Who is Cillian Murphy? The Actor Plays the Titular Scientist in the 2023 Biopic Oppenheimer

Cillian Murphy is an Irish actor who began his career in theater before moving on to film and television. He is most known for his role as gangster Thomas “Tommy” Shelby in the BBC and Netflix series Peaky Blinders, as well as appearances in the films 28 Days Later, Batman Begins, and Dunkirk. Murphy, a frequent collaborator with Christopher Nolan, plays the title role in Nolan’s 2023 biopic Oppenheimer, about American physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer’s involvement in developing the first nuclear bombs.

Early Life and Education

Cillian Murphy was born on May 25, 1976, in Douglas, Ireland, near Cork. Murphy was raised Catholic in a family of academics as the oldest of four siblings, including brother Paidi and sisters Sile and Orla. Brendan Murphy, his father, was a school inspector before becoming a civil servant with the Irish Department of Education. His mother, whose name has not been revealed publicly, was a French teacher, as did his aunts, uncles, and grandfather.

Murphy went to Presentation Brothers College, a private Catholic secondary school in Cork, where he excelled academically and developed his interest in the arts. “I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of artists: authors, playwrights, and musicians.” “At the time, those things seemed alien and otherworldly,” Murphy told The Guardian. “At a rugby[-playing], academic school, you felt a little bit foolish thinking you could ever enter into that artistic world.”

Murphy, who plays guitar and hoped to be a musician, formed the jazz-rock band Sons of Mr. Green Genes with his buddies. They were finally offered a record contract, but they turned it down, and Murphy decided to pursue acting instead.

Murphy became interested in drama while studying law at University College Cork in 1996, after seeing a rendition of A Clockwork Orange in a nightclub. Murphy’s law profession was out of the question after he failed his law examinations, but the shift to the stage would be crucial for Murphy’s future.

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Theater Career and Early Film Roles

Murphy, aged 20, auditioned for and was cast in Disco Pigs, a play by then-unknown playwright Enda Walsh, in the summer of 1996. The show was only scheduled for a few weeks at the Triskel Arts Centre in Cork, but it quickly became a smash sensation, launching an 18-month world tour through Europe, Australia, and North America.

Murphy had never read a play outside of school productions until receiving the script. “That’s how theater illiterate I was,” Murphy said to The Irish Times. Nonetheless, he was excellent in his part as Pig, and the play was converted into a 2001 film starring Murphy as well.

Following the success of Disco Pigs, Murphy began to obtain minor film roles, including Sweety Barrett in 1998, starring his friend Brendan Gleeson, and The Trench in 1999, starring young talent Daniel Craig.

Despite the fact that his film career took off in the years that followed, Murphy has continued to play on stage, with his most recent engagement in 2019. He appeared in The Shape of Things, The Seagull, and Love Song, then worked with Walsh again on Misterman, Ballyturk, and Grief Is the Thing With Feathers.

Movie Breakout With ’28 Days Later’

Murphy first gained international attention for his performance in Danny Boyle’s 2002 horror picture 28 Days Later. Murphy plays Jim, a bike courier who emerges from a coma four weeks after a virus pandemic decimates Great Britain. The film is regarded as a horror classic for its use of the concept of “fast zombies,” which can run after victims with heightened power, and it generated fresh interest in zombie media in general.

Murphy discussed his audition process in a 2022 interview, saying he initially struggled with the character’s London accent. However, with Boyle’s help—he discovered Murphy while seeing the film adaptation of Disco Pigs—he eventually “kind of unlocked something” with his performance.

The film, according to Murphy, was “massive” for his career, opening doors to future projects and led to his connection with Christopher Nolan. The next year, in 2003, he starred in Intermission and had minor roles in Girl with a Pearl Earring (which starred a 19-year-old Scarlett Johansson) and Cold Mountain.

Critics lauded Murphy’s portrayal as antagonist Jackson Rippner in the 2005 thriller Red Eye, with The New York Times’ Manohla Dargis saying that the actor produced “enough of a picture-perfect villain here that his agent should be worried about typecasting.”

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Christopher Nolan Movies: Batman Trilogy, ‘Oppenheimer,’ and More

With the release of Oppenheimer in 2023, Murphy will have appeared in six of Christopher Nolan’s films. The first was Batman Begins, which launched the acclaimed Dark Knight trilogy in 2005.

Murphy was a fan of Nolan’s previous films, including Following and Memento, and told GQ that he was one of roughly ten actors who auditioned for the role of Bruce Wayne and his renowned alter persona. In a later interview, Nolan stated that while Murphy was clearly not a good fit for the role of the caped crusader, “I felt like, this is somebody I want to work with, somebody who has an interesting take on things creatively.”

So the director allowed a batsuit-clad Murphy do a screen test for the part nevertheless, and made sure Warner Bros. officials were present to see. Nolan spotted potential in the relatively unknown Murphy and cast him as Dr. Jonathan Crane and his evil alter ego Scarecrow. Murphy again played the role in the trilogy’s subsequent two films, The Dark Knight in 2008 and The Dark Knight Rises in 2012.

Murphy also appeared as Robert Fischer in Nolan’s 2010 sci-fi thriller Inception and as a World War II soldier in his 2017 movie Dunkirk.

Nolan termed Murphy’s casting as Oppenheimer “honestly one of my favorite moments in the movie business.” Murphy prepared for the shoot for five months, reducing weight to better fit the scientist’s shape and perfecting facial expressions. It was a dream role for Murphy. “I’d always show up for Chris, even if it was just walking around in the background of his next movie with a surfboard,” Murphy told The Hollywood Reporter. “Though I’m not sure what kind of Christopher Nolan film that would be.” But I’ve always wanted to play the lead in a Christopher Nolan film. What actor wouldn’t want to do something like that?”

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Murphy’s Other Movies

Murphy has frequently starred in lesser-known films, demonstrating his flexibility as an actor in addition to Nolan’s big-budget blockbusters. He was nominated for a Golden Globe for his role as a transs-exual lady searching for her mother in 1970s London after being abandoned at birth in the 2005 film Breakfast on Pluto. In the 2006 war picture The Wind That Shakes the Barley, he played a soldier in the Irish Republican Army. The film won the Palme d’Or, the top honor at the Cannes Film Festival.

Murphy reunited with filmmaker Danny Boyle in 2007 for the sci-fi film Sunshine, in which astronauts are sent on a mission to relight the sun in the year 2057. Murphy has also appeared in the films Peacock (2010), Aloft (2014), Transcendence (2014), The Party (2017), and Anna (2019).

Murphy’s most high-profile project in recent years has been A Quiet Place Part II, the 2020 sequel to the horror smash starring Emily Blunt and John Krasinski.

Lead Role in ‘Peaky Blinders’

Murphy, who stands just over 5 feet 7 inches tall, received international recognition for his portrayal of Tommy Shelby, the often larger-than-life gang leader in the BBC and Netflix series Peaky Blinders. The drama, which follows a fictitious crime group in Birmingham, England after World War I, aired for six seasons from 2013 to 2022, and starred an ensemble cast that included Tom Hardy, Adrien Brody, and Anya Taylor-Joy.

Murphy, according to show creator Steven Knight, is the polar opposite of Shelby, who is frequently violent and ethically dubious. He considered action icon Jason Statham for the role, but was reassured by a text message Murphy wrote him after auditioning: “Remember, I’m an actor.”

Shelby, according to Murphy, is a “gift of a character” but “exhausting to play.” In 2016, he told The Guardian that the production required 16-hour days, with the actors reciting reams of dialogue. Murphy lived a “canceled life” while filming in Liverpool, England, describing it as “going home to your tiny apartment at the end of the day, feeding yourself for sustenance, learning your lines for the next day, and trying to get as much sleep as you possibly can.”

His hard work paid off. Murphy won the National Television Awards for best drama performance and was nominated for a BAFTA TV Award for leading actor following the show’s final season.

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Wife and Children

Murphy met Yvonne McGuinness, a classically educated visual artist from Kilkenny, Ireland, in the summer of 1996, while his theater career was taking off. Murphy had recently been cast in the theatrical version of Disco Pigs, and their friendship grew when McGuinness joined him on the show’s tour. Malachy, born in 2005, and Aran, born in 2007, are the couple’s two kids.

Murphy avoids social media and rarely discusses his family in interviews, since he and McGuinness prefer to spend their lives away from the spotlight. “It’s very important to have somebody like that,” the actor said of McGuinness, who helped keep him grounded as his reputation expanded in the early and mid-2000s. Really, nothing has changed in my life. I still hang out with the same people and go to the same places.”

The family relocated from London to Dublin in 2015 so that Malachy and Aran could be closer to their grandparents. When Murphy departed to film Peaky Blinders in Liverpool, McGuinness stayed in Dublin with their sons.

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