Peaky Blinders: Cillian Murphy’s struggle to play ‘very physically imposing’ Thomas Shelby

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The Irish actor portrays fictional Birmingham crime boss Shelby in the hit BBC show, which first aired in 2013, and nearly four million viewers tuned into the finale of season five in September last year. In a candid confession, Cillian revealed that he found it hard to play his Peaky Blinders character because they were so different from one another.

Cillian was in his late twenties when he starred in his first major movie – Danny Boyle’s 2002 film 28 Days Later. 

Since then, he’s gone on to appear in a number of Hollywood films including a string of Christopher Nolan hits such as Inception, Dunkirk and the Batman trilogy.

Recently, he’s received critical acclaim for his role as the head of the Shelby crime family in Peaky Blinders. 

But the star admitted such a big role was not easy to portray due the stark differences between himself and Thomas Shelby.  

During an interview, he admitted that compared to his character he was “not that interesting” and not as “imposing”.

Cillian said: “When I read the scripts and I knew this guy had to be physically intimidating – he had to be intimidating in his presence.

“It was an exercise in trying to find ways that me, who is not a very physically imposing person, could embody this character who was that sort of physically imposing.”

During a 2019 episode of the Happy Sad Confused podcast, host Josh Horowitz told Cillian that his character was “as far from you as seemingly as possible”.

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The actor, now 44, explained that he had to lower the tone of his voice in a bid to make himself sound more intimidating.

Cillian continued: “You can find a way into a character through various ways and I spent a lot of time with Tommy trying to find ways. 

“He’s a decorated soldier, a veteran of the First World War, right? So the guy… he has seen stuff that you and I couldn’t even begin to conceive.” 

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Cillian also explained that aesthetic changes helped him to get into character. 

He said: “The haircut, the voice, the walk, the costumes – you do everything you can to make it not look like just an actor who has walked in off the street. 

“So there was a long process to get there and it’s sort of evolved over the course of the show.”

Earlier this month, Cillian’s co-star Paul Anderson, who plays Arthur Shelby, teased fans about the next installment of Peaky Blinders.

On Instagram, he wrote: “Season 6 #comingfknsoon – thank you all for the wait, it will be worth it.”

Director Anthon Bryne confirmed the show was in “pre-production” and that filming restarted this month. 

While no official release date has been announced it’s anticipated Peaky Blinders could return to TV screens in early 2021.

Peaky Blinders seasons one to five are available to stream on Netflix.

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