006 legendary Ken Loach cast him for The Wind that Shakes the Barley which was awarded the Palme d’or at Cannes. His Irish origins, that he shares with his wife Yvonne McGuinness, helped him to metamorphose into a doctor who abandons his profession to join his brother on the battlefield in the Irish War of Independence.

Christopher Nolan’s favorite actor


Under the careful direction of Christopher Nolan, his career moved sharply up a gear. Having been originally approached to play the role of Gotham City’s Black Knight, Nolan preferred the mysterious psyche of “machinist” Christian Bale. He ended up beating Christopher Eccleston – his stooge in 28 Days Later – to wear the mask of Scarecrow, the mad scientist and Batman’s nemesis. Murphy took part in the first two episodes in the new film franchise Batman Begins and Batman The Dark Knight but also the dream-based thriller Inception. Along with Englishman Tom Hardy he became one of Nolan’s favorite actors. He is back under Christopher Nolan’s direction in 2017 for Dunkirk, in which he plays a soldier terrorised by the ongoing war.

Some more intimate movies


Between Christopher Nolan and Luc Besson, Cillian Murphy could be put in the box of blockbusters actors. But if he does play in action movies, he also plays in more intimist movies, looking into human relationships. In The Party by Sally Potter, a 2017 dark comedy in black and white, he plays a man who works in finance, is addicted to cocaine and brings a gun to a friend’s party. Deceptions and revelations make the main course of this dinner that gets out of hand. The following year, he plays with Andrew Scott in The Delinquent Season by Mark O’Rowe, an Irish movie in which two couples are falling apart. Less acclaimed, this movie still shows Cillian Murphy’s wide acting range.

From the big screen to the mean streets of Birmingham


Since 2013, Cillian Murphy has embodied Thomas Shelby, one of the enigmatic heroes from the 1st World War, charismatic and traumatised by his claustrophobic tunnelling experience. Head of a gangster clan in the 1920s, the “Peaky Blinders” are a corrupt bunch of race course scammers with razor blades sewn into their peaked caps ensuring their security. Steven Knight’s critically acclaimed period drama develops a fascinating and nebulous character with an impenetrable heart. Cillian Murphy will be back into Thomas Shelby’s skin for the fifth season of Peaky Blinders set for release on BBC 1 in 2019. He will also go back to horror in 2020 with the sequel of A Quiet Place, John Krasinski’s successful horror movie in which creatures hunt by sound.