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Jason Statham almost played Tommy Shelby in Peaky Blinders – but a last-minute text won Cillian Murphy the part

(Image credit: CBS Films)

Cillian Murphy was not always Tommy Shelby. The Brummie leader of the Peaky Blinders could have been played by someone very different – if it were not due to a last-minute text message sent from Murphy to showrunner Steven Knight. 

"I met them both in LA to talk about the role and opted for Jason,’ Knight recently told Esquire magazine during a Peaky Blinders watch-along. That Jason he's referring to? Yep – Hollywood's go-to British balding hardman, Jason Statham. "One of the reasons was because physically in the room, Jason is Jason."

However, as we all know, Statham never did become Tommy Shelby. "Cillian, when you meet him, isn’t Tommy, obviously, but I was stupid enough not to understand that," he continued: "Afterwards, he sent me a text saying, 'Remember, I’m an actor.' Which is absolutely the thing because he can transform himself. If you meet him in the street he is a totally different human being."

Murphy went on to make the character his own and has led the series for five seasons on the BBC. During the same watch-along, Knight also revealed that he regretted killing off Aberama Gold, played by Aiden Gillan, and two other characters so early on in the show's run. 

“I should have kept [Aberama] alive, I could have just wounded him,” Knight said. "There’s him playing Barney Thompson [Cosmo Jarvis] who’s just brilliant and I really wish I’d kept him alive now because he’s such a good actor."

"The other one is Tom Vaughan-Lawlor who played Malacki Byrne and it’s quite a small part but he just took it over and he was brilliant... but sometimes you have to do it because the story has to move on and there’s obvious examples of characters who’ve gone."

Peaky Blinders season 6 is currently in the works, though production has been halted due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Check out our piece on the best Peaky Blinder episodes, ranked!

I'm the Entertainment Editor over here at GamesRadar+, bringing you all the latest movie and TV news, reviews, and features. I look after all the Total Film and SFX articles that end up on the website