In Inception, the hotly anticipated new thriller opening this week, Irish actor Cillian Murphy plays the kidnapped son of a tycoon who has to confront his darkest fears. CAHIR O’DOHERTY talks to Murphy about working with Hollywood’s golden boys, actor Leonardo DiCaprio and director Christopher Nolan.
Cillian Murphy is arguably the most consistently impressive screen actor that Ireland has produced. He’d deny it if you said so (he’s from Cork after all), but in a career that sees him alternating between low budget independent hits and multimillion dollar blockbusters, he has yet to put a foot wrong.
From the beginning Murphy, 34, has been notoriously protective of his private life and hasn’t gone in for the usual trappings of celebrity -- booze and all the epic benders that burn up Internet gossip sites. He’s never challenged anyone to a duel, or got drunk at the airport, or dropped a sex tape before the startled public’s gaze. As Hollywood celebrities go, he’s unusually low-key, and that’s how he wants to keep it.
“I’m just not very good at it really, and I never have been,” Murphy, who hails from Douglas, Co. Cork, tells the Irish Voice during a recent interview.
He mentions no names, but its no secret that some of his famous friends like Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Colin Farrell must envy his self-control.
“Some people are just naturally good at that stuff (being stars). I’m not,” he says.
“For me the publicity should always be the work and you can just judge me on that. That’s the way I try and keep it, purely because I’d be rubbish at it otherwise.”
This week Murphy stars in Inception, the most anticipated big budget thriller of the summer directed by Christopher Nolan (Batman Begins, The Prestige, The Dark Knight). This time Murphy (who has appeared in several of Nolan’s films) shares screen time with actors like Leonardo DiCaprio and Michael Caine and once again he does what he’s paid to do -- provide the most captivating portrait in the film.
Controversially not many film critics have seen Inception yet, in an unusual attempt by Warner Brothers to shroud the story line in secrecy right up to the opening date. This has led to a lot of online grousing. It must really stink, assumed the critics, if they’re being that paranoid.
But the decision to keep it under wraps until opening day has turned out to be a wise one. Going in blind you may anticipate Inception will just be a second-hand retelling of the Keanu Reeves sci-fi classic The Matrix. It’s not a bit.
In fact Inception is a dark and surprisingly thoughtful thriller that explores some mind-bending ideas while it’s making you jump out of your seat. Set inside the minds of each character, literally inside their dreams, in Inception anything is possible -- you can go anywhere and become anyone.
Sounds great, until you remember that dreams can turn into nightmares in a heartbeat. That’s what gives Inception its fascination and its strange power.
Nolan makes action flicks that are also completely absorbing philosophically, even when the material gets noticeably thin or contradictory. He knows how to fire on all cylinders in a way that ensures he has few equals in the thriller genre. It’s a way of working that Murphy clearly enjoys.
“If you say this film has the structure of a heist movie I would be what they call the mark. Traditionally that’s not a very interesting role to play. The layers wouldn’t be very complex, you know?” says Murphy
“But with Chris at the helm he gave my character a lot of color. I tried to play him as a petulant child who’s in need of a lot of attention from his father. He has everything he could ever want materially, but he’s deeply lacking emotionally.”
To find some truth behind his role, Murphy says he delved into his own personal life with his artist wife Yvonne McGuinness, and their two children.
“I’m a father of two sons myself, and in the role I thought about my own relationship with my dad. To add to that the idea of living in the shadow of someone so immensely powerful (in the film Murphy’s father is a tycoon and a Rupert Murdoch-like figure) must have a huge effect on a person,” says Murphy.
“I also looked at the Murdoch family and how his sons have dealt with his achievements, and it was interesting to play and to try and give him some humanity.”
Some people may be surprised to discover that when they first met, director Nolan was contemplating casting Murphy in the role of Batman in Batman Begins.
“There was a few of us going up for that role. We met years ago and I think he’d just done Insomnia. We chatted and we got on very well. He talked to me about the Batman thing and I said, ‘Me? I don’t know man. But sure I’ll come in and audition,’” Murphy recalls.