Niamh Creely talks to Cillian Murphy about the art of acting and coming home to film Perrier’s Bounty.
So how did you get involved in Perrier’s Bounty?
Well, Mark O’Rowe also wrote the script for Intermission and Alan Moloney and Stephen Woolley produced both of the films. I remember that while we were shooting Intermission, I was hanging out with Mark and he told me he had this other story he was working on which involved three people on the run – a father and a son and this girl – and it had this weird metaphysical aspect to it as well. I was very intrigued. Then a few years later Alan Moloney sent me the script and I thought it was great. Very unusual, as Mark’s writing always is. It has elements of the gangster genre, the road movie genre and elements of the Western as well, particularly in the showdown at the end between Brendan and I. It’s not giving anything away to say that because it’s inevitable. So I was very, very taken with it. His language and his dialogue are so beautiful and tough but always bordering on the poetic, you know. It’s a real gift to speak it. He writes Irish males very well – I identified with Michael [Cillian’s character] to a degree. So with that and then the aspect of working at home again, the whole package was very appealing, really.
About your approach to acting: you say that you’ve sat on a train and just stared at people because you’re interested in their mannerisms. Do you see acting as something that is instinctual or something more constructed?
It’s very difficult to talk about this stuff. When you begin to take it apart or investigate it, it all becomes foreign very quickly. Because what we are paid to do is to convey how people feel in situations, as a result you inevitably end up observing people. A lot of the things you see from day to day on the tube in London, you could never put that in a film because you’d be told you were hamming it up. However, elements of that can find their way into how you make characters, tiny little idiosyncrasies that are away from yourself, you know. But I definitely believe that most of it is instinctual. It’s that sort of electricity between two people in a situation. Any time people see something that appears forced or contrived, they very quickly lose interest. Even if there is just one scene in the film where that happens, people can switch off and you lose them. So it’s very important to rely on your gut feeling.
You have both theatre and film acting experience. Do you think that someone can be more suited to one or the other?
The two definitely require different skills. I mean, you can’t really play the nuance to 1,100 people. But on screen you can play the nuance. And therein lies the difference, I think. Learning how to do that can only be achieved through experience. I never trained as an actor, I very much learned theatre acting just by acting. I had about five years where I did only theatre and I was lucky to work with great people – the Corcadorca Theatre Company and Druid Theatre Company and Garry Hynes. When you work with good people you learn at an accelerated pace. With the film side of things, I began again by getting small parts, learning the technical side of things and how it impacts on performance. So hopefully by the time you have your first significant role in a film, you feel reasonably confident, rather than just being thrown in at the deep end – that would be terrifying.
It would. So how transferable are theatre-acting skills to screen-acting?
Well, the beautiful thing about theatre is you have four to five weeks rehearsal, which is a luxury you never get in film. To have the first week just to sit around talking about the character and the play and the arc of the characters is a huge luxury. It’s my favourite part of putting up a play – the actual rehearsal period. So in that respect it’s hugely valuable in learning how to develop a character. If you do enough of that you must acquire some sort of a shorthand version when you go to make a film. For a film I would always give myself, on my own time, a three- or four-week period alone in the attic just finding out things about the character – little details, you know…
The full article is printed in Film Ireland 132.