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Red Lights – Cillian Murphy on acting with De Niro

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Red Lights - Cillian Murphy
Tom Buckley (Cillian Murphy) © 2012 Millennium Entertainment

Irish actor Cillian Murphy first gained worldwide attention in Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later, and went on to have major roles in Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, Red Eye and Inception.

In his new movie Red Lights he portrays Tom Buckley, who along with Dr Margaret Matheson (Sigourney Weaver) are the world’s foremost investigators of paranormal phenomena, debunking fraudulent mind readers, ghost hunters and faith healers by detecting  ‘red lights,’ subtle clues to the trickery behind each of these occurrences.

When legendary blind psychic Simon Silver (Robert De Niro) comes out of retirement after 30 years, Buckley is determined to discredit him, despite a warning from Matheson that he’s too dangerous to confront.

I spoke with Cillian at the press day for the movie.

How did you research this role in Red Lights?

Red Lights - Sigourney Weaver and Cillian Murphy
Margaret Matheson (Sigourney Weaver) and Tom Buckley (Cillian Murphy) © 2012 Millennium Entertainment

I read a lot and I actually went to Vegas to see more of the showbiz aspect of it, because I think the De Niro character is an amalgam of Chris Angel and those preacher type guys, the guys that claim to heal and cure people.

The character goes on such a journey, at the beginning he’s so firmly in that skeptic camp, that for me the most important thing was about trying to make the character believable and honest, somebody that you would go on that journey with.

When you were a child I’m sure you watched Raging Bull or The Godfather. What was it like meeting De Niro and acting with him, especially when you were playing such a confrontational role?

Red Lights - Robert De Niro, Joely Richardson and Toby Jones
Simon Silver (Robert De Niro), Monica Hansen (Joely Richardson) and Paul Shackleton (Toby Jones) © 2012 Millennium Entertainment

It was phenomenal. I think for any actor of my generation, we grew up watching his movies and they’re seminal moments in my life. So then to actually be in a room working with him [was amazing]

The first scene that we shot with me and De Niro is when I come and visit him and I have no dialogue, so I just watched this master create the scene with Rodrigo (Cortes, the movie’s writer/director). It was amazing for me.

I just had to look intimidated, so there was no acting required.

Both Sigourney and Robert are legends. I think they are aware of the legacy that they have and the affect that they must have on actors of my generation, but they were extraordinarily warm, lovely and friendly.

Are you a believer in the supernatural?

Red Lights - Cillian Murphy
Tom Buckley (Cillian Murphy) © 2012 Millennium Entertainment

I’m naturally skeptical and rational, but curious and open to things. And what was fascinating about this script and about this character, researching it and playing it, was the need that people have to believe.

I found it fascinating how people would set aside logic and reason, because they needed to believe. They’ve lost somebody or they are ill, and I found it very interesting how that can be manipulated.

What I liked about the movie from the beginning was that Rodrigo gave equal credence to both sides. It wasn’t about pointing fingers or ridiculing either side, both are treated with respect, which I admired in the writing.

Red Lights - Cillian Murphy talks with Director Rodrigo Cortés
Cillian Murphy talks with Director Rodrigo Cortés on set © 2012 Millennium Entertainment