He's played an astronaut, a transvestite, a zombie-slayer, and a Scarecrow. But in Enda Walsh's one-man-play, Misterman, at 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.