Radio 4 - Desert Island Discs - Seven things we learned from Cillian Murphy's Desert Island Discs
3. His parents came together through Irish traditional music
“They met in West Kerry at a session, a traditional Irish music session, and that became a kind of constant for us,” says Cillian.
“They're both teachers... They were all teachers, almost exclusively on my mother's side and then farmers on my dad's side.“
“We'd be going to sessions in pubs. You know, the classic Irish childhood – falling asleep under the table with packet of crisps...”
“I thought I should play some traditional Irish music [on Desert Island Discs] because it was so much part of my childhood. I should say that I rejected it all when I was a teenager and wouldn't listen to it. But now I'm starting to really appreciate it again. And this particular track my dad found this on vinyl in some second-hand shop recently and gave it to me. I put it on the turntable and it just sounds absolutely beautiful.”
The track is The Wandering Minstrel by piper Séamus Ennis.
“I enjoyed primary school more than secondary school. You know, I was a bit of a messer,” says Cillian. “Nothing malicious, but I'd say I was a bit of a pain in the arse to teach. It was probably difficult for my parents [being teachers] knowing that I was that kid in the class.”
“It was quite an academic school and there wasn't that much scope for the arts there and it was quite a sporty school and it wasn't really my thing, but luckily I had a really good English teacher, Billy Wall, who's a poet and novelist and he very much encouraged me.”
In an interview with The Irish Examiner in 2021 the poet William Wall, Cork’s first ever Poet Laureate said of Cillian: “He did a school play. I could see he was a natural. It just jumped out at you that this guy can act. He didn't need training of any kind. And he's a lovely person as well who despite his fame has retained his affection for Ireland and Cork."
Cillian says: “It's always good to have one good teacher in your corner because I know coming from a long line of teachers how important one good teacher is, they can make a big difference and I think they're undervalued as a profession, but they can really set you on the right course.”
5. Oppenheimer demanded a very particular kind of acting
Cillian knew from the start that portraying the theoretical physicist J Robert Oppenheimer would involve revealing his character’s thoughts through the smallest movements and gestures.
“I think that's always been the sort of acting that's intrigued me - when you can see the character thinking, seeing the face as a landscape. And I knew that Chris [Nolan] was going to do that on this piece.”
“I knew the character was so much in his head that it had to be an interior kind of performance and a small performance. I also knew in the back of my mind that he was shooting this mainly on IMAX camera [a very high-resolution format] so that it would be shown on an 80 foot screen so that there wasn't that much demonstrating you needed to do physically.”
“It would be more how you could transmit the thought process through the face and the eyes and all that. But I knew that it wouldn't be an impression - that's not where my strengths lie.”
“And then I guess you bring an element of yourself to it and then you put it all in the mix and it becomes Chris's version and my version of Oppenheimer.”
6. He might have been a music star
During his teenage years, Cillian was a vocalist and guitarist in a band called Sons of Mr Green Genes, which also featured his brother, and for a while it looked like music would become his career: “That was what I really wanted to do. That was it. There was no other question of anything that I wanted to do and for a while it looked like that would work out.”
The band were offered a five album deal by a London record label, but Cillian’s youthful musical ambitions were quickly curtailed: “My parents and some of the other parents just refused to allow it to happen - and they were right! I wouldn't my allow my kid, I think, at that age to sign his soul away to a corporation or a version of that.”
While turning down a record deal might seem like a huge blow for an aspiring artist, Cillian says he quickly came to terms with it: “I should say I was heartbroken, but I think I took it on the chin and just moved on.”
Music still remains one of Cillian’s central passions, and his choice of luxury item for the desert island is a guitar.
7. Time on the island will allow him to do something he’s wanted to do for ages
Of his choice of book Cillian says: “This is a really pretentious choice... I have the complete works of Samuel Beckett at home and it has a beautiful portrait of him looking very stern and [with his] beautiful face looking down at me because I have not taken it down and read it.”
“He's one of my favourite writers and it's such a body of work, and it's all of it.”
Samuel Beckett was born in Foxrock just outside Dublin in 1906, and won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1969.
“I know I need to read it all and I will. And this would be the perfect opportunity to start at the start and to end at the end. With that beautiful portrait looking at me, I'd put him up on a rock!”