What Most People Probably Never Knew About Cillian Murphy

Cillian Murphy is not an actor who has made a career of playing the same role in different films. The man from Cork, Ireland, is no one-trick pony, with a track record of authentic and convincing performances. Whether it be his Irish Film and Television Award-winning and Golden Globe-nominated turn as a transgender woman in "Breakfast on Pluto," or his underrated, scene-stealing performance as Dr. Jonathan Crane, aka Scarecrow, in the "Dark Knight" trilogy, Murphy obviously relishes a challenge. He adopts a take-no-prisoners approach to every role and has the presence, depth, and acting chops to deliver. Reviewing Wes Craven's 2005 film "Red Eye," The New York Times wrote that Murphy's psychopathic character, Jackson Rippner, has "baby blues cold enough to freeze water," and a "wolfish leer" which "suggests its own terrors."

Eight years later, Murphy stepped into the shoes of Tommy Shelby in "Peaky Blinders" and a career-defining performance was born. For many, the complex and chain-smoking gangster was the first taste of Murphy's talent. So convincing was the portrayal, so authentic was the deep Brummie accent, and so hypnotic was the full force of those icy cold yet deeply empathetic "baby blues" that it was easy to forget there was an actor with a soft Irish lilt and easy-going personality behind the troubled and tormented chief Peaky Blinder. Cillian Murphy is not one for the limelight — he leaves that to the characters he plays — but here's what a lot of people might not know about the actor himself.

He describes playing Tommy Shelby as relentless

Tommy Shelby is not a one-dimensional villain. His naked ambition, superhuman will, simmering rage, and the constant threat of violence are offset by his perpetual air of melancholy, deep-rooted regret, fierce loyalty, and devilish charm. He has an instinctive desire to do the right thing, but the world in which he moves and his wartime experiences make it nigh on impossible. Cillian Murphy revealed in an interview with Esquire that his dedication to digging up the raw material from the depths of Shelby's soul has left his wife and sons describing him as "not being all there" when he's filming "Peaky Blinders." Murphy explained that because a large part of acting entails hanging around in a "trailer twiddling your thumbs," the authenticity is not there if "you're coming from a standstill." Murphy explained, "I'm not walking around talking like Tommy all the time, but you have to be there or thereabouts."

Murphy told Birmingham Live that he can't just jump out of bed and transform into a character as complex as Shelby, saying, "He's such a distance from me as a character and it takes an awful lot of time to get back there. It takes several months to get towards it — working on the scripts and physically getting to that place. Playing him is relentless. You really have to dive in and immerse yourself and cancel everything. But I love it."

After 15 years as a vegetarian, he began to eat meat for Peaky Blinders

As well as the emotional and mental transformation, Cillian Murphy finds it equally demanding to get the physical aspect of Tommy Shelby just right. Murphy told The Daily Mail that because he is not naturally intimidating physically, he had to munch on a lot of protein and pump a lot of iron — all of which he dislikes — to do justice to the role of the Brummie crime boss. Although the immaculately tailored Shelby look has created its own fashion revival, Murphy explained to Mr. Porter it's not a look he favors. "I would never voluntarily have that haircut," he said. "That and the hat, the voice, the walk, [the cigarettes] — it's all an effort to make me look tough, which I'm really not. I've never even been in a fight."

Yet by far the biggest lifestyle change Murphy made to play Shelby was to start eating meat again after a 15-year absence. The actor explained that the creators of "Peaky Blinders" didn't want him to look "like a skinny Irish fella." Murphy's personal trainer recommended he ditch the plants and dish up the meat if he wanted the audience to believe he was the Michael Corleone of the Midlands. Murphy has never looked back, explaining, "I was vegetarian for about 15 years. But it was never a moral decision. It was more that I was worried about getting mad cow disease."

He battled Jason Statham for the role of Tommy Shelby

Having an actor like Jason Statham as Tommy Shelby in "Peaky Blinders" could have completely changed the dynamic of the character. The nuanced portrayal of a violent but vulnerable individual haunted by his past would probably take a backseat to a no-nonsense governor who blows things up, settles scores, and takes no lip. Would the cheeky persona Statham is renowned for have been a good fit for Shelby? As a sensitive soul brutalized by a world gone wrong, Shelby has a stillness and watchful wariness to him that channels itself more through intense expression and less via choreographed action and sheer physical presence.

Yet "Peaky Blinders" creator Steven Knight told Esquire that the choice between Shelby and Statham was a tough one, saying, "I met them both in LA to talk about the role and opted for Jason. One of the reasons was because physically in the room Jason is Jason. Cillian, when you meet him, isn't Tommy, obviously, but I was stupid enough not to understand that."

According to The Guardian, Murphy sent Knight a text which read, "Remember, I'm an actor." Although there's been speculation that the text was Murphy's subtle way of accentuating his talents over those of Statham, Knight begs to differ. The show's creator explained, "What (Murphy) meant by the text that when he walks into a room, he's not Tommy Shelby. But he can become him. He inhabits that role completely. It's phenomenal. It is impossible to imagine anyone else playing him."

He lost out to Christian Bale for the role of Batman

Just as it's difficult to imagine anyone else but Cillian Murphy playing Tommy Shelby, it's equally as tough to visualize anyone but Christian Bale adding the depth and gravitas he brought to the role of the Dark Knight. Bale added some timely intensity, rage, and other assorted psychotic elements to the character of a man who dresses up as a bat and goes hunting for criminals in the shadows. Bale had the physicality, the menace, and the moral ambiguity that made the Bruce Wayne/Batman of Christopher Nolan's "Dark Knight" trilogy such a breath of fresh air in the polluted climate of Gotham City. Having said that, it's tempting to imagine what an actor like Murphy could have brought to the table.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Murphy pulled on the famous Batsuit in 2003 and did a screen test for Nolan. Yet Murphy has always dismissed the notion that he was in contention to play the D.C. superhero. "I don't believe I was close to landing that role," he explained, adding, "The only actor who was right for that part at that time, in my estimation, was Christian Bale, and he absolutely smashed it." Yet Nolan was so impressed with Murphy's audition that he cast him as the Scarecrow. Murphy sprinkled a little of his trademark magic over the role and one of Batman's most enduring villains was given a new lease on life.

He has a special working relationship with director Christopher Nolan

Stepping into the shoes of the Scarecrow for the first time in "Batman Begins" marked the beginning of an ongoing relationship between Cillian Murphy and director Christopher Nolan. Murphy reprised the role for "The Dark Knight" and "The Dark Knight Rises," and was the only DC Comics villain to appear in all three films in the trilogy. Nolan called on the services of Murphy again for "Inception" and "Dunkirk," and most recently gave him the lead in Nolan's forthcoming movie "Oppenheimer," a biopic based on the creator of the atomic bomb, Robert Oppenheimer.

Murphy maintains that because he enjoys working with the director so much, and is such a fan of his ethos, he'll happily accept any role, big or small, when Nolan comes knocking. He told The Guardian, "I'll always turn up for Chris, whatever the size of the part. Chris will call me up and I'm there." Murphy elaborated that he believes Nolan is part of a rare breed of directors who are "still making challenging, demanding films within the studio system," describing his films as "interesting work on a massive scale." The bromance is mutual, with Nolan telling GQ, "Cillian Murphy is one of the great actors of his generation both on stage and on film, and working with him repeatedly over the years has been an increasingly rewarding experience."

He hates the celebrity lifestyle and is extremely private

In an age where many will jump through the most humiliating hoops for their 15 minutes of fame, Cillian Murphy shuns the celebrity lifestyle and values his privacy. He's not exactly Greta Garbo and is obviously still happy to give interviews, but it's mainly to talk about his work. He is naturally reluctant to allow much of his personal life to leak into the public domain, so don't expect any Instagram moments, tabloid confessionals, or gossip column accounts of Murphy falling drunkenly out of a taxi in the wee hours anytime soon. As an actor first, and a celebrity by default, Murphy is often confused as to why insisting upon having a private life can be an issue in some quarters.

Murphy told The Irish Times, "I don't see myself as a personality. I see myself as an actor. I think those are two distinct jobs. And my job is to portray other people. The less that people know about me the better I can portray other people."

Murphy told GQ that he has adopted a strategic approach to deal with growing fame and maintain a semblance of normality. He explained that he believes in taking extending breaks between acting gigs, because otherwise one can go from "job to job to job" and "live in a bubble of set, hotel, set, hotel, plane, film festivals — which, to me, is not reality."

Social media and selfies are a no-go for Mr. Murphy

If ever you should bump into Cillian Murphy in a bar somewhere, buy him a Guinness by all means but don't ask him for a selfie, an add on Facebook, or a follow on Twitter. He doesn't do social media, which is kind of refreshing. It's not because he's a Luddite, it's because he believes in taking an old-fashioned and measured approach to the modern age and all its scattered pitfalls. In an interview with GQ, he explained, "I just want to be decent and kind. They're old-fashioned values, but they seem to be disappearing nowadays." Murphy stresses that he believes in not being ostentatious and talking about himself too much.

The Irish Mirror reports that during the launch of a new empathy education program for secondary schools, the father of two explained what a tricky time it is for youngsters growing up in an environment dominated by social media. "We're all aware of the effect of the internet online and life online," Murphy said. "It feels to me like lots of kids, like their life exists inside of this device. The idea that empathy would form part of a curriculum is an excellent idea." Annabelle Wallis, who played Tommy Shelby's doomed wife, Grace, in "Peaky Blinders," told The Guardian she believes that Murphy's complete absence from social media has only added to his "mystique and allure." 

He once played guitar in a group called Sons of Mr. Green Genes

From Johnny Depp to Russell Crowe, there's no shortage of famous actors who have harbored and actively chased dreams of picking up the six-string and living the life of a rock n' roller. It's doubtful whether Cillian Murphy will ever team up with fellow members of the "Peaky Blinders" cast to form a band in the mold of The Pogues, but he does have a solid musical background.

According to Far Out magazine, Murphy played rhythm guitar in the experimental group Sons of Mr. Green Genes, who were named after a track on Frank Zappa's album "Hot Rats." In an interview with BBC 6 Music's Steve Lamacq, Murphy explained that the whole band was huge fans of Zappa growing up, as well as The James Taylor Quartet, Corduroy, and Galliano. He added that acid jazz was a big influence on the Cork-based band and that the sound of Sons of Mr. Green Genes was defined by a lot of instrumentals and the sort of guitar solos that scream excessive. Despite being offered a five-album record deal, the band fell apart and music's loss was film and TV's gain. Yet his passion for music remained and Murphy would go on to host his own popular show on BBC Radio 6 Music.

Cillian Murphy attended law school before becoming an actor

To be a good lawyer, at least in films and on TV, you need a certain sense of the dramatic, a flair for performance, a way with oratory, and a penetrating insight into what makes people tick. Well, perhaps you do if you're Saul Goodman, but the reality is probably a bit more bureaucratic and boring. Just ask Cillian Murphy. Before he heard the calling to tread the boards, he was planning on spending his working life in pursuit of the law. It was "A Clockwork Orange" that saved him from a life wrapped in red tape and legal intricacies, or at least a very strange theatrical adaptation of it.

According to Irish Central, Murphy was getting restless about studying law when he had a "eureka" moment. A weird stage version of "A Clockwork Orange" in a Cork nightclub ignited something within him and he dropped out of university to try his hand at acting. The Independent reports that Murphy described his law degree as "so clearly the wrong choice," adding that "it wasn't a happy moment in our family history" when he informed his parents of his dramatic career change. Yet all these years later, Murphy's career is sound proof that sometimes it's best to trust your gut instinct and go with what feels right.

Cillian Murphy said he's sometimes embarrassed by acting

For an actor who doesn't just seemingly play a part but becomes a character with every ounce of his being, it's strange to hear Cillian Murphy dismissing his craft. Murphy explained to GQ, "I'm really lucky. I feel embarrassed by it sometimes. I'm just an actor. There are doctors and nurses and people that work in ... I struggle with that. I mean, actors are overpaid, you know?" Murphy also told Vice that sometimes he feels like a complete waste of space in comparison with people who have "proper jobs" and asks himself what all the prancing about in fancy dress and adopting peculiar voices is all about. Yet he consoles himself with the fact that people "need to go to the pictures, and people need some sort of escape."

As an actor, Murphy is also a huge fan of film, and in particular Jerry Schatzberg's 1973 road movie "Scarecrow," starring Gene Hackman and Al Pacino. Although he insists he's not the same class of actor as Hackman, he does have a huge admiration for the way Hackman departed from Hollywood. Murphy explained that he finds it inspiring how Hackman just disappeared to New Mexico where you never see him or hear from him. "I think he writes novels," said Murphy. "That is so elegant, so beautiful. Leave this amazing, extraordinary body of work behind you and just have another life. I admire that tremendously."

Tommy Shelby's haircut has left Cillian Murphy conflicted

If there's one thing that defines Tommy Shelby, apart from his otherworldly stillness and enormous capacity for violence, it's his razor-sharp and unnerving haircut. The cut, long on top with shaved sides, is known in the business as an undercut and textured crop. Like the tweed suits and flat caps, it's an integral part of the "Peaky Blinders" look. It's brazen, bold, and screams to the world that it means business. It has inspired a generation of young British men to get the peaky look, and celebs such as David Beckham have waxed lyrical about the style (via Hello!).

Yet the man who has made the unmistakable haircut famous is not a fan. Cillian Murphy explained to Woman and Home (via Esquire), "It's crazy that people like it — it hasn't grown on me." He also told the New York Post that as soon as he starts rocking the Tommy Shelby look for a new season of "Peaky Blinders," he gets a whole world of attention. "It's when you get the haircut that people start shouting at you," he said. "When I don't have the haircut I can get the bus quite unmolested." Murphy may not be its biggest fan but he still admitted in an interview with the BBC, "It's a gas that it's become kind of a style thing." 

He moved back to his native Ireland because of his kids

As a native son of Cork, Cillian Murphy had always felt the pull to return to Ireland, yet he told the Armchair Expert podcast that it wasn't until his two sons began developing posh English accents that he decided the family was packing their bags and returning to the Emerald Isle. Murphy explained, "We wanted the kids to be Irish. They were sort of at that age where they were pre-teens, they had very posh English accents and I wasn't appreciating that too much so we decided to come back." 

As for moving to Hollywood, Murphy has always maintained that he was tempted by "the sun and the food and the sea" of LA, but as a European who enjoys the changing seasons, he's going to stay where the weather suits his mood. Besides which, as he points out, "Like most Irish men, I probably look better in a pair of trousers than a pair of shorts." Although Murphy stresses that New York City is his number one city in the world (via BBC), he'll never live there because "I think you need to live there when you're in your 20s — when you can be poor and energetic and just don't care."

Cillian Murphy has a hard time with auditions

As an actor who likes to know the character he is playing inside out before he pulls on their skin and gets into the role, Cillian Murphy has won worldwide acclaim for delivering the sort of portrayals that grab the audience by the scruff of the neck and demand to be recognized as the real deal. The only trouble is, Murphy has confessed in the past that he's not very good at overcoming that all-important first hurdle — the dreaded audition. Many actors are naturally anxious types. It's why they're so good at becoming other people. The freedom of hiding your own insecurities and fears behind a fully developed character is no doubt an intoxicating rush, but when the character is half-realized it can become a bit problematic to breathe life into it

Murphy explained to GQ that he's not very good at auditions, because as an actor who believes in connecting fully with the character he's playing, and taking the time to recognize their thought processes and personality quirks, auditions feel rushed and forced to him. It's a trial by fire that always leaves Murphy burned out. He explained, "[Auditions] stress me out. You can't get into the role in 15 seconds and that's all you have."