Cillian Murphy (born 25 May 1976) is an Irish actor.
He began his career performing as a rock musician. After turning down a record deal, he began his acting career in theatre, and in short and independent films in the late 1990s. His first notable film roles include Darren in Disco Pigs (2001), Jim in 28 Days Later (2002), John in Intermission (2003), Jackson Rippner in Red Eye (2005), and Patrick “Kitten” Braden in Breakfast on Pluto (2005). For Breakfast on Pluto, he was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy, and won an Irish Film and Television Award for Best Actor. Murphy is known for his collaborations with director Christopher Nolan, playing the Scarecrow in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Trilogy (2005–2012); as well as appearing in Inception (2010) and Dunkirk (2017).
Other lead and major film roles include Damien O’Donovan in The Wind That Shakes the Barley (2006), Robert Capa in Sunshine (2007), Raymond Leon in In Time (2011), Jozef Gabčík in Anthropoid (2016), and Emmett in A Quiet Place Part II (2020). Since 2013, Murphy has portrayed Thomas Shelby, the lead role of the BBC gangster series Peaky Blinders, which has won him two Irish Film and Television Awards for Best Actor, in 2017 and 2018, respectively.
In 2011, Murphy won the Irish Times Theatre Award for Best Actor, and the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Solo Performance for the one-man play Misterman. In 2020, he was ranked number 12 on The Irish Times’ list of Ireland’s greatest film actors.
Murphy returned to the stage starring opposite Neve Campbell at the New Ambassadors Theatre in London’s West End from November 2006 to February 2007, playing the lead role of John Kolvenbach’s play Love Song. Theatre Record described his character of Beane as a “winsomely cranky” mentally unstable “sentimentalised lonely hero”, noting how he magnetically, with “all blue eyes and twitching hands”, moves “comically from painfully shy “wallpaper” to garrulous, amorous male.” Variety magazine considered his performance to be “as magnetic onstage as onscreen”, remarking that his “unhurried puzzlement pulls the slight preciousness in the character’s idiot-savant naivete back from the brink”.
He starred in the science fiction film Sunshine (2007) as a physicist-astronaut charged with re-igniting the sun, also directed by Danny Boyle. He starred opposite Lucy Liu in Paul Soter’s romantic comedy Watching the Detectives (2007); the indie film premiered at the 2007 Tribeca Film Festival and was released direct-to-DVD. Murphy starred as Richard Neville, editor of the psychedelic radical underground magazine Oz in the film Hippie Hippie Shake, which was filmed in 2007, but the project, much delayed, was eventually shelved in 2011.
Murphy made a brief re-appearance as the Scarecrow in Nolan’s The Dark Knight (2008), the sequel to Batman Begins, before starring in The Edge of Love—about a love quadrangle involving the poet Dylan Thomas—with Keira Knightley, Sienna Miller and Matthew Rhys. In July 2008, Murphy made a debut appearance in another medium—on a postage stamp; the Irish Post Office, An Post, released a series of four stamps paying homage to the creativity of films recently produced in Ireland, including one featuring Murphy in a still from The Wind That Shakes the Barley. In 2009, Murphy starred opposite rock singer Feist and actor David Fox in The Water, directed by Kevin Drew of Broken Social Scene. The 15-minute Canadian short film, released online in April 2009, is nearly silent until the Feist song of the same title plays close to the end. Murphy was attracted to the role as a fan of Broken Social Scene and the prospect of making a silent movie, which he considered to be the “hardest test for any actor”. Murphy also starred in Perrier’s Bounty, a crime dramedy from the makers of Intermission, in which he portrayed a petty criminal on the run from a gangster played by Brendan Gleeson.
In 2010, he made a return to theatre in From Galway to Broadway and back again, which was a stage show that celebrated the Druid Theatre Company’s 35th birthday. The direct-to-video psychological thriller Peacock (2010), co-starring Elliot Page, Susan Sarandon and Bill Pullman, starred Murphy as a man with a split personality who fools people into believing he is also his own wife. Christian Toto of The Washington Times referred to the film as “a handsomely mounted psychological drama with an arresting lead turn by Cillian Murphy”, and noted that although Murphy wasn’t a stranger to playing in drag, his work in the film set a “new standard for gender-bending performances”. Murphy next starred in Christopher Nolan’s Inception (2010), playing entrepreneur Robert Fischer, whose mind is infiltrated by DiCaprio’s character Cobb to convince him to dissolve his business. That year, Murphy also made an uncredited cameo as programmer Edward Dillinger Jr., son of original Tron antagonist Ed Dillinger (David Warner) in Tron: Legacy.
Thrillers and Peaky Blinders
In 2011, Murphy performed in the stage monodrama Misterman, written and directed by Enda Walsh, whom Murphy previously worked with on Disco Pigs. The production was initially staged in Galway and was taken to St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn, New York City. Murphy commented of the role, “The live nature of it makes it so dangerous. You’re only there because of the good will of the audience, and that’s compounded by its being a one-man show”. His performance earned critical acclaim, garnering Irish Times Theatre Award and a Drama Desk Award. Sarah Lyall of the International Herald Tribune described Murphy’s character Thomas Magill to be a “complicated mixture of sympathetic and not nice at all – deeply wounded, but with a dangerous, skewed moral code”, praising his ability to mimic wickedly. Lyall noted Murphy’s “unusual ability to create and inhabit creepy yet fascinating characters from the big screen to the small stage in the intense one-man show Misterman”, and documented that on one evening the “theater was flooded, not with applause but with silence”, eventually culminating in a standing ovation at his powerful performance. He played the lead in the British horror film Retreat (2011), which had a limited release. He also appeared in the science fiction film In Time (2011), starring Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried, which was poorly reviewed.
Murphy starred in Red Lights (2012) with Robert De Niro and Sigourney Weaver. He played Tom Buckley, the assistant to Weaver’s character who is a paranormal investigator. Murphy considered working with De Niro to have been one of the most intimidating moments in his career. He remarked: “My first scene when I come to visit him my character is supposed to be terrified and intimidated. There was no acting involved. The man has presence. You can’t act presence. I’ll never have that. Watching him use it…when you put a camera on it, it just becomes something else.” The film was panned by critics and under-performed at the box office. Murphy went on to reprise his role as the Scarecrow for the third time in The Dark Knight Rises (2012), and had a supporting role as Mike, the favourite teacher of the main character Skunk, in the British independent film Broken (2012). His performance earned him a British Independent Film Award for Best Supporting Actor nomination.
Since 2013, Murphy has played the lead role, Tommy Shelby, in the BBC television series Peaky Blinders, a series about a criminal gang in post-First World War Birmingham. He explained his enthusiasm for the show in an interview with The Independent: ” were so compelling and confident, and the character was so rich and complex, layered and contradictory. I was like, ‘I have to do this.'” Peaky Blinders was praised and received high ratings. A second series began broadcasting on the BBC in October 2014. On August 25, the first episode of season 5 was broadcast on BBC One. In an interview with Digital Spy, director Anthony Byrne said, “if we did start shooting in January (2021), we wouldn’t finish until May or June and then it’s another 6 months of editing.” This would place the release date for Peaky Blinders season 6 at the end of 2021, or the beginning of 2022. In 2013, Murphy made his directorial debut with a music video for the band Money’s single Hold Me Forever. The video features dancers from the English National Ballet and was filmed at The Old Vic Theatre in London.
In 2014, he co-starred in the drama Aloft with Jennifer Connelly, and Wally Pfister’s Transcendence with Johnny Depp and Rebecca Hall. Both of these features garnered mostly unfavourable critic reviews according to the aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. That same year, Murphy reunited with Enda Walsh in the play Ballyturk. He starred in Ron Howard’s 2015 film, In the Heart of the Sea, which also features Benjamin Walker and Chris Hemsworth. In 2015, he contributed spoken vocals to the tracks “8:58” and “The Clock” from Paul Hartnoll’s album 8:58. The two previously met while Hartnoll was scoring the second season of Peaky Blinders. Murphy portrayed Czechoslovak World War II army soldier Jozef Gabčík, who was involved in Operation Anthropoid, the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich in Anthropoid (2016). Rupert Hawksley of The Telegraph believed Cillian’s performance, but opined that he is “not asked to do an awful lot, other than smoke and look perplexed.”
Murphy played a shell-shocked army officer who is recovered from a wrecked ship in Christopher Nolan’s war film, Dunkirk (2017). Murphy felt his character, who is nameless and was credited simply as “Shivering Soldier”, was “representative of something experienced by thousands of soldiers, which is the profound emotional and psychological toll that war can have”.