Although there’s been nothing even close to any kind of official confirmation on the role as of yet, the scuttlebutt currently doing the rounds is that Cillian Murphy is now the frontrunner to replace Daniel Craig as the world’s most un-secret agent, James Bond.
Although Craig, who turns 50 next month, has reportedly signed on for another two films and has recanted his public ambivalence about playing the role, the endless speculation about who’ll play Bond next has now enveloped the other Cork export named Murphy. So, what are his chances – realistically?
As we already know, Irishmen of high cheekbones and good hair have previously played that most British institution before, and it doesn’t hurt that Cillian Murphy is also a recognised name for his craft and intensity leading up to it, what with his impressive turns in Peaky Blinders, Inception, as well as an impressive CV in theatre.
In the case of previous Bonds like Sean Connery, Timothy Dalton, and even Daniel Craig, there’s a certain degree of the role making the man rather than the other way around. In fact, a number of actors who’ve turned down the role have often remarked how they feared it would derail their career or that they’d have to change their public persona to adapt. In the ’70s, Oliver Reed was considered for the role. In an interview, Albert ‘Cubby’ Broccoli – the mastermind behind the franchise – said that Reed “already had a public image; he was well known and working hard at making himself even better known. We would have had to destroy that image and rebuild Oliver Reed as James Bond – and we just didn’t have the time or the money.”
Playing Bond is a task that few actors are equal to. It requires them to play cold, merciless killers with whom the audience will want to cheer for. He can slap women around, drink as much as he likes, shoot people in the back, and be a tool of an imperialist power – yet people will root for him because he’s suave, knows exactly what to say at the best possible moment, and is effortlessly sophisticated. For all the stick that the likes of Marvel and DC gets, James Bond is pure fantasy and escapism that has absolutely no bearing or impartiality on real-life.
So why would Cillian Murphy, who’s made a career out of playing emotionally rich characters that audiences can immediately resonate with suddenly want to play the most outlandish character going on? Well, the money’s good, but what does it do to a career? Not a whole lot, quite frankly. Sean Connery had to do Zardoz – an utterly bonkers, psychedelic sci-fi drama with John Boorman just to escape the tuxedo. Timothy Dalton ran off to do The King’s Whore, an Italian arthouse period drama, whilst Roger Moore didn’t act for five years after he finished A View To A Kill. George Lazenby, with just one film in the role, effectively became a pub quiz answer.
What’s made James Bond survive far longer in the changing landscape pop culture is the fact he doesn’t change. He’s still the hard-drinking, bad guy-killing, morally ambiguous, out-of-touch asshole and the alternating actors have kept this all going – even into the era of gender equality. James Bond doesn’t stop to feel anything; he doesn’t have any kind of emotional texture. Although the scripts and stories tried to graft one on with Casino Royale and Quantum Of Solace, it ultimately fizzled out by the time Skyfall and Spectre came along.
Looking over Cillian Murphy’s work, from Peaky Blinders to his films with Christopher Nolan and Danny Boyle, has shown that he’s a capable actor who has a screen presence and a vulnerability that’s all of his own. His performances, in fact, are defined by it – even when he’s playing a ruthless crime boss or a deranged psychiatrist.
There’s nothing in his filmography that suggests he’s the right person for it, and when you come right down to it, he’s better than the role needs him to be.