Blue-Eyed Nolan Regular, Cillian Murphy, Talks the Puzzles in Inception and Making Smart Movies

Prepare to forget all about mopey teenage vampires, Airbenders and whatever animated thing is currently ruling the box office. Perhaps 2010’s most eagerly anticipated film, Inception-Christopher Nolan’s follow-up to 2008’s critical and commercial smash The Dark Knight-will hit theaters on July 16 (cue nerd jubilation). Inception shares DNA with The Dark Knight-similarly dark, moody, gorgeous, elegant and thrilling-as well as being a relentless brain-teaser, with the action spinning through our dream life. [Ed note: For a dissenting view, see Rex Reed’s review on page 52.]


Showing up for a third tour of duty with Mr. Nolan is the startlingly blue-eyed Cillian Murphy, who previously stole scenery as the sinister Scarecrow/Dr. Jonathan Crane in Batman Begins and The Dark Knight; he was also seen convincingly scaring the stuffing out of Rachel McAdams in Red Eye, and playing a haunted survivor in 28 Days Later. This time, Mr. Murphy plays Robert Fischer, a rich young man who becomes the mark for dream-extractor/-inceptor Leonardo DiCaprio (just trust us: See this movie. No spoilers here!), appearing amid an excellent ensemble cast that includes Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Ken Watanabe and Michael Caine.  The Irish-born Mr. Murphy, 34, spoke to The Observer from London, his home for the past 10 years:


The Observer: Inception is complicated-people are going to argue about what it’s all about.

Mr. Murphy: I think it’s open to very different interpretations. People can experience the film cerebrally, or literally, or as a love story or a heist movie-I would never tell people what they should come out feeling.


What did you think when you first read the script?

I read it and thought, ‘God, am I intellectually up for this script?’ [laughs]. But then I was reassured by the fact that all the actors had the same reaction.


Was there a cheat sheet on set?

No … but it became pretty clear we shouldn’t be embarrassed about asking where exactly we were-everybody needed to be reminded once in a while. Everyone would get on the phone with Chris, and he’d talk them through their character and the puzzle, and, you know, explain the rules.


Did Mr. Nolan have the character of Fischer in mind for you?

He said, ‘Read it, and I think you’ll know which one I’m thinking of you for.’ And I read it and I immediately thought that [Fischer] was the role. I liked it; it was something I haven’t done before. Fischer’s this spoiled little kid who just wanted his father to pay some attention to him. And he has everything he could want materially, but is an emotional cripple. I love the tragedy of the thing.


You end up being in some of the more emotional scenes of the movie.

Yes, and Pete Postlethwaite is a fantastic actor, and it was a great privilege to work with him as my dad. I have two boys myself. … Obviously, everyone has a complex relationship with their dad. It’s universally complicated.


Are your sons old enough to go see this movie?

Oh God, no! [laughs, horrified]. They are only 4 and 3-little fellas. It would be a little confusing and a little loud for them.


After the success of The Dark Knight, there were staggeringly high expectations for this film. Was that pressure palpable?

It seems to me that Chris doesn’t worry about all that, and that’s why I think he’s so successful. He just has his own philosophy, right from the beginning. He’s quite old-fashioned, in many ways-and the thing he does that sets him apart is that he presupposes a level of intelligence of the audience, which I think the audience is really grateful for, in this climate. … They don’t want to just check their brain at the door.


I agree. But this film tired my brain out!

But the payoff is huge. I want to see it again in IMAX. Blue-Eyed Nolan Regular, Cillian Murphy, Talks the Puzzles in Inception and Making Smart Movies