Many of Ireland’s greatest stars have tried their hands at other professions before they discovered their natural given talent for acting but Cork-born actor Cillian Murphy, in particular, found himself on a completely different life trajectory before attending a weird and ambitious production of A Clockwork Orange in Cork city turned the tide on his future career.
It was in 1996 as a 20-year-old law undergraduate in University College Cork that a light switched for Murphy and the boredom and apathy he felt for his law degree was counteracted by the excitement of this strange show in a nightclub and he realized his desire to act.
Previous to this Murphy has played in bands and tried his luck as an amateur musician even receiving an offer to travel to London along with his brother and the rest of their band to concentrate on their music career.
By this point, the award-winning actor had already all but given up on his law career, already uninterested in going to lectures and attending college by his parents had other intentions for his 16-year-old brother.
Speaking to Vice, Murphy tells of how his parents wanted he could ruin his own life but he would not do the same for his younger siblings.
“I don’t think the world is lacking our music, that's for sure,” he jokes in the video.
Although his music career may not have found the limelight (although he is still known for his love of it and has provided vocals on the music of a favorite local Cork band as recently as last year), it was his failure in the first year of his undergraduate degree that finally set him more permanently on the path to some of his more iconic roles in the Wind that Shakes the Barley, Batman, and as Tommy Shelby in TV hit Peaky Blinders.
The son of a French teacher and a civil servant in the Department of Education and the oldest of four siblings, the Inception and 28 Days Later star, had a childhood that was more focused on academic and sporting prowess than on a more creative career.
His parents sent Murphy to a private school, Presentation College, where success in sports and school subjects were all important.
“But I was always fascinated by the idea of artists: authors, playwrights, musicians. Those things seemed alien and otherworldly at the time,” he told The Guardian, in April 2016.
“Impossible for me to be connected to in any way. At a rugby[-playing], academic school, you felt a little bit foolish thinking you could ever enter into that artistic world.”
And so it wasn’t until he discovered mohawked performers on stilts in Cork city while in university that he began to even think of the prospect of being an actor.
The Clockwork Orange production was the work of the theatre company, Corcadorca and 40-year-old subsequently hounded them to allow him to audition eventually being given his break in “Disco Pigs” show that would take him from Cork to Dublin, then to Edinburgh, then London, then Europe, Australia and north America, and even see him retaining his original role in a film adaption some while later.
“Disco Pigs” was also to introduce him to Enda Walsh, at the time an unknown playwright, he would meet again in the 2000s when Murphy played the lead in Misterman, from 2012, and Ballyturk, from 2014, which both won much critical acclaim at a time, a sign of the well-established success of the playwright and his leading actor since their time in Cork.
In between finishing up Disco Pig on stage and the film adaptation, the Corkman has already found himself in several independent Irish movies but once again the Enda Walsh script was to make a charging point in Murphy’s life.
When he was to reprise his role in the film, his co-star had been recast and after spending almost two years acting opposite Eileen Walsh, to have Elaine Cassidy now to plays alongside him gave the star doubts.
“It was a very sharp shock. I remember there was a moment when you think, ‘Am I not going to do this now?’” he told the Guardian.
It was thanks to him eventually making the film, however, that Murphy’s work was to find its way to famed English director Danny Boyle who called on the Cork actor to audition for his latest new horror “28 Days Later”, a role that would secure Murphy a string of large roles including The Wind that Shakes the Barley and Batman Begins. Murphy himself jokes that this was the point at which people started to learn how to say his name, often previously being referred to as "Silly-an" instead of the proper "Kill-ian."
While Murphy filmed the Anthropoid opposite fellow Irishman Jamie Dornan and Free Fire with Brie Larson last year, much of his working time is now currently spent on the hugely popular Peaky Blinder, in which he plays the iconic Tommy Shelby, head of a Birmingham, England-based family criminal ring.
And just think, if his musical talent had been his breakthrough earlier on in his life, or he hadn’t had the chance discovery while in UCC, the only way you may have heard that soothing Cork lilt was in a courtroom!
"I dunno sometimes you feel like a total waste of space really, when you look at people who have proper jobs," he tells Vice in the video, below.
"What am I doing flouncing around, putting on voices and dressing up?
"But people need to go to the pictures, and people need some sort of escape. Artis don't let people down like politicians let people down, like bankers let people down. The quality of the work may fluctuate but they keep making it, they keep trying, and they keep giving some kind of sucker, I think.
"They are kind of overpaid, and there also a lot of stupidity and hot-air that surrounds it all and a lot of that I don't subscribe to put I think sometimes a film can change someone's life. If you can do that through a piece of art then you fell like you're giving something important back."
What's your favorite Cillian Murphy role? Let us know in the comments section, below.