So Cillian, how does one go about playing the hardest man in 1920s Birmingham?
Cillian Murphy: “Well I’m a skinny Irishman so going from zero to Tommy Shelby means going to the gym and doing all those things I hate. Mentally, it’s very hard to sustain, too. You’re essentially filming three feature films in four months. It’s a genius role and I’m so lucky to have found it but it does take it out of me!”
He’s a big guy for someone who never seems to eat…
“I noticed that at the end of series 1! We never see him eat. I thought it was great so, for the second and third series, we made sure we never see him eating. He rarely seems to sleep, either. I think Tommy runs on pure adrenalin, ambition and cigarettes.”
He’s certainly driven. What motivates his mission for wealth and power?
“The effect of the First World War on Tommy was so profound, it unlocked something within him and he came back completely godless and lacking in all respect for any authority. And seriously traumatised, obviously. I think he realised you’ve only got one go at this life and you might as well take as much as you can. That’s the scary thing about him as an adversary – he’s unafraid of death.”
Paddy Considine (Tyrannosaur) joins the cast as a priest this series. Is he the new Big Bad?
“I think your instincts are right there. Tommy hates anything that is institutionalised or to do with the establishment.”
What else can you tell us about series 3?
“It’s pretty wild – probably the wildest series yet, in terms of what happens and where the characters find themselves. It really mines deep into the emotional core of the family – for all of them, not just Tommy. It’s very, very emotional.”
You mentioned that filming a series is like filming three feature films in four months. What’s the biggest challenge with that?
“Just getting through it! We shoot all six episodes simultaneously so you can be starting in the morning with a scene from episode two and then you’re doing a scene from episode six in the afternoon. There’s some stuff you’re reacting to that you haven’t even shot yet, so you need to know those scripts inside out.”
Does Tommy stay with you after you’ve finished filming?
“My wife will suddenly say, ‘Stop walking like him!’ It’s nothing conscious – it’s just by osmosis. When you’re fully immersed in a character for that long – four months shooting, plus two months
of prep – it’s very hard to step back into normal life straight away.”
Creator Steven Knight sees Peaky Blinders carrying on right up until the start of the Second World War. Are you in?
“As long as the writing remains as strong and as brilliant as it is now, I’m in. Characters and long-form drama as good as this don’t come around that often. You’d be very foolish to turn down writing
of that quality.”
Speaking of the Second World War, you’ve got two WWII films coming up (Anthropoid and Dunkirk). Coincidence?
“Totally random! I didn’t know Chris (Nolan) was making a film about that until he called me up. And I didn’t draw any line between that and Anthropoid until you mentioned it just now…
Can you tell us anything about your role in Dunkirk?
“No, you know the way Chris works. It’s old-fashioned. You’ll just have to wait for the film to come out.”
From 28 Days Later to Batman, your acting CV shows an impressive range. Which of your roles are you most proud of?
“I would never pick a film. Nostalgia is very dangerous for an artist. You have to think about moving forward and hope that your best work is yet to come. I still feel like my best work is to come. You have to, otherwise nostalgia is death.”
How do you choose your roles?
“For me, the foundation for every project is always the writing. The character has to represent something to me that I haven’t done before or is a challenge or is something I feel I could bring something to.”
You’ve even done an Attenborough, narrating a BBC nature documentary! How did that happen?
“I really wanted to do something that my kids could actually watch. We love nature documentaries and the BBC is the best in the world at them. The makers approached me and I thought, ‘Really? Me?’ It’s a very soothing thing to do. You just sit in a little dark room and look at all these beautiful fishes. It’s good for the soul. I’d love to do another.”
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