A certain outrage has taken over the Internet in recent weeks, amid the release of this year’s Academy Awards’s nominations and some alarming lack of recognition for the women behind the biggest blockbuster of 2023: Greta Gerwig and Margot Robbie. Admittedly, there have been nuclear-sized wins in the process—achieved by the other half of last year’s culturally-tipping Barbenheimer. One, that Christopher Nolan is finally poised to take home his first Academy Awards win for Oppenheimer, and two, that the leading actor playing his titular character, Cillian Murphy, has received his first-ever Oscar nomination. So whilst the feminist in me does see the Oscars’s Barbie snubs as bulletproof glass-proof that Hollywood is still very much a man’s world, do pardon this resident nerd for being a ‘guy’s girl’ just this once.
Murphy has long been one of those names people would call an actor’s actor. A career littered with screen characters spanning anti-heroes to fearsome villains and misunderstood identities, it is ultimately his portrayals of them—suffused with such detail and attention—that make him known so. His performances, a result of honing his acting since over 20 years ago, have drawn the eyes of the industry—including Nolan himself who has worked with Murphy on countless occasions in the building of his immense auteurship. A favourite of Nolan’s, as many would call him.
Prior to the enrapturing biopic that’s earned him an Academy Awards nod, some of those roles can be said to have led to this eventuality, from Murphy’s villain transformation in Batman Begins to the ‘shivering soldier’ in war epic Dunkirk. Take the former: the first in Nolan’s prized Batman trilogy (for which, Murphy had auditioned to play its dark, brooding hero in the first place) where his turn as Dr. Jonathan Crane aka Scarecrow, was instrumental in cementing the Irish actor’s position in Hollywood. The evolution of the calm and collected psychologist at Arkham Asylum into a maddened evil doctor delivered through those glossy, crazed eyes—an instant was all it took for us to know that Dr. Crane was no longer here with us. But consider audiences all around, myself included, forever changed in the wake of a mesmerising supervillain nonetheless.
Yet perhaps if range was the topic at hand, then one should no doubt consider his performance in the film that caught Nolan’s eye in the first place; when Murphy played Jim in 28 Days Later back in 2002. A film, which, in comparison to the many roles he’s often taken up (yes, including one very famous Shelby), had been a showcase of how much Murphy could excavate the inner psyche of a softer, more tentative character; transforming from the dazed, confused individual waking up to the reality of a zombie outbreak into the ruthless, cold-blooded murderer he chooses to become in order to survive. Pre-Oppenheimer, it was a demonstration of his ability to play complex, multi-dimensional characters—perhaps alongside the ravaged, sexually-curious Pig in the coming-of-age Disco Pigs, his Golden Globe-nominated role Kitten in Breakfast on Pluto or supposed husband-wife pair John and Emma Skillpa in schizophrenic thriller Peacock. But if award show snubs have long been a thing, then there’s no denying that Murphy’s filmography has always come up on the shorter end of that stick.
And finally, with six seasons on its mantle, Murphy’s screen credits cannot escape the full-throttle violence and thrill of the Peaky Blinders, of which his portrayal of the hardy Thomas Shelby was sheer genius all on its own. Alas, it was only his final turn as the notorious crime boss in Season 6 that finally earned him a major BAFTA nod.
So yes, his Golden Globes’s win and the Oscar nomination he has since received—one that rewards Murphy’s gaunt, haunting performance as the ‘father of the atomic bomb’—has since left me feeling an indescribable sense of pride almost impossible to comprehend. Of course, I may be heavily biased; my first brush with Murphy’s screen work was back when Inception hit the cinemas and I haven’t looked back since. For as the Internet rages on about Murphy being the family-loving, women-supporting man that he is (razor-sharp features and crystal-blue eyes aside), Murphy continues to honour the hard work that goes into it all, from tidbit-worthy interviews and deep dives into working with Nolan to potential projects he may throw his entire being into next. At the time of writing, 28 Years Later has just been confirmed—reuniting Murphy with original creators Alex Garland and Danny Boyle for the previously-rumoured sequel.
So Oscar or not, Murphy’s already poised for the next big thing, his behemoth of a filmography testament enough against any naysayers in the Academy’s council. And if he does walk away with the infamous golden statue in hand? It would be a victory long overdue.