Red Lights was one of the big premieres at the Sundance Film Festival this year, playing the 1200 seat Eccles theater. It took ‘til July to get its theatrical release, which is not bad as Sundance deals go. From writer/director Rodrigo Cortes, Cillian Murphy plays a debunker of supernatural hoaxes. His mentor is played by Sigourney Weaver and their big white whale is the renowned psychic and telekinetic Simon Silver (introducing Robert DeNiro). Murphy came to L.A. last month where we got some quality time with him. And of course we asked about The Dark Knight Rises. I mean, come on.
CraveOnline: Has the ending been changed since Sundance?
Cillian Murphy: Yeah, I believe it’s been slightly modified.
Did you have to reshoot anything?
No, it was in the edit.
If the ending was in flux, would that have changed the way you performed the whole movie?
No, the essence of the ending is still the same in terms of the reveal is completely the same. I think it’s a slightly more compressed version of it I think, but Rodrigo [Cortez]’s the man who re-edited it so he’s the man to ask.
Is it really juicy drama to deal with the supernatural, because even if the movie suggests the supernatural exists, you still can’t give the audience a definitive real world answer?
Yeah, I always look at it as you’ve got to look outside the world of words like paranormal and the believers and the skeptics. To me it’s about the character. The character for me, the engine of that character is his obsession and then also this journey of self-acceptance. There are the two driving factors for me. The world around us, the whole paranormal thing, I can take or leave. For me it’s a character study really.
Does that help you navigate political films also?
You mean like The Wind That Shakes the Barley?
Yes, even if a film takes a political point of view, you can still deal with the universal drama.
If you use the case in point of The Wind That Shakes the Barley, that’s a political film but it’s a human story and if you don’t invest in the characters, you might as well just be making a documentary. It doesn’t make any sense. So your job as an actor is to portray a character honestly and hopefully then an audience will invest in that emotionally.
Talk about making it in the business, does it give you pause to be the lead in a movie where Sigourney Weaver and Robert DeNiro are supporting characters?
Yeah, [Laughs] that’s something I still haven’t gotten my head around. That’s kind of bonkers. That’s something that will never become banal. That’ll always be extraordinary. Given that those guys are heroes of mine and are legends. But I think it’s a tribute to the quality of the work that they wanted to be involved in it. Rodrigo got his first choices in all the actors.
Is there a point where you become colleagues with them, that they’re not people you’ve grown up admiring?
It’s always there for me. I think those guys are in a special category. When the camera turns over and you’re in the middle of the scene, it’s two actors, but then you pop out and you go wow, I just did a scene with Robert DeNiro. That’s pretty amazing.
How long did it take to shoot the knock down drag out fight in the bathroom?
We did that for two days, it was the last two days of the shoot in Barcelona. I love that scene and I think it’s important that it needed to be that violent. I think in the architecture of the story, it was important that he needed to take that beating. I enjoyed it. I did most of the stunts myself in that. I enjoyed that and I love that physical aspect of it.
Movies are always shot out of order, but was it odd to do the aftermath of that but save the actual fight for last?
Yeah, but it’s always like that on films. I’ve had one or two films that we shot in sequences and it’s an absolute pleasure, but your brain becomes used to making work like that and you trust the director to lead you through that.
Do you still audition for films?
If need be, I will. The good ones, the really good ones are few and far between and everybody’s after them. So if that’s part of what you need to do then you do it. I’ve always thought that we are actors and auditioning is part of what we need to do. It’s always nice when your body of work becomes enough of a calling card but I’m happy to audition if need be.
What was the last one you had to audition for?
Can’t recall now. The thing is you get to re-collaborate with people. You make work with somebody and then they work with you again because they know your work and that becomes a way of getting jobs as well.
Was Red Lights a meeting with Rodrigo?
Yes, I met him and then I saw Buried as well and he’d seen my work. We talked but I did make it very clear to him that I really, really wanted to play the part.
Talk about your body of work, was 2005 a transformative year for you?
I don't know, what happened in 2005?
That was Batman Begins and Red Eye.
Oh right. I guess they were two big films, yeah. I mean, I think 28 Days Later was more of a watershed for me because it was the first time I was the lead in a movie, the first time with a name director and it made a big impact over here in the states, whereas all the other films that I’d done prior to that were smaller independent Irish films that wouldn’t have been seen outside of Europe. So 28 Days Later was kind of the watershed.
Do you get a chance to be in The Dark Knight Rises?
That’s coming out in July, isn’t it? So we don’t have long to wait for all you impatient journalists.
But if you weren’t, you could just say no.
Well, isn’t it great just to go into a film and just enjoy the film? We’re so obsessed with spoilers and leaks and on set videos. Why? Let’s just enjoy the movie. I know it’s the internet age but there’s something pure about going to see a film with that anticipation and not having read the script or not knowing who’s going to be showing up.
Of course I did not expect you to actually be able to answer that.
Yeah, it just seems everybody just asks me now.
Pretty much, yeah.
You did have an interesting role in TRON: Legacy. Are you on tap to be in future TRON films?
That was not designed to sew the seed of a character. That was purely me being a huge fan of the original and petitioning to get into it in any way I could be in it. I don't think so.
Now they are writing a third one.
Oh, are they?
So I guess you haven’t heard.
I haven’t heard.
Is that an interesting place to be? Where was the point where you realized you could ask to be in something and had enough clout or work behind you?
That’s the only time I’ve ever done that. I’ve never done that before or since. I just love that movie so much, the original.
Has your craft changed since you started, how you come at characters?
Yeah, when I started acting, particularly in films, I never trained and I never intended to be an actor, so I guess I felt like a bit of an interloper. I think as you get older, you gain a bit more confidence and I think you gain experience. You gain patience hopefully as well. I guess you do change with age. They say it takes 30 years to make an actor, so I’ve got about another 15 to go.
Are you an actor who likes a lot of rehearsal?
In film, not really, no. Film is about capturing moments, isn’t it? I think if you overanalyze it before you’re on set and shooting, you can kill it. But I’ve just done a lot of theater and I love the rehearsal process in theater, but film I don’t think. Unless it’s a set piece or something very technical, I think the actual capturing those moments, you just need to let it happen.
In theater you don’t have the option of not rehearsing, but are there ways to capture the moment in that process too?
Yeah, because live it’s different every night. It’s different every night to varying degrees. The audience, the energy of the audience changes and your energy changes, the other actors’ energy changes so that’s where you get the variety in theater.
How much time do you have to actually watch movies now?
This year has been a busy year so there’s a list that I haven’t seen this year and I feel bad. Generally I go all the time but I’m a bit behind this year.
Is that an interesting problem to have when you get into the business as a movie lover and then you get so successful you don’t have time to enjoy the ones you’re not in?
Maybe I should make a bit more time. I love going to the movies and I’d much prefer to watch them in the movie theater than on DVD, so I’ll make more time.