A chat with ... actor/director Cillian Murphy
05:00 AM, Jul 09, 2013
Cillian Murphy’s acting resume includes several fan favorites from the last decade or so: 28 Days Later, Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy and Inception among them.
Murphy, 37, worked on the other side of the camera for Hold Me Forever, the new music video from British band MONEY. The ballet-themed clip, filmed at London’s Old Vic Theatre, marks his directorial debut. (The group’s full-length record, The Shadow of Heaven, arrives Aug. 24.)
The other day Murphy called me from the set of the upcoming sci-fi film Transcendence to chat about his passion for music and his vision for the video:
Me: Hey, Cillian. I hear you’re in New Mexico right now.
Cillian: Yes, I’m in Albuquerque.
Nice. I think a lot of people are familiar with your acting career, but can you tell me about your musical background? That came first, right?
Yeah, that’s what I wanted to do originally, I suppose. It’s quite a common thing amongst actors, I find; if you talk to them, you find a lot of them have ambition to be musicians. Until about 20, I was playing in bands. We were taken quite seriously and had a record deal offer and all that. Then I discovered theater, and that kind of became more important. But I’ve always had a great love for music; I listen to a lot of it, I play it, I go to a lot of gigs.
Do you still play and write songs?
Yeah, but just for myself, and not as much as I should. I’ll mess around, but I don’t do it all the time. It’s just a really nice way to relax.
What’s your connection to the band MONEY? Did you know them personally?
No. I’ve always had a hankering to make a music video, but it needed to be the right song. You need to believe in the song, and it has to affect you, I think, for you to try to interpret it visually. I love that label Bella Union they have amazing artists and (label head) Simon Raymonde sent me the song, and I absolutely loved it.
I immediately had this idea of ballet dancers, for some weird reason. Then I met up with Jamie (Lee from the band), and he had also thought about ballet dancers as an idea, so it seemed like a good beginning.
Was it difficult to get the English National Ballet to participate?
It’s a mad thing, because it all came about on Twitter. I’m not on Twitter, but we put the word out saying we’re making this music video, and if there are any dancers interested in helping out … And Max Westwell he’s the male dancer in the video he responded to that. I met up with him and we got along great, he loved the song and was really into choreographing the piece. So then we met all the dancers. They did it for free, just because they wanted to be involved.
Are there any unique challenges to working with dancers?
Well, I was keen to do a non-narrative piece, I wanted it to serve the song. And I’ve never been to the ballet, either. (Laughs) But what I was fascinated by was the commitment and the rigor of these dancers, and their bodies and how amazing they are, their strength and this amazing fragility. To me, that suited the song really well and the sentiment the song was expressing.
They had worked out several pieces that fit the song, and I had a clear way of how I wanted to shoot, which was to be really, really close to them the whole time. As dancers they’re vessels for the music, but ultimately, they’re limited by their physicality, and I liked that, that sort of striving to go beyond the corporeal. And I think that is the case with creativity: We’re always trying to transcend something, but we’re always limited by our physicality. I was interested in those themes.
You’ve worked with so many notable directors. Who taught you the most about directing?
I can’t think of one specific director, but all the great ones in my experience have … you have to have a clear idea of what you want, but you also have to be able to take on board everybody else’s opinion. I really enjoyed the collaborative aspect of it. I really wanted the dancers, the DP to give their opinions, and Jamie was there watching it.
Considering how everything came together, have you been persuaded to join Twitter?
(Laughs) No. I’m not a social media guy. But the way that it did come about, you have to say it can be a really powerful and useful tool. So I recognize that for sure.
Do you want to direct more?
I think I’d like to do a couple music videos, with perhaps doing something else (down the road). It’s a nice way to cut your teeth, you know? And because I love music so much, it’s an excuse to hang around with bands.
Can you give me any music recommendations?
Let me see … I like the new Nick Cave record a lot. I like the new Jon Hopkins record.
And tell me a little about the movie you’re filming now …
It’s Wally Pfister he was the DP on all of Chris Nolan’s movies it’s his directorial debut. It stars Johnny Depp and Paul Bettany and Rebecca Hall, and it’s like a science fiction/kind of A.I. story.
You know, Johnny Depp is also a musician. Have you guys talked about music at all?
Yeah, there’s a lot of musicians on set. Wally plays, and Paul Bettany is a great guitar player. So there’s a lot of music talk.
Do you have your guitar there with you?
I travel with a ukulele because it’s more portable. (Laughs)