Enda Walsh poses the questions as he interviews Cillian Murphy in the Irish Independent. Click here to read the full interview.
Moderated by Darragh McManus for Irish Independent Weekend 28.06.14
He has made it big in film and on TV but Cillian Murphy is happier on stage than chasing stardom. Now he’s set to return to where it all began, writes Alan O’Riordan.
IN A world where every possible career path is foreshadowed by a degree, a course, or a diploma, Cillian Murphy is testament to the merits of on-the-job training. Learning his trade the old-fashioned way has taken him from Cork to Hollywood, from Disco Pigs to Batman movies.
Having honed his skills with theatre companies Corcadorca and Druid, Murphy is now best known for his screen roles, most lately in Peaky Blinders, the acclaimed BBC series about criminal gangs in post-World War I Birmingham. Also in the can is In the Heart of the Sea, an Oscar-touted Ron Howard movie about the true story on which Moby Dick was based.
Yet he continues to be drawn to the stage, and is appearing in Enda Walsh’s new play, Ballyturk, this summer.
“I felt the lack,” he says, thinking of the five years he left between his West End appearance in Love Song and his last outing, in Walsh’s Misterman in 2011. “I realised that I’d really missed it. I’d forgotten how wonderful it was making this stuff. You just have this document with words on it, and then four weeks later, by some miracle, people are sitting in the dark watching you do it. It’s bananas. I still can’t get over that it happens — every time. That’s the exciting thing about it. I’ll never lose the love of that.”
Ballyturk is an ensemble piece, with Mikel Murfi and Stephen Rea joining Murphy. “It’s a play about friendship and death,” he says, reluctant to talk in detail about such an ambiguous work still taking shape in the rehearsal room. Murphy is in Dublin with his co-performers and Walsh, who is also directing Ballyturk. Later, Walsh says the kernel of the idea came from a conversation he had with his six-year-old daughter about death.
“It’s brilliant,” says Murphy. “I’ve always tried to follow good writing, and I was very lucky as a kid to meet Enda, who gave me my first ever professional role. He’s my favourite playwright. Even if I wasn’t a pal of his I’d say that.”
A word that ties Walsh’s writing and Murphy’s performances of it is intensity. It’s there in the words, in Murphy’s movement, his energy. It is something that stretches him as a performer, he says.
“Working in film and TV,” he says, “you’re acting with this.” He gestures to his face, and, let’s be honest about it, it’s a powerful tool. Fate and his choices may have made him more of a character actor than a screen idol, but he has a leading man’s looks, and eyes that have their own fansites. “It’s necessarily that,” he continues, “but I love acting with my body. It’s a very liberating thing to do that.”
He wriggles visibly in his seat as he describes his craft, that inner performer that he says is part of his DNA stirring beneath his unassuming, understated presence. For all his reputation of being a guarded interviewee, Murphy is thoughtful and considered in his conversation, enthusiastic about his craft. “People always say to me, you never do any comedies, but, I do a lot of it in theatre, where no one sees it, at least, compared to film or television.”
For Murphy, the script is the sine qua non of any work. The medium — television, stage, or film — is never the issue. It’s all about the writing. His film choices do betray a preference for alternative worlds and extreme situations. Even though he’s not particularly a sci-fi fan, he’s appeared in several such films, including his breakthrough 28 Days Later. He’s also helped populate the comic-book worlds of Inception and Batman.
“I suppose I was always interested even before I started acting, in books and films that had that idea of characters in pressurised situations. Normal people in extreme situations. that’s always interested me. I want to come out of something altered. I don’t like going to see a play and going, ‘That was nice. Now, shall we go for dinner?’ Not when you can go ‘What the fuck was that?’ And you’re still thinking about it a few days later. You can’t achieve that all the time, that’s not possible, but it’s the goal.”
Murphy has lived in London for more than a decade. He and his wife, the artist Yvonne McGuinness, have two sons. Its closeness to home and thriving culture are what attracts Murphy. You sense that he revels in the diversity of a major city, as opposed to the one-industry feel of somewhere Los Angeles. He has always aimed high — he auditioned for the role of Batman, remember — but has his preference for London prevented him being a megastar?
“I don’t think so,” he says. “No one can decide that kind of thing. It’s just your work. Maybe there are people out there and that’s their thing, but I just want to do good work. That’s why I’m in Galway for the next few weeks — to do good work. I might go off to America next year and do a film there. There’s no plan or strategy, that’s what keeps me interested.”
Murphy finished filming the second series of Peaky Blinders a just 24 hours before he began rehearsing Ballyturk. Not an ideal situation, he says. But if appearing in an Enda Walsh play is a way to stretch himself, so too, he says, is the long-form TV drama, a new departure for him.
“You get 12 hours of playing a character, that’s a chance to go really really deep. And I like that immersion … I’d never had that before. You do a film and it’s an hour-and-a-half. If you’re playing the lead you get a lot of time, if you’re playing a supporting character you might not even be in the film, so for this, to play the lead and to really explore a character was fantastic. You’re living with it, you take ownership of that character. There’s great collaboration with the writer. I really enjoyed that experience. It’s draining but it’s rewarding.”
When Ballyturk comes to the Cork Opera House in August after stints in Galway and Dublin, it will be Murphy’s first time on a hometown stage since he debuted in Disco Pigs in 1996. It’s a galling statistic for those of us who can remember that show, the stuff of local legend by now — but an international success too.
“It’s mad that it’s almost 20 years, ” Murphy says, “I was a kid then, now I’m 38. Mad. But I’m delighted we’re going to Cork and the Opera House. I think Mary Hickson is doing a great job in there and it will be great to be on the Opera House stage, which always as a child was this ginormous stage. But apparently it isn’t actually that big.”
Before Disco Pigs, Murphy was devoted to music, gigging with the Sons of Mr Greengenes, a group that were so 1990s they even got a record deal offer from the Acid Jazz label. A turning point was seeing Corcadorca’s promenade performance of A Clockwork Orange in Sir Henry’s nightclub in Cork in 1995.
“It blew the top of my head off,” he says. “I thought it was the most exciting thing ever. Then I just sort of managed to pester Pat Kiernan [of Corcadorca] into giving me an audition. That was it really.
“I was hitchhiking around France and they actually delivered the script for Disco Pigs to this campsite in France. I opened it up and read it in front of the tent. I hadn’t a clue what it was about. It was only when I stopped doing that show two years later that there was the reality of, OK, not every play is going to be like that, every role is not going to be like that. But I had got lucky by then, I got an agent out of it, and I decided to give it a go.”
Murphy says he likes to get back to Ireland as often as possible, and is looking forward to a working week in Cork.
“I’ll be able to stay at home, walk in to work. That’ll be great. I’ll see a lot of old friends and have a laugh, I’d say. I like to get a nice pint of Murphy’s when I can.”
Does he get recognised when he’s out and about? “Yeah, I get recognised, but you know Cork people, they don’t give a shit … and that’s the way I like it.”
– Ballyturk’s run at the Galway International Arts Festival (July 10-27) is sold out; booking is now open for Olympia Theatre, Dublin, August 7-23; and Cork Opera House, August 26-30
DISCO PIGS: HOW A STAR WAS BORN
The breakthrough play for Cillian Murphy was Disco Pigs, which was first produced by Corcadorca at Triskel in Cork in September, 1996. The local buzz created by the brilliantly original play soon snowballed into national and international recognition, and it was also adapted into a film by Kirsten Sheridan.
Pat Kiernan — director
“I had met Cillian through a workshop I did at his school. He was in transition year in Pres at the time. Often people are cynical or taking the piss in these things, having a laugh with their friends, but he was very good and very into it. He took it seriously.
“He used to come to our shows then and he’d always be asking, can I do this? Can I do that? He always wanted to act. With Disco Pigs, we were looking for somebody young, and with his enthusiasm, I thought I’d let him read for it. It was just a hunch I had. When he read, it was clear to me that he was very good. He had an understanding of the language, which was difficult, and a real intelligence as an interpreter. You could trust him, let him off — he was very natural and absolutely comfortable on stage.
“The show was very international and it was clear that people were beginning to regard him very quickly. He was making a significant impact even at some high-profile festivals where there would have been lots of good actors.”
Enda Walsh — writer
“He looked like he was about 12 years old, but he was immediately very good with the text. He’s very musical and can make the most obscure speech sound whole. It was Pat Kiernan’s eye that saw it in him, but I was struck by how completely and utterly instinctive he was.”
Eileen Walsh — co-star
“You can never tell in acting who’s going to make it, but the most important thing was that he was amazing to be on stage with. As a performer he was very honest, very good at sharing the space, at eye contact, and listening. That’s what makes a good actor and he has all that in buckets.”
Danny Boyle on casting Murphy in 28 Days Later in 2002.
“There was a bunch of young guys auditioning for the lead part. There’s always an interesting bunch emerging from wherever it is bunches of young actors emerge from, but this lot were particularly exciting. I remember the young Tom Hardy and Orlando Bloom as well as a few guys in shellshock after filming Black Hawk Down with Ridley Scott. They were bristling with youth, ability and ambition, a testosterone mix that was ideal for the role — an ordinary bicycle courier who learns to exercise violence beyond even that of the monsters in the film.
“And then this gentle, shy guy arrived. With a face from space. Cillian Murphy. He wasn’t right, too modest and quiet in person and in reading for the part but, but … Maybe it’s the Celtic thing, maybe it’s my vulnerability to anything without an English accent, maybe it is that face from space; you just couldn’t not cast him. And then on set, like the casting process itself, a sense of the unexpected grows around him in his choices and range each day. A great film actor leaves you in a
By Alan O’Riordan in the Irish Examiner 27.06.14
Stephen Rea and Enda Walsh stop in to talk to Miriam O’Callaghan about working together on Ballyturk on Sunday with Miriam on 22nd June.
You can listen in here.
Enda Walsh didn’t break it to his daughter gently. “I can still remember her little face and that incredulous look on it,” says the playwright, in a tone somewhere between empathy and amusement. The six-year-old had just asked her father about death, and Walsh, the maverick dramatist, decided to level with her. “Yeah, yeah, yeah – we do, we die. Seriously. We die.”
His voice takes on the calm persuasiveness of the customer-service line when there’s nothing more they can do for you. “But,” he added, “we don’t think about that every day. We fall in love and we plan out things and we go to work and we go on holiday and we live a life.” But you carry the certainty of death around with you, she persisted. “Yeah, we do,” he said, “and as we get older, maybe that thought gets bigger, but you can’t think about it all the time.”
Listening to Walsh’s story, told with his customary spry intensity, it isn’t clear exactly whom he was trying to persuade. For the playwright, the realisation of mortality set something in motion, and it chimed with another memory: when he watched the actorCillian Murphy rehearsing for Landmark’s recent production of Walsh’s Misterman in New York, at the full tilt of his magnetic performance, while their production manager, standing less than a metre away, worked on, quietly indifferent.
“Of course. That’s what we are as people,” thought Walsh. “We just sort of exist, very simply, in our own little universes.” Slowly, an idea for a play began to take form. How can people live a regular life if they know they are just a heartbeat away from oblivion? And what would happen if two adult friends, played by Cillian Murphy and Mikel Murfi, experienced his daughter’s dramatic realisation? How would they go on?
There has always been something boyish about Walsh, still slender-framed, uninhibited and given to such runaway enthusiasm that his words sometimes barely keep pace with his thoughts. That spirit has helped to define his theatre: ferociously comic, madly affecting, where characters tend to seal themselves within claustrophobic spaces – pigpens, beds, disintegrating flats – or behind thickets of playful, distorted language. You might look for Walsh’s signature in his syntax alone, where words multiply, tumble and shatter, but he is more focused on a bracing approach to form.
“I want to hold people,” he tells me. “I don’t want to bamboozle them. I want to kinetically move them. After years of making work, the ambition is still to keep theatre alive, dangerous, unknowable and dreadfully f**king exciting for an audience.”
Walsh gives little away about Ballyturk, his first original play in four years, which he is also directing for Landmark and Galway Arts Festival. “I’m still looking at it and going, ‘Yes, but what does it mean, and where is it?’ ” he says. “But I know that it’s probably a play about friendship. It’s about putting a real, loving, deeply caring friendship under extreme pressure and seeing what’s going to happen to it.”
The casting is not incidental; Cillian Murphy and Mikel Murfi are frequent collaborators and close friends. “Although we’re supposedly artists, we’re still men, so we wouldn’t ordinarily have conversations about what our friendships are. At least in the rehearsal room we can work that out through these characters.” The third character, played byStephen Rea, is a stranger making a precipitous visit. “I love those characters who arrive in,” says Walsh. “It’s a very Irish thing: the person at the door.”
Just like the characters, the audience for Ballyturk must try to figure things out – the challenge and reward of Walsh’s plays are to learn their logic. “It asks that fundamental question we always ask in theatre, as soon as we sit down: ‘Where are we?’ It really examines that. The characters seem to be asking that and not knowing; both the physical state and the mental state.”
Initially, Walsh had wanted to give their search a firmer foundation by basing Ballyturkon a real place. “I thought, yeah, Ballyturk is the most central town in Ireland. Then I thought, I must check that, actually.” He was delighted to discover that it didn’t exist on any map. “My God, that’s even better. I’ve just imagined a whole town.”
Walsh, unlike other Irish playwrights with international careers, chooses to premiere his works in Ireland before they tour internationally. “With something like this, I want to talk first of all to Irish people before I go out there and talk to other people.”
There is something intrinsically Irish, he thinks, in his form. “The shape of the plays often begins realistically,” he says, “like we do as Irish people on a night out. And then drink is taken, and the edges are smashed off, then, two o’clock in the morning, the whiskey’s out and really strong existential questions begin, veering on the maudlin, and then it becomes chaotic.”
Ballyturk may be different, he thinks, led by simple questions while taking huge risks and, just as he previously regarded The Walworth Farce as a personal breakthrough, “the mothership of many plays to come”, he feels the same of this new work.
He takes a particular pride in the fact that even his most brusque and abstract plays have never tried to alienate the audience. “It’s just that the form of theatre, for me, needs to be arresting and strange and odd and ‘What the . . . ?’ You know, [theatre] is not a mirror,” he says, dismantling the cliche with relish. “It’s not a mirror . . . It’s a bin lid.”
Ballyturk has sold out at Galway International Arts Festival, where it runs from July 10th to 27th. It will then tour to Dublin, Cork and London
Written by Peter Crawley in the Irish Times – 21.06.14
Cillian Murphy joined Marian Finucane on RTE Radio 1 on Saturday 21st June to talk about Ballyturk.
You can listen in here.
Landmark Productions and Galway International Arts Festival are delighted to announce that Ballyturk, written and directed by Enda Walsh, has sold out for its Galway run.
Starring Cillian Murphy, Mikel Murfi and Stephen Rea, the production will have its world premiere at the Black Box Theatre in Galway on 14 July. It became the fastest-selling show in Galway International Arts Festival history, and all tickets for the Galway run are now sold out.
The production will transfer to the Olympia Theatre in Dublin for 18 performances only, from 8 – 23 August, and to the Cork Opera House from 25 – 30 August 2014.
The production will then tour to the National Theatre in London, where it will play a five-week season at the Lyttelton Theatre.
Tickets for the Olympia Theatre are on sale here, and from Ticketmaster outlets nationwide.
Tickets for Cork Opera House are onsale online and by phone on 021 427 0022.
Tickets for the National Theatre are on sale here.
THE REALISATION that one day we die, and that this existence is over, never to be re-experienced, hits two men one night as they sit at home, sending them on a journey, not into misery, but outrageousness and laughter, and a route whose end, ironically, they cannot even begin to guess.
This is Ballyturk, the new play by the acclaimed Irish playwright Enda Walsh, which will have its world premiere at this year’s Galway Arts Festival, when it runs at the Black Box Theatre from July 10 to 27.
The play, a Galway Arts Festival and Landmark Productions co-production, features an outstanding cast in the great Cillian Murphy (Peaky Blinders, The Dark Knight Rises, Inception, The Wind That Shakes The Barley, Breakfast On Pluto); Stephen Rea (Angel, The Crying Game, V For Vendetta, Interview With The Vampire); and Mikel Murfi, one of Ireland’s leading theatre practitioners.
Death and mystery
The inspiration for Ballyturk came from a conversation Enda had with his daughter when trying to explain to her the difficult subject of death.
“She was shocked. She thought it was a joke,” Enda tells me, over the phone from London, where he is now based. “‘Seriously?’ she said. ‘Yeah, We do. We all die.’ ‘And we live with that knowledge, every day?’ I tried to explain that we don’t think of it all the time, and that we get by through falling in love, having a job, getting an education, but that one day it will come.
“I was seeing her face going ‘Oh God! This is something real’ and from that I had this notion of, what if we had this hothouse idea over an hour and a half, and place that in the minds of two adults, and see how it plays out, and how they choose to live? It’s a meditation on death and ‘it will end’, but it’s also about love and it’s wildly comic and fast, and ludicrous.”
Throughout the interview Enda refers again and again to ‘keeping the audience and the characters guessing’ as to where they are, leading both actors and spectators along several paths, to the point where, just as they think they have figured it out, everything changes. Playing a major role in that ‘guessing game’ is the set design.
“I have just been looking at a model of the set. It’s extraordinary,” says Enda. “It looks like a big room, a big, rural Irish dwelling. It will be a thing people will walk away from the show going ‘Oh my God!’ One of the things the play is about and asks, is ‘Where are we?’
“It’s an exciting place to be, because when you see the set you will think you know what it is. Then, as the play goes on you will say, ‘I don’t know what it is’, and then in the last five minutes, you realise where exactly the characters are, and everything gets turned on its head.”
The three amigos
Ballyturk again finds Enda reunited with his friend Cillian Murphy. The last time Galway witnessed this partnership in action was in 2011, during the arts festival run of Walsh’s Misterman, featuring a jaw dropping solo performance from Murphy. His namesake, Mikel, albeit with the unusual spelling, is another longtime collaborator of the playwright.
“Mikel is a great presence to have in the room,” says Enda. “He and Cillian together are very funny, cracking terrible jokes. I wanted to write something for them, and that would also allow me to have time with them.”
Any concerns that Ballyturk might be a self-indulgent ‘buddy-buddy’ fest and excuse for three mates to hang out, is alleviated by the fact Enda wanted to work with the two men as they force him to challenge himself as a writer.
“Working with Cillian and Mikel gives me freedom,” Enda declares. “When I’m writing, and know I’ll be working with Cillian and Mikel, I feel very confident – not arrogant, but more ‘Let’s do this. Let’s be brave. Let’s disappear into this world we can make. Let’s take risks. Let’s not be precious.’
“I know both of them really well. They are two of my closest friends and part of that relationship was formed through working together. We challenge each other. We want to move people and excite them and have them see us taking a risk with this work.”
While working on the play, Enda also began to feel that Stephen Rea would be ideal for the third character.
“When I was writing it I could hear Stephen’s voice in my head,” he says. “He’s a wonderful Beckett and Pinter actor and I’m dying to see the audience reaction to his part. We all probably have and use humour and we all like to put humour into our work, and, like all good Irish theatre we love to slam humour up against tragedy. The prospect for me is exciting. It’s a privilege to be in the same room as them. I know they will give excellent performances.”
Another key factor in the Ballyturk experience will be the music composed for the play by Italy’s Teho Teardo, whose admirers include no less a composer than Ennio Morricone.
“I was listening to his music on Spotify while I was writing the play,” says Enda. “I wanted music in the play and felt it needed to be a string quartet and electronica. Teho worked with The Balanescu Quartet, who did a string quartet version of Kraftwerk’s ‘Autobhan’.
“I basically sent him the play and said ‘I’m an Irish writer and a big fan’ and he wrote back saying ‘I’m a fan of your work too’ and that he’s seen Italian stagings of my plays. We met and went over the work, and the music came through this week. It rips open the soul of the play and it brings the whole production to a fuller, deeper, experience for the audience. There is a lot of hard, deep, cello, and this guitar/electronic sort of thing. Listen to his ‘Wilder Mann’ and it will give you a good idea. I’d love him to play in Galway.”
From his emergence in the late 1990s with Disco Pigs, and on to such major works like The New Electric Ballroom, The Walworth Farce, and Misterman, Enda has become one of Ireland’s most daring and imaginative playwrights – but he is convinced Ballyturk marks a turning point for him as a writer.
“My instinct, when I finished it, was that I have entered a new stage of work,” he says. “I don’t know what it was, I just feel it is. People who’ve seen my plays will recognise the style, but will also see it shifting into a more unsettling, romantic, rich world than I have ever produced. For me, it’s a massive, massive play.
“When I finished The Walworth Farce, I thought ‘I’ll probably be writing plays influenced by this for the next five years.’ Ballyturk is like that now and I think I’ll be in this zone for a while.”
From the Galway Advertiser 22.05.14
Landmark Productions and Galway Arts Festival are delighted to announce that Ballyturk, written and directed by Enda Walsh, will transfer to the Olympia Theatre in Dublin from 8 – 23 August and to the Cork Opera House from 25 – 30 August 2014.
Starring Cillian Murphy, Mikel Murfi and Stephen Rea, the production will then tour to the National Theatre in London, where it will play a five-week season at the Lyttelton Theatre.
Tickets for the world premiere of Ballyturk at the Black Box Theatre in Galway went on sale on 20 March, and the production quickly became the fastest-selling show in Galway Arts Festival history. A limited number of tickets for the Galway performances remain; they can be bought online here.
Tickets for the Olympia Theatre are on sale here, and from Ticketmaster outlets nationwide.
Tickets for Cork Opera House are onsale online and by phone on 021 427 0022.
Landmark Productions and Galway Arts Festival are delighted to announce that Ballyturk, written and directed by Enda Walsh, will play a five-week season at the Lyttelton Theatre, as part of Nicholas Hytner’s final season as Artistic Director of the National Theatre in London.
Cillian Murphy, Mikel Murfi and Stephen Rea will join actors such as Simon Russell Beale in King Lear, Helen McCrory in Medea and Ralph Fiennes in Man and Superman, in a wide-ranging and ambitious season that includes new plays by Rona Munro, Tom Stoppard and David Hare.
Tickets for Ballyturk went on sale twelve days ago, and the show has become the fastest selling show in the history of Galway Arts Festival.
With many of the 17 performances having only limited availability, early booking is highly recommended.
Tickets from Galway Arts Festival online or by phone on 091 569777.