It is hard to forget the first time I saw Irish actor, Cillian Murphy, onscreen. It was in the film 28 Days Later: to date the scariest, most thrilling zombie/apocalyptic flick I had seen.
Murphy played the lead role – that of a young man who wakes up from a coma in a London hospital, only to find that both the hospital and the City, are completely deserted. Soon, he discovers that the world has been taken over by victims of the ‘Rage’ virus – which a group of animal rights activists has unwittingly unleashed into the world by freeing monkeys (who have been purposely infected with the virus) from a research lab.
Murphy was 27 at the time of the film’s release but already, his acting displayed the gravitas of far more seasoned actors such as Daniel Day-Lewis or Adrien Brody. His appeal had less to do with charisma (the kind that abounds in Brad Pitt or Tom Cruise) and more to do with subtlety. Murphy’s huge blue eyes and dark, always suffering expression, revealed a serious yet quirky actor was born.
Murphy balks when reporters ask him how he has managed to give life to such a wide variety of roles. “That’s just an actor’s job,” he answers. So dedicated is he to his craft, it is hard to imagine him doing anything else, yet had his parents (who were teachers) had their way, Murphy would have become a lawyer rather than an actor.
“My parents wanted me to do well academically,” he says, “so I foolishly enrolled in Law.” Murphy did terribly, failing his yearly exams and dedicating most of his time to his band, The Sons of Mr. Green Genes, in which his younger brother also played.
The band showed some promise, and was actually offered a record deal by London label, Acid Jazz. Murphy’s parents refused: “My little brother was only 16 and they said that I may have ruined my own life but they didn’t want my brother to do the same.”
Today, the actor knows his parents were right – “My brother and I would have ended up hating each other” – he concedes – yet his early dabbling in music enlightened him on his true passion – acting.
He told The Independent: “I think there’s such a thing as a performance gene. If it’s in your DNA it needs to come out. For me it originally came out through music, then segued into acting and came out through there. I always needed to get up and perform.”
It was at school – where he often misbehaved despite obtaining great marks – that he first came across acting. He took part in a theatre module offered by Pat Kiernan, director of the Corcadorca Theatre Company.
He was fascinated both by the stage and the enigmatic director, who, after much haranguing on Murphy’s part, offered the young actor the lead in a play called Disco Pigs (2001).
The play is centred on the fiercely close relationship between two 17-year-olds: Pig (Murphy) and Runt (Sarah Gallagher). The two characters are born on the same day, in the same hospital…
Words Marisa Cutillas