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Friday, Nov. 10, 2006
'Sovereignty has to be taken'
Cillian Murphy certainly has romantic-lead looks, but his filmography reveals an actor more committed to a diverse career. Many viewers will recall his portrayal of the twisted Scarecrow character in "Batman Begins," but he also played a determined survivor in Danny Boyle's "28 Days Later" and a transvestite named Kitten in Neil Jordan's "Breakfast On Pluto." Thirty-year-old Murphy was born in Ireland's County Cork, and "The Wind that Shakes the Barley" was shot on many locations he was familiar with from his childhood.
There was a lot of muttering in the British press that the film's depiction of the Black & Tans was too one-sided and brutal. I imagine an Irish perspective would be different?
No, I think the people that leveled those charges, they never contested that these atrocities took place, and that the British forces carried out these acts. Also, many of the people who wrote that are in very rightwing papers, and it's not a part of British history they'd be inclined to look closely at. It's not "anti-British"; it's anti the policies of the government at that time. And it's not exactly glorifying the IRA. The second half of the movie is about Irishman against Irishman, and we see my character shoot dead a 16-year-old boy. So I think it's very easy to answer those charges. And I think a lot of the people who wrote those inflammatory headlines in the British press also hadn't seen the movie.
That generally seems to be the case with cranks.
Yeah. (Laughs.) But it's actually a pivotal moment in both Ireland's and Britain's history, because the empire was on its knees at this point, and Ireland was just fighting for sovereignty, and the choice was what kind of a country would be born out of this fight. Sovereignty can't be given, it has to be taken.
You're from County Cork. Were you surprised to learn the film would be shot there?
Pleasantly surprised. This time in Irish history has never been dealt with cinematically, and I was very enthusiastic about the idea of Ken Loach directing a film investigating this time. It's more about where he stands as a filmmaker, and where his moral compass is. I thought he was the right man to make the movie.
What was it that most appealed to you about this role?
Well, the way that Ken Loach works is that we don't get a script, so I didn't have the whole story. I mean, there is a script, but his method involves keeping it from the actors until necessary.
He gives it out one scene at a time?
Pretty much, and we shoot it sequentially. In an ideal world, that's the way I'd like to work all the time on films, but it's never the case -- normally you're shooting all out of sequence. So all I knew going into it was that (Damien) was one of two brothers, and he was a doctor, and that he got involved in the struggle at some point.
How did Ken explain to you, then, his intentions for the film?
Because of the way he works, we would talk about the scenes on the day (we'd shoot them) and what was involved, how much the character had been through so far, and how that would inform his decisions. But he didn't ever sit me down and say, "Look, this is the film we're making, this is the message we want to convey." We just committed 100 percent to the characters and their journeys. . . . People can just use the finished film, and look at the world through it, you know what I mean? We were very clear it wasn't a metaphor. We were just making a film true to that time period, and respectful to the memory of the people who lost their lives during it.
Your character, Damien, is a doctor who switches to being a revolutionary -- is that a deliberate resemblance to Che Guevara?
I don't know. We never spoke of Che Guevara during the filming. The person I found more inspirational was a man called Ernie O'Malley, who was a doctor who was involved in the struggle and wrote a book about it called "On Another Man's Wound." He talks about that conflict of being a doctor and also having to take life.
When you research a character, how much of that do you keep in your head when you're playing a character, and how much do you just sort of internalize and let go?
Given Ken's method, it's not very intellectualized, or overanalyzed, it's more about just being in the moment, and reacting instinctively to the events happening around you. I think it's always good to have the context, and to be aware of the factors playing into that character's decisions, at that time, historically. But this was much more about letting yourself go, and acting in the moment, really. So it's much more honest, I think. It's not manufactured, it's as close to real as you're ever gonna get.