It was always rock’n’roll that flowed through Cillian Murphy’s blood, the acting just happened. But it has its compensations – especially seeing the Batmobile, he tells Donald Clarke
THE BLUE-EYED, sharp-featured Cillian Murphy really is infuriatingly good looking. Sit him next to, say, Zac Efron and the American would immediately take on the appearance of a syphilitic baboon. When he positions himself opposite me, I feel myself transforming into a lump of fetid flesh rammed rudely on a filthy stick. He’s smart as well. Though reluctant to talk too closely about his private life, he will happily launch into an articulate paragraph on the dynamics of blockbuster cinema or the joys of his first significant experience at the theatre.
“I had a very life-changing experience when I was about 18 or 19,” his unnecessarily smooth Corkonian face says. “I saw this production of A Clockwork Orange that Corcadorca were doing and I immediately realised that theatre can be affecting and moving. I thought: this is something quite exhilarating.”
Since that moment of revelation, Murphy has gradually developed into our secondbiggest movie star (young Mr Farrell probably remains at the front). Following a minor breakthrough in the film version of Enda Walsh’s play Disco Pigs, he secured roles in such hits as 28 Days Later, Batman Begins and Sunshine. Now, if a producer wants a slightly enigmatic, faintly fragile leading man, Murphy will find himself top of the wish-list.
He can be seen this week in Ian Fitzgibbon’s sweary comedy Perrier’s Bounty. Written by Mark O’Rowe, the man behind Intermission, an earlier Murphy hit, the picture finds our hero rattling about the Dublin Mountains while a crime kingpin bays for his blood. Oddly, much of the film was shot in London.
“Yeah. About two-thirds of it was shot there for financial reasons which are beyond me,” he says. “Anyway, the film does not play naturalistically. It is never mentioned which city we are in. You do see the Luas, but it’s kept vague. Anyway, most of the brilliant locations have been used too often in films about Dublin.”
As it happens, Murphy now lives in London. So the shooting arrangements suited him quite nicely. It comes as a bit of a shock to discover that he has been lurking in the city’s bohemian north-western quarters for nearly a decade. Having barely aged over that period, he still seems comes across like an absurdly promising young aspirant.
If things had gone differently, he might have become a rock star. Born and raised in suburban Cork, the son of teachers, Murphy was fixated on music long before he saw that production of A Clockwork Orange.
“I was just totally obsessed with music,” he says. I wanted to perform. I’d be up on stage whacking away on a wheelbarrow or whatever. But, at that stage, it never occurred to me that acting could be the outlet for performance. The acting came as a natural accident.”
So, when Corcadorca, the distinguished independent company, opened his eyes, he immediately, I imagine, took on the aspect of a newly converted zealot. “No. Not quite. It certainly wasn’t a ‘eureka’ moment. But I thought: well, this is kind of cool. And gradually acting became more important than the music.”
Coming from a respectable background you had time to register his rise, he was playing The Scarecrow in Batman Begins.
“That was how it was. I got a big part in theatre, then I got a small part in a film, then a larger part in a film and so on. There was no great snowballing. That is the way it should happen. You get to learn as you go along. I had periods learning my craft with, say, Garry Hynes at the Druid, interspersed with periods on the dole. To be honest, the idea of being catapulted into immediate recognition would have been absolutely terrifying to me.”
Now happily domiciled with his wife Yvonne McGuinness, a distinguished artist, and their two sons, Murphy has never seemed all that comfortable coping with the rampaging publicity machines that trundle in the wake of movie fame. He has never been snapped falling drunkenly out of the Bouncy Bouncy Club. He does not, so far as I am aware, frequent Hugh Hefner’s yacht.
Still, if you want to remain in these waters, you will have to swim with the odd shark and barracuda. I wonder how he manages to maintain his apparent normality.
“I work six months on and then have six months off,” he says. “That’s how it’s been for the past few years. And I am mostly working in America. You quickly realise that – even if a film is shite – if it makes money, then you will be listened to. You will get a meeting. As long as you realise that it is about the money and not to do with you being so charming, then you’ll be all right.”
Shooting Perrier’s Bounty must have been a very different business from filming those big pictures in the dream factory. I imagine you get a better class of trailer on
Cillian Murphy, Dublin, March 2010. Below: in Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later, Neil Jordan’s Breakfast on Pluto and Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins