Cillian Murphy Sees Ghosts, Fights Robert de Niro in ‘Red Lights’

In the eyes of most skeptics, paranormal psychics are completely full of it, gussied-up hacks who make a living preying on peoples’ lack of confidence and need to believe in something bigger than themselves. There’s a career to be made in calling out these con artists, should you have the stones to take them on in public. In Red Lights, Cillian Murphy does just that, playing a watch dog who seeks to bust so-called psychics with the good ole powers of science and deduction. But when he comes up against celebrity psychic Simon Silver, played by a wily Robert de Niro, he finds out that — uh oh! — ghosts might be real.

From the looks of the trailer, it appears that Silver might actually have some real powers, though you shouldn’t discount the possibility of swamp gas and/or LSD being the eventual explanation. "We all got high as hell, officer, and then the old guy levitated twenty feet in the air." Oh, youth. Red Lights comes courtesy of Rodrigo Cortes, the guy who directed Buried, the movie where Ryan Reynolds gets stuck in a box for a few hours. Sigourney Weaver, who seems to be everywhere these days, plays Murphy’s partner, while Best New Actress Elizabeth Olsen is his girlfriend. There isn’t a specific U.S. release date yet, but it’ll happen soon enough.

Cillian Murphy on His New One Man Show ‘Misterman’

He’s played an astronaut, a transvestite, a zombie-slayer, and a Scarecrow. But in Enda Walsh’s one-man-play, Mistermanat St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn, a bearded Cillian Murphy is Thomas Magill, a proselytizing loner in a rural Irish village, who maniacally swings between heaven and hell, innocence and madness. With a little red notebook in hand and recordings of bygone conversations with family and villagers, Magill leads the audience on a guided tour of a day in his life—his judgement day. As he embodies six different neighbors—the lewd and flirtatious waitress, the lascivious garage worker among them—we meet the villain behind the angel. 

How did you first get involved with Misterman?
Enda gave me my first professional job with a movie called Disco Pigs, which started my career for me. And then we hadn’t worked together for a long time, but we remained pretty good friends. And I just had this idea that we should work together and do some theatre, and I knew Misterman was a play that he had written after Disco Pigs that hadn’t been performed in Britain and Ireland, had been done in odd places, but hadn’t been done in Europe much. Enda doesn’t really revisit plays generally, but I managed to persuade him to go back and look at this and he kind of re-wrote it quite a lot. And we just put it up in Galway in July, in Ireland.

I read that he actually performed in it first, in 1999.
Yeah, I never saw that so I’m kind of glad I didn’t. I had never seen a production of it and, like I said, it is quite significantly a different interpretation of it than what he did back in the day. It was lovely to work together, and I love working with friends and people that you know well because you call instantly to the work.
 
In the play, you embody six very different neighbors from Inishfree. What is that like, and where do you draw all of your nuances from?
I love doing silly voices and silly walks, so it was great to have a license to do it and get paid for it. What is great is that these characters are probably really normal, average people, but through Thomas’ demented prism, we’re allowed to exaggerate them. It was great to be given the license to play quite broad and quite big, which you never get to do in film acting, which calls for subtle and small, so it was great to be given something so broad.
 
Did you create your own backstory as to who Thomas was, and what his relationship was like with his mom and dad?
Yeah, we talked about that, and Enda is not prescriptive about stuff like that. He’s very much open to whatever ideas people have, but I think it’s pretty self-evident that the dad was an opposing figure and probably quite violent and Thomas is infantilized by his mother. I think that Tommy was considered harmless and a bit of an edgit and somebody who did his own thing and was mildly amusing, and he never had any friends. He just replays this one particular day for himself as some sort of catharsis or exorcism or way of dealing with this tremendous guilt he has.
 
How have audiences reacted to the show?
Really, really great. We were determined when we made it to make something that was quite risky and quite dangerous. Just putting one actor in a space that big is a little risky to begin with, so we really wanted to do something that was challenging, and people have responded to it, I think, in Ireland and America. I obviously was a little bit unsure how American audiences would react to it since it was so inherently Irish, but they have really been lovely and have really been concentrating. You get the sense that it’s not half observation; it’s active engagement from the audience, and I love that.
 
It was amazing.  You were running around, jumping. It’s such a mental, emotional, and physical workout.
Yeah, I did it twice yesterday. (Laughs). I love that stuff. I’ve always liked putting yourself through it, so you actually feel like you’ve gone to work. What we also felt in terms of the design of the piece itself was that the environment is transpiring against him. Not only is his mind unraveling, but the actual environment of the space is coming apart, and he’s trying to keep the whole thing together, emotionally and physically.
 
And what is it like trying to shake that off after the show?
Well, you get this sort of false energy, where you’re very excited and adrenalized. And then foolishly you go out and then you realize that you should actually be in bed. (Laughs). I do a lot of sleeping during the day.
 
I bet. How has it been adjusting to living in Brooklyn?
Great. I love Brooklyn. A lot of my friends who lived in Manhattan in their twenties are now sort of in a similar stage of life as us. They start to look for a slightly less intense-paced life, and they move to Brooklyn, and I really like the nature of it. It’s lovely.
 
Of the many characters you’ve played, who do you think your audience relates to the most?
Aw, I don’t know. I’ve been an astronaut, a transvestite. If you do it well, hopefully people believe it. And that’s all I want to do, to do it well, and so therefore people should come out going, “That’s the character. That’s not Cillian Murphy.” That’s all I hope to achieve. That you can portray a character honestly, and not be limited to transvestite-astronaut roles, which I think I’ve gotten over.
 
What projects lie ahead? I have a film in Sundance in January that’s coming out called Redlights. It’s directed by Rodrigo Cortes who did Buried, and it’s got Sigourney Weaver, and Robert DeNiro and Lizzie Olsen in it. And then I think I’ll probably just take a little holiday in January, and have a shave.

Art Basel: Robert Longo Inspired by BlackBook Inspired by Robert Longo

The Miami Beach Convention Center opened its doors to collectors, curators, and Kelly Rowland last night for the first look at this year’s Art Basel Miami Beach. All of the usual suspects hung framed on the palatial space’s makeshift walls: de Kooning, Christo, Pettibon, Rauschenberg, Ruscha, Sherman, Walker, Wiley. Robert Longo had at least one piece there, too, and it was inspired by a recent BlackBook shoot, which was in turn inspired by his “Men in the Cities” series. Wait, what?

We featured Longo in our March 2010 issue, in which we celebrated the artist’s work, a segment of which were illustrations of men and women in business suits dancing uncontrollably. (A piece from that time adorned Patrick Bateman’s apartment in American Psycho, making Longo and Huey Lewis accessories to Christian Bale’s gory-chic crimes.) A few months later, when profiling Cillian Murphy and Ken Watanabe for their film, Inception, we decided to shoot the co-stars in homage to Longo’s work—we asked Murphy and Watanabe to jump on a trampoline, first solo and then while faux-fighting.

In a totally weird and full-circle turn of events, Longo saw that issue’s shoot, said that it reminded him of his own work, and then drew the photo that was originally based on his series so that it’s now become part of that series. After spending what felt like four hours relaying this story to one of the gallery’s curators, she smiled and said, “He loves that piece so much, he actually wanted to take it back.”

Cillian Murphy & Ken Watanabe Do Their Best to Keep ‘Inception’ a Secret

Since I was a teenager, I’ve been interested in finding a way to make a movie about dreams,” director Christopher Nolan says of the genesis for his upcoming sure-to-be-blockbuster, Inception. “I’m interested in the fact that it’s both a universal experience and a subjective one.” The film hinges on what transpires in the unconscious mind while sleeping. “There’s an interesting relationship between dreaming and watching movies, the way we absorb these worlds that are created for us,” he says. Paradoxically, Inception is also an action film.

As in his amnesia-fueled narrative puzzle, 2000’s Memento, Nolan has achieved the cinematic feat of dramatizing the mind’s inner workings. But it wasn’t easy. The writer-director spent 10 years from inception to Inception. Nolan’s biggest obstacle was “defining the emotional life of the characters so that they would become important to the audience and critical to the story.” Although he’s best known for his imaginative rebooting of the Batman franchise Batman Begins and The Dark Knight), Nolan never intended for Inception to be realized on a similarly grand scale. “Every time I try to address the potential of dreams and the human mind, it just expands,” he says. His desire to keep an unusually tight lid on the plot of his films, like his metaphor for dreams, is of personal and collective interest. “As an audience member, I never like when campaigns give away the whole movie. I want people to see it the way it’s intended to be seen.”

To bring his vision to life, Nolan called upon two of his go-to actors, indie charmer Cillian Murphy and Oscar nominee Ken Watanabe (the film also co-stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Marion Cotillard and Ellen Page). “It’s an incredible privilege to have guys like that on your side,” Nolan says. “Ken is an iconic and charismatic movie star who projects so much intensity. In a different way, Cillian also has an unbelievable sense of charisma. He has these eyes that gaze right through you and tell the audience so much about the character he’s trying to portray. He’s very under-appreciated, and any time I can get him up on stage I’m delighted to do it.”

Watanabe, 50, sits inside a bright photo studio in Los Angeles, dressed in a pink oxford shirt and matching cotton scarf. “Imagine the way you feel when you wake up from a bad dream,” he says. “That was where Chris started this project. He had a nightmare and woke up to some really complex feelings.” Murphy, 34, who shares many of his scenes with Watanabe, agrees. “That tends to be a theme in Chris’ films: how the mind can weaken you,” he says. “I find that a fascinating study.”

Hailing from far-flung continents and nearly two decades apart in age, Murphy and Watanabe initially read as an unlikely pair. But on closer inspection, the two men share common threads: both have solid footing in Hollywood but have settled close to their native lands; both revere Nolan; both possess an alluring blend of feminine and masculine energies; both are handsome, well-dressed, earnest and, at least on this afternoon in early May, prone to trampoline fights and deep bouts of blushing.

You’ve both chosen to live outside of Hollywood. In what ways do you think that decision has impacted your careers? CILLIAN MURPHY: Hollywood is the engine of the machine. European and Japanese industries are strong, but in terms of global reach, nothing can touch that place. For Chris, it makes complete sense to live in Hollywood. For me, though, while I love coming here—the weather, the sushi—since I’m European, I think I’d find it difficult to live here permanently. KEN WATANABE: I always wonder where would be best to live, for my wife and our kids. I want to work in Japan, and I also want commercial films in Hollywood. It’s a difficult balance. CM: It’s not impossible, though, because the world has shrunk so much. Twenty or 30 years ago, it would have been harder. Ken, your profile in Japan is so huge, and you’re so valuable to the Japanese film industry. Not all of the films in Hollywood are so good. A lot of studio films are tosh, but a lot of independent films are tosh, too.

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Cillian, you’ve twice dressed in drag for a film: in Breakfast on Pluto and, more recently, in Peacock. What drew you to those roles? CM: In Peacock, I played this guy with a dissociative identity disorder who believes that he is his own wife. Even though I did have to wear dresses in both films, that role was more about playing two characters for me.

How do you find an authentic place from which to play women, so that it doesn’t become campy? CM: I love playing a woman. It’s the ultimate challenge. They are far more complex and better than men at most things, to be honest. The secret is learning how to be feminine instead of effeminate. KW: I couldn’t have imagined you playing so sensitive or so crazy before the shooting of Inception.

What can you tell us about Inception? CM: This film has the structure of a heist movie, although not quite that conventional, of course. It’s an existential heist. Chris plays with shifting narratives, like he did in Memento. This one’s equally complex. I don’t know how it was for you, Ken, but when I first got the script, it was a hard read because it’s so visual. I’d never read anything like it in my life. KW: It was so confusing. I couldn’t understand it the first time.

What do you do in that situation, when you read a script and have no idea what’s going on? CM: I trust Chris. He came up with this idea when he was 16 or something. He’s one of the greatest living directors—I think he’s proven that. So I knew this was material he’d be able to manifest in scale and emotion. KW: I had just wrapped a film in Africa and was on my way back to Japan when I got a call from Chris. He asked me to come to L.A., which is a 16 1/2-hour flight from Dubai. I met with him and he asked, “Are you a skier?” Coincidentally, I was born in snow country, and my father is a ski instructor. He explained the synopsis. His projects are really big so I needed to prepare a lot and also train in English. I wasn’t confident I had enough time before we started shooting, but I thought, This is the first time I’ve been asked to work with the same Hollywood director twice. I need to do this.

Now that you’ve seen the film— CM: We’re supposed to keep it a secret! The anticipation is refreshing. People are so impatient. But Chris is very old-fashioned in a lot of ways: in the way he makes films, his take on promotion and technology. KW: There wasn’t even a green screen when we were shooting so we were always surprised on set. Every day, we were like, wow. He wants to make the experience as realistic as possible for his actors. He built a regular set and then requested a rotating one to simulate zero gravity.

You’ve both worked with Nolan before in Batman Begins. How would you begin to describe his vision? KW: I have no idea. I just want to cut open his brain and see what’s inside. CM: Batman Begins was my first time doing a studio film. The level of calm and confidence he exudes is amazing. He is never arrogant, but he is in complete control. I have never seen him flustered. It’s very reassuring as a performer when you’re in that environment. It affords you a lot of freedom. He allows the scene to grow organically between two actors and then, very subtly, adjusts the minutiae and massages it. KW: He says, Cillian, that you are the best actor of your generation. CM: [Embarrassed] I’d say he feels the same about you.

With whom did you two work most closely? CM: Ken and I got to do a lot of cool stuff together. KW: I shot one scene on top of a mountain. It was freezing cold! CM: We did some crazy stunts. I was so proud of mine.

What did you get to do? CM: You’ll see.

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Photography by René Dupont. Styling by Brett Bailey

Kylie Minogue on the Cover of BlackBook

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In her second-ever North American cover appearance, international pop superstar Kylie Minogue turns up the heat for our June/July Smart Issue wearing the season’s most scorching swimwear. Inside, Bill Murray tries his hand at auto-asphyxiation, Inception‘s Cillian Murphy and Ken Watanabe do battle, filmmaker Sarah Polley cozies up to a latex glove-wearing, life-size lamb, Crystal Castles get bestial, Luke Wilson loses his cool, Denis Leary burns Bush, MNDR takes us shopping, and photographer Tim Hetherington brings us into Afghanistan’s deadly Korengal Valley. Plus, Vice co-founder Gavin McGinnes stops by to art direct “Beach Boners,” a fashion story inspired by his new style book. There’s also an in-depth look at The Killer Inside Me‘s tortured adaptation history, a male model, half-naked, on a beach, and some tips for how best to weather the warmer climes. You might call this issue kind of genius. Also, don’t forget to check out our full cover gallery. Next week, stay tuned for the full issue rollout right here.