Cillian Murphy’s icy stare has transfixed viewers around the world as Brummie gang boss Tommy Shelby in Peaky Blinders. As the stellar series reaches its finale, he talks about music, empathy and trying not to overthink things
Cillian Murphy pops up on screen with the discomfited gaiety of a man about to submit to dentistry. He is courteous and friendly, but without ever quite shaking off the impression he would rather be almost anywhere else. It’s just before Christmas, and the rampant Omicron variant of Covid-19 has put paid to in-person meetings. You don’t get the impression Murphy minds too much. At a Zoom’s remove, he sits back in his chair, hair restored to luxuriant cruising length after the savage chop required for Peaky Blinders. His storied peepers – organs that have inspired countless column inches and exhaustive maritime imagery – are, for once, hard to discern.
I recognise the spare white wall behind him, which is decorated with a poster for the band Grizzly Bear and a painting. This must be his famous basement. In the Dublin home he shares with his wife, Yvonne McGuinness, an artist, and their teenage sons Malachy and Aran, the basement is Murphy’s fortress of solitude. He has spent a lot of time here over lockdown, noodling around on guitars, scrolling the news about the pandemic and recording impressively eclectic radio programmes for BBC 6 Music.