Cillian Murphy doesn’t like the fame part of being an actor. He moved his family out of London when his children started speaking with British accents, and the family moved back to Ireland. Apparently, Cillian lives a completely normal life there with his family, with no fame trappings and, according to this Guardian piece, no cell phone or email. People practically have to send him a carrier pigeon to get in touch with him or cast him in a movie. Cillian chatted about all of that and more with the Guardian and he absolutely comes across as rather an odd bird, but also just… not engaged with the hustle and bustle of modernity. Some highlights:
Whether he’s pleased with Oppenheimer. “I am, yeah. I don’t like watching myself – it’s like, ‘Oh, f–king hell’ – but it’s an extraordinary piece of work. Very provocative and powerful. It feels sometimes like a biopic, sometimes like a thriller, sometimes like a horror. It’s going to knock people out. What [Nolan] does with film, it f–ks you up a little bit.”
No email, computer or phone: It was Nolan’s wife, the producer Emma Thomas, who called Murphy one afternoon at the home he shares with his wife, artist Yvonne McGuinness, and two teenage sons. Nolan doesn’t actually have a telephone, or an email, or computer for that matter: “He’s the most analogue individual you could possibly encounter.”
He tested himself to see how little he could eat on ‘Oppenheimer’. “You become competitive with yourself a little bit which is not healthy. I don’t advise it.” He won’t say how many kilograms he lost, or what food the nutritionist told him to cut out. NDA? “Ach, no. I don’t want it to be, ‘Cillian lost x weight for the part’.”
Nolan filmed quickly, which helped Cillian lose weight & grow a sickly demeanor: “It’s like you’re on this f–king train that’s just bombing. It’s bang, bang, bang, bang. You sleep for a few hours, get up, bang it again. I was running on crazy energy; I went over a threshold to where I was not worrying about food or anything… But it was good because the character was like that. He never ate.” Oppenheimer subsisted on little more than Chesterfield cigarettes and double-strength martinis, rims dipped in lime. “Cigarettes and pipes. He would alternate between the two. That’s what did for him in the end,” Murphy adds, a nod to the scientist’s death from cancer in 1967. “I’ve smoked so many fake cigarettes for Peaky and this. My next character will not be a smoker. They can’t be good for you. Even herbal cigarettes have health warnings now.”
But he’s not a method actor: “Method acting is a sort of … No,” he says, firm but with a half smile. Oppenheimer had many defining characteristics, not least walking on the balls of his feet and a vocal tic that sounded like nim-nim-nim, but Murphy didn’t want to do an impression. “He was dancing between the raindrops morally. He was complex, contradictory, polymathic; incredibly attractive intellectually and charismatic, but ultimately unknowable.”
He hates doing talk shows: “I do them because you’re contractually obliged to. I just endure them. I’ve always found it difficult. I’ve said this so many, many times….I want to just caveat this by saying, I’m so privileged. I’m so happy to be doing what I love. I’m really lucky. But I don’t enjoy the personality side of being an actor. I don’t understand why I should be entertaining and scintillating on a talkshow. I don’t know why all of a sudden that’s expected of me. Why?” I say that he reminds me of Naomi Osaka, the tennis player who refused to talk to journalists after the French Open in 2021. He says he feels “100%” sympathy with her, “because why should she have to perform?” Then he relents. “But I get it. I get it’s a kind of ecosystem where the film feeds the publicity which feeds the talkshows which goes back and feeds the film, so, like, that’s how it works. I suppose I’m just not good at it. At interviews, at this stuff… Do you know what Sam Beckett said? ‘I have no views to inter.’ I love that. That should be the interview.”
Dinner with scientific geniuses: “I had dinner with all these geniuses. I’ll never understand quantum mechanics, but I was interested in what science does to their perspective.” He sought their opinions on subjects that matter – love, politics, our place in the universe, “infinity, or whatever the f–k. Because they have a completely different way of taking in information than we do. I remember one scientist saying, ‘I don’t believe in love. It’s a biological phenomenon, the exchange of hormones between the female and the male. That’s all. Love is a nonsense.’ I couldn’t go along with that, obviously.”
Is Cillian going on Graham Norton or something? I need to know his talk show schedule so I can watch his visible discomfort. The American talk show hosts are going to eat him alive. Maybe he’ll enjoy Stephen Colbert? But the morning shows… yeesh, it won’t be pretty. I also didn’t realize that he lost weight for the role because he was trying to mimic Oppenheimer’s physique. And all of the smoking and drinking – people today don’t realize that basically everyone – scientists, doctors, actors, ad men, housewives – were all day-drunk chain-smokers all the time and that’s just how it was. That was the normal culture, everyone drunk all the time and you could smoke everywhere.
Photos courtesy of Backgrid.