With a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his starring role in Oppenheimer, just one of his many award-winning movies and TV shows, Cillian Murphy’ is smoking hot right now, but the Irish talent is not one for blowing smoke, literally or figuratively. “I’ve smoked so many fake cigarettes for Peaky [Blinders] and [Oppenheimer]. My next character will not be a smoker,” he’s quipped to The Guardian.
Murphy’s also made it clear that he’s not a fan of having to hit the press circuit and navigate through all of its hot air, trying to impress reporters and TV hosts with witty banter. “I’m so happy to be doing what I love. I’m really lucky,” he insists. “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 talk show.”
That’s because he’d much rather keep the focus on his work, and luckily for his fans, there’s plenty of Cillian Murphy movies and TV shows he’s poured his heart and soul into. The star knew he wanted to pursue a career on the stage and screen after a short stint in law school and some time playing music. He was even offered a recording contract, though he turned it down — though he still dabbles in music on his own.
He’s protective of any of his compositions, however, just as he’s protective of his personal life with his wife, artist Yvonne McGuinness, and their two teenaged sons, Malachy and Aran, though he’s talked about how much his better half grounds him. “I have an amazing wife,” he’s told GQ, “and I couldn’t do this without her and her understanding. But it is a struggle. I think it is for any dad whose work takes him away, which it generally does, and which consumes him, which my work does.”
And what a string of work he’s done! Here are some of the most impressive Cillian Murphy movies and TV shows that any fan should check out.
The early years of Cillian Murphy
One of the first Cillian Murphy movies and TV shows was 2001’s Disco Pigs, a screen adaptation of Enda Walsh’s stage play, which the actor had also starred in. “Everybody knows Disco Pigs changed everything for me. It was the first thing I ever did, and it formed me totally,” he told The Irish Times of the story about two almost telepathically connected teens named Pig and Runt who are struggling to adjust to their evolving relationship. That same year on TV, he portrayed Paul Montague, a young, enterprising engineer on the BBC miniseries The Way We Live Now, a Victorian period drama set in 1870.
He’d go on to earn a Breakthrough Male Performance nomination at the MTV Movie Awards for his highest-profile role yet, as Jim, a coma-surviving bike courier, in 2002’s zombie-filled 28 Days Later. “It was a brilliant experience making that film. It was really a kind of game-changer for me working with [director] Danny Boyle,” Murphy told NME of the horror flick. “I don’t really watch zombie stuff, but we were the first people to make zombies run.”
Small parts for Cillian Murphy movies and TV shows followed in 2003’s Cold Mountain (starring Nicole Kidman and Jude Law) and Girl With a Pearl Earring (starring Scarlett Johansson and Colin Firth), as did a starring role in 2003’s Intermission, an Irish black comedy shot in a documentary style. Murphy appeared in that film with fellow Irish stars Colin Farrell and Colm Meaney.
By 2005, Murphy was stepping into the hallowed superhero universe, playing The Scarecrow/Dr. Jonathan Crane in 2005’s Batman Begins, which was his first of several projects with Oppenheimer director Christopher Nolan.
“It was far too roomy for me,” Murphy, who initially donned the Batsuit to audition for the caped crusader, quipped to GQ. “And I knew that Christian Bale was testing, and I was like, ‘Obviously, he should play Batman. Why am I even here?’ But it was fun. It’s a great thing to tell your kids. And then something came out of it.” That something, of course, was his role as the Scarecrow, for which he earned another MTV Movie + TV Awards nomination for Best Villain.
The actor soon discovered he was very good at being bad: The New York Times said he was “a picture-perfect villain” as Jackson Rippner in Wes Craven’s 2005 thriller Red Eye, in which he plays an assassin who terrorizes a hotel manager (Rachel McAdams) because he needs her help to pull off his kill.
“I made like ten feature films and I play the bad guy in two of them,” he quipped at the time to Radio Free Entertainment about the sinister role coming so soon after playing the Scarecrow. “Audiences aren’t myopic.… They understand that [I’m] an actor and that you can go and play other parts in other films.… And the thing is, as well, I don’t strategize. I don’t have a career plan. I’m not ticking boxes.”
Almost to prove his point, he then appeared in 2005’s Breakfast on Pluto as Patrick “Kitten” Brady, a transgender rock ’n’ roll performer, dancer, magician’s assistant and prostitute. Liam Neeson and Stephen Rea co-star in the indie comedy-drama.
“I wanted the character to be feminine as opposed to effeminate. Because it’s easy to be camp or queen. Anyone can do that. What’s difficult is to play feminine,” he told BlackFilm.com about his challenge with the role, which he clearly rose to: Murphy won Best Actor in a Lead Role in a Feature Film at the Irish Film and Television Awards for his trip to Pluto, which also landed him a Golden Globe nomination.
More accolades came for 2006’s The Wind That Shakes the Barley, which won the Palm D’Or at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival. The film is set during the Irish War of Independence and Irish Civil War, and Murphy plays Damien O’Donovan, a young doctor pulled into the battles, tearing his family apart. Further proving his reputation as an impressive talent, the actor was lauded for his turn as a physicist in the 2007 sci-fi thriller Sunshine.
“The picture would be nothing, an incomplete Venn diagram, without Murphy,” Salon noted, singling him out as one of the film’s brightest spots, though his Scarecrow would again deliciously darken things in Batman’s Gotham City in 2008’s The Dark Knight.
A Sneak Peaky at His Roles in the 2010s
The actor has said that 2010’s Inception was one of the “significant milestones in my career.” Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Elliott Page headline the complicated story about the sinister use of dream-sharing technology, which sprung from the mind of writer-director Christopher Nolan.
“We rehearsed with [Nolan] and Leo and I thought it was phenomenal,” Murphy told Collider. “I knew that it was something unique. I knew that I had never read anything like this before and I knew that Chris has such a great pedigree in that multi-narrative structure from the past and also doing scale and emotion, so I was just thrilled to be involved.”
More sci-fi adventure awaited him in 2010’s TRON: Legacy as well as in 2011’s In Time, in which Murphy plays Timekeeper Raymond Leon, a dark authority figure in a story set in the spooky future, where no one lives past 25, yet the rich can pay to live forever. Justin Timberlake, Matt Bomer and Amanda Seyfried co-star.
In 2012, he teamed up with Sigourney Weaver in the thriller Red Lights as they played a pair of academic skeptics trying to expose a dangerous, high-profile “psychic” (Robert DeNiro) who’s up to no good. Murphy then swooped down once more into the Batman franchise as the Scarecrow for 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises, resurfacing the following year in one of his most popular roles.
In 2013’s Peaky Blinders, Murphy stepped into the role of menacing gang leader Tommy Shelby, which he’d play throughout the BBC period crime-drama’s end in 2022. “He’s a World War I decorated veteran, a very physical character. So, you have to develop that presence and spend a lot of time at the gym,” the actor told IndieWire. “I’m not a tough guy at all so it was by far the toughest character I have ever portrayed, and him being so physical and the amount of respect and fear that this family has in this town means that we all had to look tough.… We did a lot of fighting, stunts, and so I’ve been to the gym more than I ever been in my whole life!”
Murphy then re-teamed with Christopher Nolan for his 2017 ensemble World War II drama Dunkirk, co-starring Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh and pop prince Harry Styles. Murphy’s character’s name, Shivering Soldier, refers to the officer he played being reduced to a shaking mess after witnessing “some horrific, traumatic event.… That’s where the name came from, because, I think, he’s sort of an amalgam of many, many soldiers that went through that [trauma],” he told Flicks and the City Clips. “I see it less as a war film but more of a survival film, more of a suspenseful film, more about man’s capacity for empathy.”
His Not-So-Quiet Rise to Superstardom
The Office’s John Krasinski wisely tapped Murphy for 2020’s A Quiet Place Part II, the much anticipated follow-up to his 2018 sci-fi horror hit. “To get to work with Emily Blunt was a big attraction for me… I had been a huge fan of her work,” Murphy told Thrillist of taking on his role of Emmett.
He’d also been a huge fan of Krasinski’s. “I saw the first movie with my kids, and we loved it, all of us. And then I composed an email to [John], just to write to another artist to say, ‘I thought that was f—ing amazing and you did a brilliant job.’ But I never sent it because I got embarrassed. And then he emailed me like a year later [to be in the film].”
Clearly, many in the know are huge fans of Cillian Murphy movies and TV shows, and that especially applies to director Christopher Nolan, who knew he wanted the Irish actor to head up the 2023 blockbuster Oppenheimer.
“[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,” Murphy told The Guardian.
He stars, of course, as J. Robert Oppenheimer, the physicist who helped create the atomic bomb, which was later used in World War II on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Murphy describes the character as “dancing between the raindrops morally. He was complex, contradictory, polymathic; incredibly attractive intellectually and charismatic, but ultimately unknowable.”
One thing that is known is the brilliance of his portrayal, for which Murphy’s already won a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a drama. During his acceptance speech, he graciously thanked his co-stars in “the most incredible ensemble cast” — Emily Blunt, Robert Downey Jr., Matt Damon, Gary Oldman — because “you can’t do it on your own.”
Next up for the star is 2024’s Small Things Like These, an adaptation of Claire Keegan‘s novella set in a small Irish town in the 80s, where Murphy’s character starts discovering dark secrets about the local convent.
“I’m really proud of the movie. It’s produced by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck,” he told The New York Times of his “passion project,” as Rolling Stone UK labels it. Its themes center around the Magdalene Laundries, Ireland’s asylum-like institutions in which thousands of looked-down-upon women were trapped. It’s “an important story for Ireland,” Murphy says. “What happened with the church, I think we’re still kind of processing it. And art can be a balm for that, it can help with that.”
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