Автор: ARMINTA WALLACE
Фото: JOANNE O'BRIEN
THEATRE: Cork actor Cillian Murphy is not short of strong film roles, but he likes to challenge himself and his audience. That’s why he’s taking to the stage in Enda Walsh’s ‘ Misterman ’ at the Galway Arts Festival, he tells ARMINTA WALLACE
MEETING CILLIAN MURPHY is weirdly disorienting. He arrives early for the interview dressed in one of those green army surplus jackets that draw absolutely no attention to themselves. He’s softly spoken, polite, and generous with his time. There’s nothing in his conversation or his body language that so much as hints at celebrity.
But when you shake his hand, or look into those baby-blue eyes, it’s "Beam me up, Scotty” time, because that face is just so familiar. And why wouldn’t it be? The past five years have seen him shin up the Hollywood ladder with a succession of highly praised performances in such films as Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, Inception, The Wind that Shakes the Barley, Perrier’s Bounty, Red Eye, 28 Days Later, Breakfast on Pluto and Sunshine . If you want to make an interesting mainstream movie these days, Murphy’s name on the cast list appears to be almost obligatory.
What Murphy has come to the Odessa Club in Dublin to talk about, however, is his return to the stage at the Galway Arts Festival in Enda Walsh’s play Misterman . It’s six years since he last appeared in a play – the West End production of John Kolvenbach’s Love Song, directed by John Crowley – and he has been looking for opportunities to tread the boards since. "I tried to put together a couple of things, and the dates didn’t work or the availability didn’t work out,” he says, sinking – disappearing, almost – into an enormous sofa.
How does it feel to be back? He grins. Clearly, it feels good. "I’ve always loved the sort of laboratory-style atmosphere that you get in a rehearsal space,” he says. "Just throwing things up and making a fool of yourself trying things out.”
It was a piece of theatre that started Murphy’s career. In December 1995, as a secondary school student at Presentation College in Cork, he went to see Pat Kiernan’s production of Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange at a nightclub in the city.
"I saw it, and I went, ‘This is amazing. I want to be part of something like this, something that exciting, and something that dangerous and visceral and all of those things.’ ”
Until then, he had been intent on a career in music, playing with a band called Sons of Mr Green Genes, whose members were, as their Zappa-esque name suggests, very serious about making it in the rock business.
A Clockwork Orange persuaded him to take theatre just as seriously. "At that time, there was a great arts scene in Cork. Corcadorca were making great work. Pat Kiernan and Enda Walsh were just a really brilliant team. So I happened to walk up at the right time. And Enda gave me an audition for Disco Pigs and, you know, they took a real chance – and it changed my life.”
Walsh’s high-octane two-hander caused a major stir, touring first Ireland, then the UK, Europe, Canada and Australia, to universal acclaim. It earned a coveted Fringe First award at the 1997 Edinburgh Festival.
The way he tells the story now, it sounds inevitable and effortless. In fact, it was anything but. To begin with, when he first read the script, Murphy couldn’t make head or tail of it. "I found it completely impenetrable, yeah. Well, I’d no experience in reading plays or going to the theatre at all. So I didn’t really know how to read a script. And Disco Pigs was really quite dense. Enda had created a new kind of language. So I didn’t really know how to read it, but I sensed that it was challenging, and kind of new, and that there were two parts. And that was a good thing, because I might get one of them. So that was it.
"But when I think of it, they cast some young fella off the street and gave him this big, big role. It was very courageous for them to do that, and I’ve always been very conscious of them taking that leap of faith with me, you know?”
Has he ever asked Walsh or Kiernan what it was they saw in the raw young actor that inspired them to take such a leap in the dark? The blue eyes look horrified. "Nah,” he declares, appalled at the very idea. "It was just a wonderful time. And we were all so young. It was just a good time. I think if you analyse it too much, it sort of loses its sheen or something.” He shrugs apologetically. "I dunno.”
Cut to the present day and there’s no shortage of sheen around Murphy, whose stellar movie career has been mentioned, or Walsh, whose star is on the rise on the US theatre circuit. Which makes it all the more astonishing that they have been able to find time for a theatre project. And Misterman was Murphy’s idea?
"Well, I guess the idea of working together, me and Enda. You see, after that tour of Disco Pigs, we all went off and did our own thing. A couple of years ago, I said ‘why is it that we haven’t worked together again?’ It seems crazy. Me and Enda have been neighbours in London for a long time. I was actively looking for a play, and I was reading plays, and trying to find something to do. And I thought [he clicks his fingers, eureka-moment style] Misterman .”
Walsh performed the play as a one-act, one-man show for Corcadorca in 1999, but it hasn’t been staged since.
"I said, ‘Enda, whatever happened to Misterman ? Would you direct it and I’ll do it?’ He said [Murphy drops his face and shoulders into a perfect picture of mournful reluctance] ‘Oh, I dunno’. But then he said, ‘Look, I’ll rewrite it’.”
The process of reworking it has taken two years and one can only presume that Walsh’s theatrical experience and success over the past decade has resulted in a more substantial, more multi-layered piece of theatre. The central character, 33-year-old Thomas Magill, is now surrounded by a plethora of sophisticated sound effects and a new electronic score commissioned from Donnacha Dennehy.
"For me, it’s a play about guilt and loneliness,” says Murphy. "We’ve changed it structurally. We’ve peopled it a bit more, and we’ve made it about one day in this character’s life that he’s replaying over and over, to try and exorcise it, if you like.”
Does that "we” mean he has had an input into the rewriting process? "We worked together, yeah. But he’s the writer and director, and I’m the actor. That’s the thing about working with a friend. It’s just all about the work. Nobody feels threatened in any way. He’s amazing at problem solving. He’ll say, ‘Right, we’ll just do that’ and because we know each other so well, there’s no ego or posturing.”
Presumably not all directors are like that?
"The best ones are.” Murphy smiles. I wait, but he doesn’t elaborate. He has worked with Danny Boyle, Christopher Nolan, Neil Jordan and Ken Loach, but he’s not about to draw up a league table. Is it worse, though, generally, in the movies as opposed to theatre? He nods.
"It can be tricky. There’s a lot of stuff that goes on about being a director, or an actor, or in the public eye or whatever it is. It’s not something that I pay much attention to, but if it ever becomes an impediment to the work, I find it very frustrating.”
The character at the centre of the Misterman maelstrom is a loner who recreates conversations he has had with the eccentric, yet oddly familiar, inhabitants of the small country town of Inishfree, playing them back on his ancient recording equipment. Despite the analogue recorders, it’s a highly contemporary theme for a play written before the heyday of online social networking and ubiquitous connectedness.
The script is also scathingly funny, shocking and, at times, disturbingly lyrical. "Enda’s ability to get inside a character’s psyche, or psychosis, or trauma – whatever it is – is remarkable,” says Murphy. "And of course, he does that through humour, situation comedy and stuff like that. We have exactly the same sense of humour, he and I. But what he’s really going at is something quite profound. That’s why I like his work.”
In its chameleon-like changes of tone and mood, the role is an actor’s dream. "At one point, there’s Thomas doing an impersonation of Mrs O’Leary, who’s doing an impersonation of her son. It’s like, you know, when you do an impersonation of your mammy, and she was exaggerating to illustrate a point. Irish people are very much like that. We’re playing on that a lot.
"The show is also hugely physical, bordering on physical comedy, which is not something I’ve ever done. And so I’ve been watching lots of classic silent film guys and all that stuff. Because film acting is this, mostly [he indicates himself from the neck up] so the use of the whole body to tell a story, as opposed to just your face, Enda’s been really pushing me for that. It’s an aspect of acting that I’ve never explored before, and it’s been very . . . interesting. It’s exactly what you’re not supposed to do in film, so I’ve been finding that very exciting.”
It has also been a challenge in the sense that Murphy is a self-confessed research freak. Before he shot Sunshine with Danny Boyle, he spent a lot of time shadowing the physicist Brian Cox. He even visited the Large Hadron Collider at Cern in Switzerland, not so much to get a sense of the physics as to get under the skins of the people who work there.
"I spent so much time with him I ended up playing a version of him in the film,” he says, admitting with a rueful laugh that science and maths have never really been his thing. "But film is the art of illusion, really, isn’t it? If you look like you know what you’re doing, people will buy it.”
For Misterman , by contrast, he has had to create the character of Thomas from the inside out. "For people who live on the periphery of society, or people who live under intense pressure or have behavioural issues, to them it’s quite normal,” he says. "So I think you just try to normalise it, really. Of course with any character, in my opinion, they won’t exist or connect or people won’t invest in them unless they have some sort of humanity.
"And then the last thing is, you can never judge them morally while you’re playing them. The audience is free to judge them morally, but I can’t.”
On the contrary, he says, his aim is to shake up a few certainties. In this he will be helped by Dennehy’s extraordinarily creepy score. "Atmospheric, is the word I’d use,” Murphy says with an angelic smile. "But definitely, what I’m interested in with this piece is changing people’s perspectives. Never letting them settle down into what’s happening. Constantly shifting it.”
It might be a mantra for Murphy’s film career as well, given the variety of roles he has taken to date. It is a strategy that he intends to maintain as long as he can, despite Hollywood’s tendency to typecast. "The thing is to try not to repeat yourself, to try to challenge yourself. I like transformative things. If there’s a character I don’t think I’m right for, I’ll always say, ‘Can I play him’, because I’ve never done that type of character before.
"Hollywood is very short-sighted in that regard. I mean, it’s the antithesis of being a creative person: if you do one thing well, that’s the thing you continue doing for ever? But no. I think once you explain to them that it’s not really what you want to do, or rather, once you prove to them that you can do something different, then they accept that.”
Behind the angelic smile and the baby blues, Cillian Murphy is clearly an actor with his feet on firm artistic ground.
And yes, they really are that blue in real life.
Landmark Productions and GAF present Misterman at the Black Box, Galway, on July 7th- 24th.
On July 13th, there will be a post-show talk with the actor and the director in attendance. galwayartsfestival.com
Murphy: on screen
WHEN HE FINISHES in Galway, Murphy will resume his hectic filming schedule. He will start shooting Wayfaring Strangers with the Irish director Stephen Bradley next month. "We’re gonna make it in France. It’s a French film, effectively, but written and directed by Stephen. It’s set in the second World War.”
But isn’t there a science-fiction film due for release, the one that used to be called Now, and has been renamed In Time? "Oh, yeah. I made that. It’s coming out in October or something.”
So that’s what we’ll see him in next, then? "I presume so,” he says, scratching his head. "In films, the actor is the last to know. You just get a call eventually, saying; ‘Yeah, this will be out’. Or, ‘This will never be out’. So you just have to wait and see.”
How does he go about choosing which role he’ll take on next? "The thing is, you always have to fight for the really great ones. That’s the thing. The ones that you really want, there’s another 50 guys who really want it as well.”
Basically, though, it comes down to the script. "The word on the page. As you get older you get good at reading them, and you begin to understand structure and character. The way I would pick a project is, if it’s not good on the page, you’re never gonna make it brilliant, even with a brilliant director and a massive budget. But if you get a brilliant script and a brilliant director . . .” He claps his hands. "Then you should be in a good place.”