Cillian Murphy at TIFF: The Movieline Interview
Go ahead and add Perrier's Bounty to the films that could spark heated market interest in Toronto this year. The dark-comic Irish crime thriller premieres tonight and features Cillian Murphy as Michael McCrae, a ne'er-do-well whose outstanding debt to gangster Darren Perrier (Brendan Gleeson) becomes the common interest of half the Dublin underworld after an unexpected visit one night from his estranged, dying father Jim (Jim Broadbent). Joined by Michael's heartbroken (and possibly fugitive) downstairs neighbor Brenda, the duo's race from imminent death both threatens and fuels their reconciliation. The violence, twists and even the philosophy of Mark O'Rowe's cracker-jack screenplay explode and illuminate one scene after another, sharpened to raw, laugh-out-loud set pieces by sophomore director Ian FitzGibbon. All its characters need is one flash of luck that always seems just around the corner; here's hoping whatever eludes them finds its way to you in the way of an American deal -- and soon.
Murphy sat down with Movieline today to discuss the pleasures of pitch-black comedy, working with his heroes, and how one gets "movie-fit."
I was going to ask if you sought out a comedy after your streak of heavier films, but then I realized I wasn't quite sure if this is a comedy.
Yeah. But the answer is yes -- it did appeal to me to find something that had comedic elements to it. My role in it is kind of the straight man. He finds himself on this mission, and the comedy in it is very situational. He keeps winding up in these crazy situations with these brilliant, larger-than-life characters -- guys like Brendan Gleeson's character, or his Dad. So it was very refreshing to do that stuff. And I do find it genuinely funny. At least I find it genuinely funny. But the comedy I like is usually that kind of black comedy. You find yourself laughing when know you shouldn't, but you can't help yourself. That's the kind of comedy I enjoy.
We don't see a lot of filmmakers successfully chancing this kind of tone-blend. And thus we don't see a lot of actors doing it either. How do you approach it?
Really, it started with the script just being sound architecturally. I've been on some projects where you know there problems with the third act that you're going to have to resolve; you're going over the rewriting of it as you're shooting it. Whereas with this, I knew how it was going to end, and nothing in fact shifted throughout. I think there was some cutting or trimming of scenes, but I knew the way it was going to be. And Mark O'Rowe, the screenwriter -- whom I worked with previously on Intermission -- managed again to blend this sort of dark, tragic scenarios with humor. He pushed the boat out even more on this one. Even though it's set in Dublin, it's a heightened version of that city. People there speak in this heightened way, and I trusted his writing tremendously. And I trusted Ian, too, who was an actor. I thought that between all of us we could certainly make the change in tones quite seamless.
Were Jim and Brendan attached to this when you came on? Did you know you'd have the opportunity to work with them as well?
No. But I've worked Brendan several times now. We're good pals; he's a big hero and influence on me. And then Jim, obviously I've admired his work for a long, long time. I think it's a good testament to the script that actors of their caliber would want to get involved. And Jodie Whittaker as well, who's just fantastic. And it came together really, really quickly. I signed on, and in a few weeks it all just happened.
How was Brendan a hero or influence for you, especially on the set?
I'd been watching him since before I became an actor or even had ideas of becoming an actor. I didn't start 'til I was 20. He started off doing theater in Dublin, and then TV, and then small art films. He's amazing in The General. So that trajectory seemed like a sound way to build a career: Start small, and get by on the consistency of your work. And I very much like his attitude to the business -- toward Hollywood and the independent world. He's very rational and common-sensical about the whole thing. I've gone to him a number of times for advice about situations in the business and how to deal with certain things. But above all, he's a fantastic actor. I mean, to play Churchill on HBO, and then he's in Harry Potter, and then he's in this film as this incredibly charismatic performance as this fucking crazy sociopath gangster. I love the way he moves between genre and can just play any type of character. Good guy, bad guy... It's a career I'd very much like to emulate.
And then you and Jim have a strong chemistry together as father and son. How did that develop?
I put a lot of stock in actually meeting actors before the movie. Not necessarily rehearsing, but just hanging out and going for dinner and talking -- trying to establish as quickly as possible some kind of trust or common understanding of the characters and the script. But also, I think it's a very universal story -- the estranged relationship between father and son, a boy and his parents. You know: the way that if you haven't seen your parents in a year or something, you immediately revert back to being a teenager, or to being irritable and to kind of slam the door. They wind you up in a way that only parents can do. I think we tried very much to bring that into the performance. Even though they love each other and they've been through a weird time, whenever they're in each others' company, I rub him the wrong way and he rubs me the wrong way. That's kind of an Irish thing as well: You can kind of display your love by being able to be openly irritable with someone. And Jim is an effortless comedian as well. He's got comic timing in his bones.
You're both kind of intense actors in your own ways. Was there ever a sense of oneupsmanship on the set? If he swallows a mouthful of ground coffee, then what do you have to do?
I think we were all saying that this isn't realism we're doing. It's grounded in contemporary Dublin, but we kind of pushed it a little bit. There's a metaphysical aspect to it that's totally unusual. When you've got that aspect to it, I think you can afford to push the performances a little bit. I definitely wanted him to push Michael in terms of his constant state of anxiety. You meet him and he's hungover, he owes money, he's sleeping in the afternoon, and from there it just gets increasingly worse. I wanted to squeeze him a bit, to really feel the pressure he's under. It was important for Michael to make him look as physically exhausted and ill-equipped as possible -- he's in the mountains, and he's freezing, and he's struggling to roll a cigarette. He's dealing with these impediments and roadblocks all the way -- emotionally, and day-to-day. I really enjoy seeing how human beings respond to pressure -- how they respond underneath. To me, that's drama. That's what we wanted.
How did the energy of shooting fast and loose in the city affect your work?
It definitely has an impact. Funny enough, we shot the majority of this in London. Instead of three or four weeks in Dublin; it worked out cheaper to shoot it in London, as it happened. But everyone was up for it. There were a lot of night shoots; we were shooting with the Red camera, which allows you a lot of freedom. You don't have to reload all the time, you don't need a lot of light to shoot. That made it fast and pacey. The whole impetus of it was pace. It's just under 90 minutes with credits, so it's like in and out. It's meant to grab you by the throat and entertain you all the way through. So that was part of the shooting as well. It was very fast, and we got an incredible amount of set-ups done each day. I love when you get in that rhythm on a film: You're up early, you're working really hard, you've got a lot of lines to learn. You just get movie-fit.