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Cillian Murphy Is the Man of the Moment

For nearly 30 years, Cillian Murphy has built an unimpeachable body of work as one of our most versatile actors—while somehow also staying cleverly out of sight. Now, as an Oscar front-runner, the Oppenheimer star pulls back the curtain (just a bit).

In the fall of 2021, Christopher Nolan knew just where to find Cillian Murphy. The director flew to Ireland with a document in his carry-on, Hollywood’s equivalent of the nuclear football. It was a script for his top secret new film, printed, apparently, on red paper. “Which is supposedly photocopy-proof,” Murphy explained. He wasn’t surprised by the in-person visit. The two had worked together on five previous films, and every Nolan script, Murphy said, had been dropped off by Nolan or one of his family members. “So, like, it’s been his mom who’s delivered the script to me before. Or his brother, he’ll go away and come back in three hours. Part of it has to do with keeping the story secret before it goes out. But part of it has to do with tradition. They’ve always done it this way, so why stop now? It does add a ritual to it, which I really appreciate. It suits me.”

Murphy met Nolan at his Dublin hotel room—and then Nolan left him to read. He read and read and read. All 197 pages, the rarest kind of script, written in the first person of the film’s protagonist, J. Robert Oppenheimer. All action, all incidence, swirling around this character—a big-brained, psychologically complex giant of world history. Murphy had never played a lead in a Nolan film before, but had committed to this role as soon as Nolan told him about it, before he’d even seen a page of the script. “He’d already called me and said he wanted me to play the part. And I had said Yes—because I always say Yes to him.” The afternoon ran out. “And he doesn’t have a phone or anything,” Murphy said. “But he knew instinctively when to come back.” Nolan in command of time, as ever. They spent the rest of the evening together—and then Murphy took the DART train home, and got to work.

The result was one of the most watched and most acclaimed films of 2023—a nearly billion-dollar blockbuster about a tormented genius (and, yes, the father of the atomic bomb). The performance affirmed for many what has been quietly known for some time: that Cillian Murphy is, or at least was, one of the most underrated actors in all of Hollywood. In small potent roles in those other Nolan films. As a shape-shifting bit player and lead in dozens of films and plays over the past three decades. And, of course, across 10 years and six seasons of Peaky Blinders—the hit series that made him truly known globally. “Some years ago,” Christopher Nolan said, “I made what was probably a mistake in some moment of drunken sincerity of telling him he’s the best actor of his generation. And so now he gets to show that to the rest of the world so everybody can realize that.”

Part of the reason that Murphy still felt like something of a secret until recently is that he lives, breathes, and presides at a remove from the noise. This is by design. In 2015, Murphy returned home to Ireland from London, already some distance from Hollywood proper, to a quiet hamlet on the Irish Sea—not exactly off the grid, but one ring still further outside the blast radius of his industry.

Weight 2 lbs
Dimensions 13 × 10 × 1 in


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  • Unit Type: piece
  • Package Size: 25cm x 32cm x 5cm (9.84in x 12.60in x 1.97in)
  • Package Weight: 0.56kg (1.23lb.)
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