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Contributed by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor
for Radio Free Entertainment

August 6, 2005

In the suspense-filled thriller Red-Eye, a seemingly random encounter on a plane sets the stage for a test of wills between two resourceful individuals. When the level-headed but haunted Lisa Reisert (Rachel McAdams) meets the charismatic Jackson Rippner (Cillian Murphy) on a red-eye flight, she doesn't suspect anything out of the ordinary. But soon after takeoff, Rippner reveals his insidious agenda: he wants Lisa to use her position as manager at an upscale hotel to change the room assignment of a political figure, thereby facilitating an assassination attempt that is scheduled to take place. If she does not cooperate, Rippner will have her father murdered. Armed with her wits, Lisa becomes a reluctant hero who must find a way to stop Rippner, and a tense game of cat and mouse ensues 30,000 feet in the sky.

Directed by veteran horror auteur Wes Craven, Red-Eye is a smart, tightly-cut thriller fueled by two amazing lead performances--a critical element for a film in which much of the story unfolds through the simple set-up of two people sitting next to each other, talking. Rachel McAdams (Mean Girls, The Notebook) delivers a wholly believable and embraceable character that is distinct from her previous roles, while Cillian Murphy (Batman Begins, 28 Days Later) conveys a perfect mix of intrigue and danger as one of this year's most notable villains.

In this interview, Cillian Murphy talks about working with Rachel McAdams, being the killer in a Wes Craven movie, and how he got a late start in his acting career.

The Interview

MEDIA: Playing villains in two high-profile 2005 summer releases (Batman Begins and Red-Eye), were you concerned about being typecast?

CILLIAN: That's distribution, which I have no control over, you know what I mean? If the people decide to put these movies out that way, that's fine. I made like ten feature films and I play the bad guy in two of them. I think they're both very different, and I think that audiences aren't myopic...they understand that [I'm] an actor and that you can go and play other parts in other films. Having said that, I will concede that I probably have done my quota now of bad guys. They were just really interesting parts, do you know? For me, I had a great time doing them. And the thing is, as well, I don't strategize. I don't have a career plan. I'm not ticking boxes. So I don't have any problem with it.

What attracted you to Red-Eye?

There's the script. It always has to start with the script, no matter who the director is. If it's a sh*te script, they're only going to make it mediocre, you know, no matter how good they are. And I just found it very compelling. I found the premise quite strong. And then obviously after that, the team involved in making it.

How did you get along with Rachel McAdams?

We met before, and then rehearsed, and went out for dinner and chatted and hung out. And she's just so cool. She's just the sweetest girl, and so normal. And I hoped that I would be the same. She's a brilliant actor, and so intelligent in her choices, like in the performance. And yeah, it was important, I guess, that we got on. You can't create chemistry.

How did the two of you deal with having to hurt each other a lot throughout the course of the movie?

I found it very difficult, actually. Especially that scene in the bathroom. You just have to have a level of trust. We both have to trust each other, and luckily we did. And we got on with each other very well. And you have to rehearse and rehearse and rehearse and rehearse and rehearse for the physical stuff. Like the stuff with the hockey stick and all that was easy's like a rubber stick. It's easy. But that stuff in the bathroom was quite intense and it was unpleasant. It was unpleasant to do and it was unpleasant to watch, I think. So you just have to trust each other.

Was creating a backstory for your character important to you?

Yeah, you have to have all the backstory there for yourself just so that when you make character decisions or you make choices, they're backed up by something. Now it's all for me, kind of, because none of it's on the screen. So yeah, you have to do all that stuff. And the most fundamental thing is getting inside the man's mind--how it works. And from there on, you can do everything else.

Your character's name is "Jackson Rippner." Did that give you some backstory right there?

No. I don't think the guy's a serial killer. But I like that. It's a writer's thing, you know. I thought it was clever...I like that kind of cross-referencing--that sly thing that goes on in movies. And I think that that's part of what that is.

What did you think of being "the killer with a knife" in a Wes Craven movie? And how familiar are you with his work as a director?

I knew the Freddy movies as a kid, and the Scream movies. But I thought this was a departure for him. The stuff in the've got to do that. It's the thriller denouement. But I think that the stuff on the plane was the main attraction, and the way he dealt with that and directed that.

Are you comfortable with flying?

Thank God I've never had a bad experience in flying. I'm quite relaxed about it, yeah. If anything, just sitting next to boring people is the worst. The people that won't stop talking.

What's your seating preference on a plane: aisle or window?

Always the aisle.

The story never reveals who Rippner is working for. Do you think that is an important detail that should have been explored?

I thought it was much more interesting that it was not firm, because it's not a political film. It's not about terrorism. It's about two people on a plane--a battle of wills between these two characters. I think if you started going down that path, you're opening it up to way bigger territories. And that wasn't what it was about. It's about people under severe pressure and how they react to it. And that's what I love. The potential for drama is greater when you get people under pressure in extreme situations.

How do you react to pressure?

I tend to be fine, except inanimate objects tend to set me off when they won't work. But I'm pretty good with people, I think.

What did you think of having to put on an American accent for this role?

Well, I think that's what we do as actors. We're supposed to do those things. Living here in the environment was helpful, obviously. You hear people speak all the time. And then you have a voice coach and all of that. And I've always said I'm an actor who's Irish, not an Irish actor--do you know what I mean? You shouldn't be limited by your extraction, I think, in terms of what roles you can play. And because of the fact that Hollywood is this sort of engine of movie making, you need to come to Hollywood to make movies. And I think it's foolish for actors to say, "Listen, I'm not doing Hollywood. I just do independent movies." Within the Hollywood studio system, there have been some masterpieces made. There's a lot of rubbish, which we are all aware of, but you shouldn't limit yourself. So having said that, if you're going to work within the Hollywood system, you're going to have to do an American accent.

How did you get into acting?

I didn't start acting until I was like 20. I was playing in bands...wanted to be a musician for ages. And I foolishly was attempting a degree in law. And I abandoned that quite quickly. I was always into movies, and I saw a play in Cork, and it was unbelievably cool and sexy and brilliant, and I knocked on the door of the theatre company and asked them for an audition. They gave me a part in a play called Disco Pigs, which I did, and then they made that into a movie, and then I continued on from there.

Has life changed for you after Batman Begins, in terms of being recognized in public?

I suppose there's obviously a level of recognition. I tend to judge it by how many people can pronounce my name correctly. I live in London, and you never, ever, ever get people coming up to you. Back home in Cork or in Ireland, yeah...but everyone's really sweet. It's never in any way antagonistic. It's never intrusive in any way. People are generally very nice and I don't find it a problem. My life hasn't changed significantly at all, do you know what I mean?

Have you ever seen a movie that has greatly impacted you?

It's funny you should ask that question. This came up already today. There was, actually. When I was about 15 or 16, it was Halloween, and we wanted to get a scary movie, myself and my brother. And we went to get it, and the guy gave us the wrong movie. And it's kind of ironic, the title of the movie, but it was Scarecrow. And it was Gene Hackman and Al Pacino. And it profoundly affected me. I didn't realize that films could do that to you. And it's weird, I suppose, because it's not up there with the classics. Nobody really talks about it. I really think it's the last classic, you know. So, stayed with me, and I started watching loads and loads of films.

When you're in front of the camera, does it dawn on you that you might be affecting a viewer in a similar way?

Well, it does. You think about that every day. I've always said if I can just leave one film behind that affects somebody, that can be my legacy. Just one that people admire. Then I'm quite happy, do you know what I mean? That's fine.

Thank you for your time.

Thank you. See you, guys.

Related Material

Red-Eye interview with Rachel McAdams
Red-Eye interview with director Wes Craven
Red-Eye interview with screenwriter Carl Ellsworth
Movie Coverage: Red-Eye


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