Cillian Murphy Pulls Out the Stops for ‘Red Lights’

Cillian Murphy in “Red Lights.” ©Millennium Entertainment.


Front Row Features

HOLLYWOOD—Eagle-eyed viewers can catch a double-dose of Irish actor Cillian Murphy in theaters. He reprises his role as the Scarecrow in Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Rises,” the third installment of that blockbuster franchise. In addition, the Irish actor has a starring role in the independent psychological thriller “Red Lights,” which is slowly rolling out across the country.

Murphy plays Tom Buckley, a paranormal researcher who works with a world-renowned academic named Dr. Margaret Matheson (played by Sigourney Weaver) who has devoted her life to revealing the truth about psychic phenomena. These professional skeptics have debunked dozens of fraudulent mind readers, ghost hunters, faith healers and the like by detecting what Matheson calls “red lights,” subtle clues to the trickery behind each of these “supernatural” occurrences.

When a legendary blind psychic named Simon Silver (played by Robert De Niro) comes out of retirement after a 30-year absence, the usually fearless Matheson warns her young partner to back off. When Buckley persists in trying to discredit the hugely popular mind reader, he puts not only himself but also those around him in danger.

We caught up with the busy actor to ask him what attracted him with “Red Lights’” writer-director Rodrigo Cortes, whose previous film was the film festival favorite “Buried.”

Front Row Features: How did you create a character on constant edge?

Murphy: Well, that’s all Rodrigo really. From the very moment we met, Rodrigo talked about this world being very real, and everybody being human beings and it not being a sort of fantasy-type existence. We were very clear that everything was very grounded in reality, and for me, to portray this character, he had to have sort of natural human responses that you would have for these things. Then, obviously with of the course of the film he changes greatly, and for Tom it becomes about obsession, but it’s important that when we meet Tom at the beginning we can relate to him. He’s this normal guy. So you connect with that and then hopefully invest with him and stay with him over the course of the journey.

Front Row Features: Did you have trouble leaving your character after shooting?

Murphy: No, I’m kind of boringly rational. I think I’m very skeptical of this stuff, but what I loved about playing the character and shooting it in Barcelona, was that it was very intense, and we worked very very hard, and there was huge amount of setups during the day. Rodrigo and his crew worked really really fast, and I guess I was in a lot of the scenes. So I enjoyed the immersion in that part or experience of filmmaking. Also, shooting in Spain, the crew and Rodrigo, they had a great joy of filmmaking, which I love. They really wanted to be there, just passionate, and for me I love a film where you disappear for 10 weeks, and you can just sort of say bye-bye to normal life for a while. I love that. And it would also suit the character, because as he gets deeper and deeper into the story, it begins to become all consuming. I enjoyed that, but I guess I’ve been asked that question before about parts and taking them home and all that, and I think only retrospectively you realize that during that shoot, or you were not that easy to live with, but like I said I love it when you’re in the thick of filmmaking.

Front Row Features: What was it like working with Sigourney and Robert? Was there anything surprising?

 Murphy: It surprised me to be in a film with them. No, I was very excited, obviously to read the part, and to work with Rodrigo. The part is such a gift of a part for me, and then when you’ve got actors of that caliber—Sigourney Weaver, Robert De Niro and Toby Jones, Elizabeth Olsen and Joely Richardson—it’s amazing. For me, as an actor, when you’re lucky enough to work with actors that good you just have to observe and learn, and I’ve tried to do that over the course of my career. To be actually in a room watching these great screen legends do their stuff is amazing, but ultimately what it comes down to, when Rodrigo says action, it becomes about the scene and the characters and serving them and doing as honest a job as you can. You have to leave that stuff behind, but it was a great privilege to work with people like that.

Front Row Features: What was your favorite moment in making this film?

Murphy: The first scene that we shot with De Niro and me. I have no dialogue in that scene. It was my first scene with him so my character just has to be intimidated and overwhelmed. So there was no acting involved for real in that scene. It was amazing to have the pleasure to just watch him build that scene over the course of the takes, and have him work with Rodrigo. I’ll never forget that.

Front Row Features: What kind of effect does your Irish background bring into making this film?

Murphy: I don’t know. I’m Irish and very proud of being Irish, but I think as an actor you’re extraction should be secondary really. You should be able to embody whatever character, or wherever the character comes from. That’s always been important for me that I’m an actor that’s Irish, not an Irish actor. You understand? But I guess in Ireland there’s great storytelling. We’re all storytellers. It’s a kind of poetic soul there, I suppose. It’s what we like to think, but it is for me who I am. I can’t change that. Ultimately you need to be as clean of a slate as you can as an actor and try to be as open to everything and experiences.

Front Row Features: Do you have a list in your head of roles or genres that you would like to tackle?

 Murphy: No, I don’t think I met any actor or director who has any grand or master plan or strategy. You do what you think is good work or what you hope is good work, and then you move on to the next week. My only two constants are to challenge myself and try not to repeat myself, but as to scripts, or characters, or stories you just never know. You have to wait until the next script comes in. It’s kind of scary, but fun.