The dramatic thriller Red Lights, from writer/director Rodrigo Cortes (Buried), follows a pair of top paranormal researchers facing their greatest challenge, as they set out to discredit a powerful psychic. Dr. Margaret Matheson (Sigourney Weaver) and her partner, Tom Buckley (Cillian Murphy) are the world’s foremost investigators of paranormal phenomena. When legendary blind psychic Simon Silver (Robert DeNiro) comes out of retirement after 30 years, Tom becomes determined to discredit the seemingly genuine showman, regardless of the consequences.
At the film’s press day, actor Cillian Murphy talked about creating this character and the world he lives in, how skeptical he personally is of paranormal activity, working with his esteemed co-stars, how his nationality affects him as an individual, and the type of work that he looks to do. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
CILLIAN MURPHY: That’s all Rodrigo [Cortes] really. From the very moment that we met, Rodrigo talked about the world being very real and everybody being human beings, and it not being a fantasy existence. We were very clear that everything would be very grounded in reality. For me, in portraying the character, he had to have the natural human responses that you would have to these things. And then, obviously, over the course of the film, he changes greatly and, for Tom, it becomes about obsessed. It’s important that, when we meet Tom at the beginning, we can relate to him and he’s just this normal guy, so you connect with him and, hopefully, invest with him and stay with him, over the course of the journey.
Did you have a hard time leaving this character on set? Did you start to believe in paranormal activity, at all?
MURPHY: No, I think I’m boringly rational and very skeptical of this stuff. But, what I loved about playing the character and the shoot for this in Barcelona, Spain was that it was very intense and we worked very, very hard. There were a huge amount of set-ups during the day, and Rodrigo and his crew worked really, really fast, and I was in a lot of the scenes. I enjoy that immersion in a part, or the experience of filmmaking. Also, shooting in Spain, the crew and Rodrigo had a great joy in their filmmaking, which I love. They really wanted to be there, and it was just passionate. For me, I love a film that you disappear into for 10 weeks and you just say, “Bye, bye,” to normal life for awhile. As the character gets deeper and deeper into the story, it starts to become all-consuming, and I enjoy that. I’ve been asked before about parts and taking them home, and I think that only retrospectively do you realize that, during that shoot, you were probably not that easy to live with. But, I love when you’re just in the thick of making a film.
MURPHY: It surprised me to be in a film with them. I was very excited, obviously, to read the part and to get to work with Rodrigo. The part was such a gift of a part, for me. And then, when you have actors of that caliber – like Sigourney, DeNiro, Toby Jones, Joely Richardson and Lizzie Olsen – it’s an amazing cast. As an actor, when you are lucky enough to work with actors that good, you just have to observe and learn. I’ve tried to do that, over the course of my career. To actually be in a room, watching these real screen legends do their stuff, was amazing. But ultimately, when it comes down to it and Rodrigo says, “Action!,” it becomes about the scene and the characters, serving them and doing as honest a job as you can. You have to leave all of that stuff behind. But, it was a great privilege to work with people like that.
MURPHY: I do recall my first scene that we shot with myself and DeNiro, when I come in with the big line of salt in his lair. I have no dialogue in that scene. That was my first scene with him, and the character just had to be intimidated and overwhelmed, so there was no acting involved in that scene, for me. It was amazing to have the pleasure to just watch him build that scene, over the course of the takes, and watch Rodrigo and him work together. I’ll never forget that.
What do you love about being Irish and how does your nationality affect you?
MURPHY: I’m Irish and very proud of being Irish, but as an actor, your extraction should be secondary, really. You should be able to embody whatever character it is, wherever the character comes from. That’s always been important, for me. I’m an actor who’s Irish, not an Irish actor. There is great storytelling in Ireland. We’re all storytellers. There’s a poetic soul there, I suppose. That’s what we like to think. For me, it is who I am and I can’t change that, but ultimately you need to be as clean of a slate as you can be, as an actor. You have to try to be open to every experience.
MURPHY: No. I’ve never met any actor or director who has a master plan or strategy. You do what you think is good work and what you hope is good work, and then you move on to the next thing. My only two constants are to challenge myself and to try not to repeat myself. As to scripts or characters or stories, you just never know. You have to wait until the next script comes in and it’s kind of scary, but fun. I don’t ever consider myself part of Hollywood or not part of Hollywood. Whether it’s a big budget or small budget, and whether it’s in the independent world or the studio world, is immaterial. Whether it’s theater or TV doesn’t matter to me. It’s about just finding a good story and a good character.