Cillian Murphy is a theatre and film actor from Ireland. He rose to prominence with his sublime performances in both independent and mainstream films. Despite beginning his career as a rock musician, he declined a record deal and focused on his acting instead. He made his debut on the stage in 1996 as Darren in Enda Walsh’s play ‘Disco Pigs’. His performance received critical recognition and he continued to hone his skills portraying one interesting character after another at Dublin and London’s theatre scene. Soon enough, film offers started to pour in. One of these led to his first collaboration with Danny Boyle in the post-apocalyptic film ‘28 Days Later’. Since then, he has garnered a reputation for playing volatile characters. While he does have a thriving career in movies, he has shown deep reluctance to forego the stage for it. In the last fifteen years, he has been part of some of the most audacious, iconic and influential projects in the history of cinema. He worked again with Boyle in ‘Sunshine’, played the vicious antagonist opposite Rachel McAdams in ‘Red Eye’, and teamed up with Christopher Nolan for The Dark Knight Trilogy, ‘Inception’, and ‘Dunkirk’. In 2011, he was chosen as the patron for the UNESCO Child and Family Research Centre at the National University of Ireland Galway.
Childhood & Early Life
Born on May 25, 1976, in Douglas, a suburb of Cork city, Ireland, Cillian is the oldest child of Brendan Murphy, an employee of the Irish Department of Education and his French-tutor wife. He has a brother, Páidi, and two sisters, Orla and Sile. Raised in Ballintemple, another suburb of Cork, Cillian began playing music and composing songs at ten years of age.
His family is Roman Catholic and Murphy attended the Catholic school Presentation Brothers College where he had his initial taste of acting. His English teacher, poet William Wall, encouraged him to continue pursuing acting, but at that age Murphy was more interested in music.
He, along with his brother Páidi, was part of several bands in his late teens and early 20s, the most prominent being ‘The Sons of Greengenes’. The band was offered a five-album record deal in 1996 by Acid Jazz Records but they ended up not accepting it as Páidi was still in secondary school.
In the same year, he enrolled at the University College Cork to study Law. But as he himself said, there was “no ambition behind it”. He was busy for the most part with his band, and his love for performing had begun to take a definitive shape. As a result, his education suffered and he could not pass the first year exams.
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Cillian Murphy’s love for acting increased exponentially after watching Corcadorca Theatre Company’s production of ‘A Clockwork Orange’ in Dublin. In September 1996, he debuted as a professional actor in the play ‘Disco Pigs’. About a year later, he acted in Declan Recks’ short film ‘Quando’. In 1999, he starred in his debut feature film, ‘Sunburn’, alongside Paloma Baeza and Sinead Keenan.
After a succession of independent films, he was cast as the lead in ‘28 Days Later’ (2002). Made with an $8 million budget, Boyle’s post-apocalyptic sci-fi horror earned $84.7 million at the box office. They worked together again in the sci-fi thriller ‘Sunshine’ (2007). For his role as the nuclear physicist/astronaut Robert Capa, Murphy consulted with physicist Brian Cox.
In “Master of Horror” Wes Craven’s ‘Red Eye’, Murphy’s vivid blue eyes and natural good looks perfectly juxtaposed with the ruthless and terrifying aspects of the character he played. In 2006, he played Damien O'Donovan in Ken Loach’s Palme d'Or winning film ‘The Wind That Shakes the Barley’.
Besides these, he has played a transgender foundling looking for love in ‘Breakfast on Pluto’ (2005), romanced Lucy Liu in ‘Watching the Detectives’ (2007), and starred alongside Robert De Niro and Sigourney Weaver in ‘Red Lights’ (2012).
Since ‘Disco Pigs’, he has built up a respectable resume as a stage actor as well. He has performed in the productions of Shakespeare’s ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ (1998), Neil LaBute’s ‘The Shape of Things (2002), and Walsh’s Misterman’ (2011) and ‘Ballyturk’ (2014).
His most important outing on the small screen is in the British crime drama ‘Peaky Blinders’ (2013-present). He stars as Tommy Shelby, the cunning and ambitious leader of the Romanic-Irish gang ‘Peaky Blinders.’ He also served as the narrator for BBC’s nature documentary ‘Atlantic: The Wildest Ocean on Earth’ in 2015.
In 2017, he is set to appear in Mark O’Rowe’s directorial venture ‘The Delinquent Season’. The film is in the post-production stage.
Cillian Murphy first worked with Nolan in 2005 superhero film ‘Batman Begins’, playing Jonathan Crane or Scarecrow. In the film, Scarecrow is a corrupt psychopharmacologist serving as the Chief Administrator of Arkham Asylum. Murphy wanted to make the character less theatrical in Nolan’s film which was grounded in realism to begin with. He reprised role in both sequels of the movie, ‘The Dark Knight’ (2008) and ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ (2012) and provided the voice for the character in ‘Batman Begins’ video game (2005).
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His second film with the visionary director was ‘Inception’ (2010). He was cast as Robert Michael Fischer, who is the heir of a business empire and the target of the team of thieves led by Leonardo DiCaprio’s character Dom Cobb. Murphy identified Fischer as a “petulant child who needs a lot of attention from his father” and read about Rupert Murdoch’s sons to add depth to his portrayal.
He and Nolan partnered up once again for the war drama ‘Dunkirk’ (2017). Credited simply as the Shivering Soldier, Murphy researched about the psychological trauma that a soldier endures to have a better grasp of his character’s PTSD.
Awards & Achievements
It was the film adaptation of ‘Disco Pigs’ that won Cillian Murphy his first award, the Best Actor Award at the 2002 Ourense Independent Film Festival.
In 2006, he received a Golden Globe nomination for ‘Breakfast on Pluto’.
His film, ‘The Dark Knight’, won the ACCA Award for Best Cast Ensemble in 2008.
He was granted the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Solo Performance in 2012 for portraying Thomas Magill in ‘Misterman’.
For ‘Peaky Blinders’, he became the recipient of the Golden FIPA AWARD for Best Actor in a TV Series & Serials in 2014.
Cillian Murphy met visual artist Yvonne McGuinness in 1996 at one of his band’s performances in Dublin. After almost eight years of dating, they married on August 1, 2004. The couple have two sons together, Malachy (born 2005) and Aran (born 2007). The family currently resides in Monkstown, County Cork. He has reiterated time and again that he has no desire of moving to Hollywood.
An introvert, he prefers to lead a reclusive private life. He does not have a personal publicist, or a stylist, and often attends premiers of his films alone. It wasn’t until 2010 that he appeared on a live television chat show.
Murphy had been an agnostic for the majority of his adult life, but after doing ‘Sunshine’, he has become an atheist.