Killing time with Cillian Murphy

28 Days Later was quite prescient in terms of world events and now Sunshine's done something similar with the attention global warming’s getting – what’s Alex Garland’s secret?
For me, making the film, the themes that were more outstanding for me were science versus faith, or science versus religion, and again I think that’s pretty topical given what’s going on in the world.

I think what this film does is highlight the fragility of our planet and how much we depend on this very delicate ecosystem and how each factor’s co-dependent, and it shows how fleeting a moment we’re on the planet.

But it’s not the science-fiction version of An Inconvenient Truth, it’s a science-fiction movie in the classic tradition of Solaris, Alien and 2001. But if it gets people a little more exercised and a little bit more focused on the problem at hand, which is how we’re destroying our ecosystem, then that’s a good thing.

You’ve said you’re not really into sci-fi…
I don’t know if I’m what you’d call a science-fiction fan, not as intensely involved as most people in that world are...

Did you encounter a lot of those kinds of people during Batman Begins?
I was at comic-con for Batman Begins, and that was interesting (laughs), but when you do something like Batman, you realise that you’re doing it for these people because they’re the fans; they’re the people that go and buy the tickets; they’re the people that have been buying the comic-books for years and years. People have invested so much into it, there’s a sense of devotion, a sense of responsibility.

I was fucking terrified doing Scarecrow because he’s one of the oldest villains and people have a very clear idea about how he should and shouldn’t be played. With Sunshine it was a bit more of a free reign, it was just an addition to the films in that canon and it’s an original idea.

Will we be seeing a glimpse of the Scarecrow in Dark Knight?
It’s not for me to say, it’s up to Chris and his team, I’d love to, I’d be thrilled, but I’m very excited to see Heath Ledger as The Joker, and Two-Face, Aaron Eckhart. That’d be very cool.

Danny Boyle’s said he won’t be returning to SF; how about you? It’s notoriously stop-start…

...did you have fun making it still?
It was a very hard film to make and I think Danny would say the same. It was obviously harder for him than for me, but the technical side of it, the length of time it took to shoot it and all the post-production, it’s very demanding. I think it’s been totally worth it, because I’m so proud of the film.

I never say never, I think it’s harder for a director, to get that film up, I don’t know how many years Danny’s been working on this film, but it’s a long chunk of his life, whereas for me I was on it for four months (clicks fingers) and that’s it. So, I think for Danny to undertake a film like this again, I can understand why he’d be less inclined.

The film’s quite intense, did you find it intense when you watched it?
Yeah, because I had no idea how it was going to look – the editing and how the spaceship itself would look and how the sun would look, all of that stuff. It was so effects heavy – it’s the most effects heavy movie I’ve ever been involved with, so it was a revelation, and then the music was incredible, it was pretty trippy towards the end, I think that was great.

You mention music – Danny Boyle’s said he’d rather be in music, but he has no musical skill, you actually are in a band – what do you prefer doing, music or acting?
This is my job now, and I find I have some sort of facility for it, so I want to continue at it and improve, and I feel I have a lot more to prove also. Music is my main hobby aside from this, and I spend all my money on CDs and flying to gigs. Put it this way, I get more excited meeting rock stars than I do meeting actors by a long shot, but there is a bit of a crossover, because I use music in my acting, and I’ve got to sing in movies…

How do you use music – do you listen to certain CDs to get in certain moods?
Yeah, that last scene in Sunshine for example, I used music that kind of builds, like that Sigur Ros album, it’s that kind of epic stuff that you want to be into. Music’s the best mood maker.

You spent time with scientists as part of your research, how did they feel about science-fiction as a genre, they don’t tend to be big fans…
No, you’re probably right. Brian Cox was the guy that I spent most time with, he was the science advisor on this, who’s a professor of physics from Manchester, he used the term science-faction, because there’s no supernatural element to this film – the sun will die, the stars burn out, and we’ve just accelerated its demise.

I think Brian’s said that he likes the portrayal of the physicist in this film, the commitment to the mission and seeing the ultimate conclusion of the project, which is this bomb.

You spent some time living with the rest of the cast on a university campus, did you find that a bonding experience, or did you have little squabbles?
You journalists would love that, wouldn’t you? It was actually really fun – I think two weeks was the maximum time we could’ve spent together but, it was really fun, they’re a really lovely bunch of actors. It’s very hard to act familiarity, it’s very hard to act the sense that you get from living with a group of people for, in this case, 18 months or something, so Danny wanted to have that irritability you get when some people come into the room, or ease when other people come in. To try and live that more than just create it on a Monday morning in East London, you know?

You just said ‘you journalists’ and I’ve read a few things where you don’t seem entirely comfortable with this part of the process, is that something you don’t enjoy?
I don’t, man, talking to you is grand, but when people ask idiotic questions, it does get quite frustrating if the conversation comes to a standstill, when people want to ask you ‘what’s your favourite colour?’ ‘If you only had ten hours left to live, what would be your last meal?’ those sorts of questions, or people ask me boring questions or personal questions, that’s when it gets a bit difficult. But I’ll talk to the cows come home about films and about the process, but it’s just when it becomes idiotic.

You said that your experiences on Sunshine, and particularly the time you spent with the scientists turned you from an agnostic to an atheist – what changed your perception?
I did a lot of reading, I spoke to those guys a lot, and I was always an agnostic, which I think is a very safe place to be in terms of your faith or lack of, it’s one foot in each camp kind of, and the stories or the themes we were investigating, the books I was reading, and just thinking about it personally, it just seemed to me that we’re here for a very brief period of time and then we die and something else happens and the burden with proof lies with people who belief, not with people that don’t.

It just seems to me to be irrational that there’s an omnipotent, omnipresent being who was there at the beginning, and will be there forever, it’s not logical, it doesn’t help me as a person and I can understand why faith can be very important for people, but for me at this point in my life, it’s not what I need.

Sunshine in many ways is very different to 28 Days Later, how do you think it’s going to be received in the States?
I don’t know, it’s an interesting one. I mean, we had no idea that 28 Days Later was going to be received as well as it was in the States, the American market is a very tricky one, you just don’t know, so we’ll see. There hasn’t been a great science-fiction film released there in a long time.

You watch Alien and Solaris, films like that that were recommended to you, did you watch any off your own back, or was it the reading you were interested in?
It was the reading. Danny was talking about making us watch shit science-fiction films as well, but decided against it in the end, because it might subliminally work its way in. No, I did a lot of reading. We watched The Wages Of Fear that old black and white movie, about the guys that are transporting the dynamite across the mountain, you can see the references, in terms of sustaining suspense, but those types of movies, Alien, 2001 and Solaris were the main – they’re the masterpieces, they’re the things you aspire to.

The Total Film team are made up of the finest minds in all of film journalism. They are: Editor Jane Crowther, Deputy Editor Matt Maytum, Reviews Ed Matthew Leyland, News Editor Jordan Farley, and Online Editor Emily Murray. Expect exclusive news, reviews, features, and more from the team behind the smarter movie magazine.