Exclusive: Cillian Murphy Interview INCEPTION

     July 19, 2010

While Inception came out last week, I decided to save one of my exclusive interviews until after you had the chance to see the movie.  After all, while I like reading interviews with actors about their experiences making a film, it’s always a lot more interesting to read what they had to say after I’ve seen the film they’re talking about.

So if you’ve seen Inception, you know Cillian Murphy plays Robert Fischer, Jr. – who is the mark of Leonardo DiCaprio’s character.   Since I don’t want to spoil the film for those that haven’t seen it…all you need to know is Murphy plays a very important part in the film.

Anywhow, during the interview Murphy talked about his reaction to reading the script, has Christopher Nolan changed at all (Murphy has worked with him on a number of films like Batman Begins and The Dark Knight), how does he prepare for his roles, the challenges of filming Inception, his future projects like At Swim-Two-Birds, and does he know if Scarecrow will be back in Batman 3. Hit the jump to either read the transcript or listen to the audio:

If you’d like to listen to the interview, here’s the audio.  Otherwise the transcript is below. Inception is currently playing.  Go see it.

Collider: You’ve worked with Christopher Nolan a number of times actually.  So how is he? Has he changed at all as a filmmaker or is still the man that you met years ago?

CILLIAN MURPHY: Oh he really has not genuinely has not changed in any way.  I think that’s probably a key to his success as well, you know?  He still uses the exact same philosophy in approaching filmmaking. The exact same values and you know from working on Batman Begins and then briefly on The Dark Knight to working on this has been such a privilege for me to see him become even more successful than when I worked on the first but to see that he’s remained true to all those values. The thing about Chris and I’m sure other people have said this to you is, you know, he manages to create an environment on-set where despite this huge movie making machine going on around you and insane budgets and insane set pieces, he creates this environment where it’s just you and the actor or actors, there’s Wally [Pfister], the camera man, and he stands beside the camera with like his little monitor but he’s watching it in real time. And for him the performance is paramount. It’s the connection between the actors. He allows room for spontaneity. You know you would imagine spontaneity in a $200 million movie is not particularly high on the list of priorities but for Chris it is. And it’s really reassuring as a performer makes you feel really safe and it’s just a joy to work with him.

Now with Inception, was this the project that he had been talking to you about back on the first Batman or was this one of these things where the first you heard of it was when you got mailed the script?

MURPHY: It was the latter, yeah. He called me up and typically kind of humble and low key manner, he was like “Look, I’ve got this script. I’m not going to tell you anything about it. There’s a part that I think you’d be good for. Just have a read.” And I read it and it was a challenging read. I admit I did not grasp it in its entirety the first pass, so I read it again. Then we talked about it. We talked about the character and I came out here and we rehearsed with him and Leo and I thought it was phenomenal. I knew that it was something unique. I knew that I had never read anything like this before and I knew that Chris has such a great pedigree in that multi-narrative structure from the past and also doing scale and emotion, so I was just thrilled to be involved.

When you were reading the script, a lot of the other actors have said that it’s a challenge and you just even mentioned it was a challenging read, were you sort of like, “I know Chris knows what he’s doing. I just have to get the angle on this story”?

MURPHY: Absolutely. I mean it’s Christopher Nolan.  And the man is brilliant. You know he’s also lived with the project for 10 years and it’s very few directors, I think, would take on a project of this scale and this ambition, you know, because the world dreams of…or the world of the subconscious is infinite really and that’s what makes it such a scary territory to get involved in. But he had his own set of rules, set of structures that he imposed upon it which then you could break it down and simplify it and you know, during the filming there would be times where you’d be like “Okay Chris, just remind me exactly what dream we’re in and who’s projection is that and who is the architect of this particular dream.” But he was always so open to that and would always find time to like talk you down, just reassure you and so yeah, you just knew all the time you were in really safe hands.

As an actor, how are you getting ready for a part? Are you one of these people that spends as much time as you can finding your character, figuring it out before you get to set and when you’re on-set how are you? Are you very much focused on the…can you sort of relax? Or are you very much trying to keep it all, you know…?

MURPHY: For me it’s job-by-job. Depends on the role. Some roles like I played a transvestite once and, you know, just out of respect for that community you need to go and spend some time with them. You need to know what it’s like to kind of live like that and to…and so I did a lot of research for that and spent a lot of time with those guys and hanging out. But for other roles where you’re playing a guy that is sort of a version of you then you try to look inwards and take something from inside of you. So it depends very much on the role. For this particular role, it’s kind of universal. You know, I think the driving force of this character is that he’s a kind of a kid that never really got the love of his dad, so it’s kind of stunted emotionally and he has everything he could possibly want materially and he’s about to inherit an empire and become a multi-billionaire or whatever, but yet he’s still a kid looking for attention from his dad. So I found that fascinating being the father of two sons and obviously having a relationship with my own dad. And I did go and read about the Murdock family and his two boys and their different ways of dealing with being the son of Rupert Murdock. And that was fascinating just to read about it. Sort of superficially just what was around. But the real thing was to find some sort of truth in there with the characters. Some sort of humanity in that character and it was a great privilege to work with Pete Postlethwaite as my dad for those particular kind of emotional scenes. So yeah, I guess that was the level of research really. I mean I got involved heavily in the look of the character and really wanted to give him a sense of being one of those guys who gets his hair cut every 3 weeks on the same day by the same barber who comes to his set of suites in some hotel somewhere. You know, which is insane to think about that level of privilege or that level of wealth. And I’d never played a character like that so that was kind of cool to go on that stuff.

Tom [Hardy] mentioned that the closer he played his character to Chris with voice, with certain things, he was getting more positive affirmation. I’m curious if you experienced any of that or did you feel that this was…because there’s a way of looking at it where all of these characters in the film are layers of Chris.

MURPHY: Yeah.

And so did you notice that at all when you were playing it or were you sort of that wasn’t even in your subconscious?

MURPHY: I didn’t think about that to be honest. That’s an interesting theory. I didn’t think about that, no. And Chris never mentioned it to me. And certainly this is not…Robert Fischer is not a bad impersonation of Christopher Nolan. But it’s an interesting theory. I mean, I guess Tom would be like the action hero James Bond version of Christopher Nolan if you put it like that. But no, I haven’t thought about it. It’s an interesting thesis though.

I watched some of the B-roll, the behind the scenes footage last night.  I noticed and I was able to see some of these contraptions that you guys worked with. These huge, I mean I just couldn’t believe what they built for the movie. What was it like for you being, as an actor, on these practical sets? Could you just talk about working in those environments that they built?

MURPHY: Sure. Yeah, actually my first day on-set was in London and it was scene with Leo in sort of the hotel bar. And we were on this set which like, not revolves because….

It’s like on a gimble.

MURPHY: There you go. It like tilted almost like 45 degrees so we had to concentrate on the scene and I was like oh my God it’s my first scene with Leonardo DiCaprio. And I’m on this tilting set and I’ve got to act like this is okay, but still strange but then be good in the scene as well. So it was a real challenge but exciting and I did see some of that revolving stuff that [Joseph Gordon-Levitt] did and it was phenomenal. And we did do the kind of underwater stuff in the tank at Universal and that was, I mean, Chris has this running motif which means put a bag over my head, but he put that bag over my head in a van in a tank strapped in…and then I had to open the safe, take the bag off my head, open the back doors, take Tom Berenger out the back and then swim up and deliver lines at the top of the pool, so they were challenging. Because your default setting when you’re underwater is to panic. Not to act. But it was cool. To get to do those things was just great, you know?

Of course I have to ask you as a huge fan of the Batman movies, are you hopeful or crossing your fingers that assuming that Chris does make the 3rd film, which I think he is, that maybe you know somehow he finds a way to get you back involved.

MURPHY: We have not spoken about it and I do not think about it. All I know is that when and if he makes that movie it’ll be phenomenal and it’ll match and top The Dark Knight, I have no doubt.

I also wanted to ask you, I know you have other projects that you’ve either done or on the horizon. Could you talk a little bit about what else is coming up for you?

MURPHY: Well I guess there’s this project called At Swim-Two-Birds which is quite close to my heart which Brendon Gleason has adapted and is going to be directing. And that’s got a great bunch of Irish actors involved in it. And I think we’re going to shoot that this year hopefully. And then there’s a couple of other things that I can’t quite talk about yet because they’re not official. But that should be some cool stuff coming out.

I always talk to actors or directors who always say that to me, it’s literally so it’s basically there’s a contract out there that has not been signed?

MURPHY: I don’t know exactly the legal status of it, but there’s some stuff on the horizon that should be good, yeah.

But just real quick though about the Brendon project. Can you talk a little bit about what it’s about?

MURPHY: Yeah, it’s this classic Irish novel called At Swim-Two-Birds written by Flann O’Brien and it’s sort of a surreal observists story about literature really but it’s’ this character whose creations sort of take over and start having lives of their own. And it’s set in like 1950’s Dublin and he’s got Colin Farrell and Gabriel Byrne and myself. It should be pretty amazing, huh?

Yeah, it sounds really cool with that cast. I have to wrap with you but thank you so much and really congratulations on the movie.

MURPHY: Great, man. A pleasure.

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