Everything to Know About Best Actor Oscar Winner Cillian Murphy

Oscars 2024: All eyes are on Cillian Murphy, recognized for his lead turn in <em>Oppenheimer</em>. Here's what to know about the Irish actor, pictured here at a London film event. Credit - John Phillips—Getty Images

Anticipation was high for the 2024 Oscars, which took place Sunday, March 10—especially for the prospects of the most nominated film, Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer, and its lead, Cillian Murphy.

After sweeping up a number of awards this season, Murphy won Best Actor for his performance as J. Robert Oppenheimer in the biopic about the creator of the atomic bomb. The role has vaulted 47-year-old Murphy, a fixture in Nolan films and a household name in the U.K. and his native Ireland, into Hollywood stardom.

Here’s how Murphy got there and everything you need to know about the Oscar winner.

What is Cillian Murphy’s background?

Murphy was born in Douglas, a suburb of the city of Cork, Ireland, as the eldest of four. His father was a civil servant and his mother was a French teacher.

Murphy attended an all-boys private school then enrolled at University College Cork to study law, but failed his first year exams, because, as he said, “I had no ambitions to do it,” Irish national broadcaster RTE reported.

Does Cillian Murphy have a wife and family?

Murphy has been married since 2004 to Irish visual artist Yvonne McGuinness. They met at one of his former band’s shows in 1996. Murphy played guitar in a Frank Zappa-inspired acid jazz band, “The Sons of Mr Green Genes.” The couple has two teenage sons, and moved the family after 14 years in London back to Ireland in 2015.

“We wanted the kids to be Irish, and they were sort of at that age where they were preteens and they had very posh English accents and I wasn’t appreciating that too much,” Murphy teased during an appearance on Dax Shepard’s Armchair Expert podcast.

Elsewhere, Murphy told GQ that a work-life balance “is hard. I have an amazing wife and I couldn't do this without her and her understanding. But it is a struggle. I think it is for any dad whose work takes him away, which it generally does, and which consumes him, which my work does.”

Cillian Murphy has an impressive TV and movies roster

After music didn’t work out for him, Murphy pursued acting. In 1996, when 19, the then-unknown actor was cast as the co-lead in a play by Irish playwright Enda Walsh called Disco Pigs. The show was a touring success and led to a movie adaptation in 2001, with the story becoming a local coming-of-age classic.

Murphy got his big screen break in Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later, a 2002 British zombie thriller that was a surprise success. The role is what led to Nolan noticing Murphy, GQ reported.

Nolan told Deadline that he first spotted Murphy in a newspaper photo for his role in 28 Days Later—and was struck by Murphy’s arresting bright blue eyes and presence. Nolan said he then watched the film and invited Murphy to audition for Batman in 2005's Batman Begins. The role ultimately went to Christian Bale, but Murphy instead scored the part of the villain Dr. Jonathan Crane, the “Scarecrow.”

Murphy went on to join Nolan for two more Batman films, along with Inception, Dunkirk and finally Oppenheimer.

Murphy’s most famous role in the U.K. and Ireland was as gangster Tommy Shelby on the TV series Peaky Blinders, which was originated by the BBC and then acquired by Netflix. The show ran from 2013 to 2022. Murphy won multiple awards in the U.K. and Ireland for his performance.

How much was Cillian Murphy paid for Oppenheimer?

Multiple reports say Murphy made $10 million from the film, although that amount is unconfirmed. Murphy told GQ in 2019 that he is uncomfortable with the scale of his pay as an actor.

“I'm really lucky. I feel embarrassed by it sometimes,” he said. “I struggle with that. I mean, actors are overpaid, you know? It's nice when you get paid, when you're young, and you've gone from having no money, but the Catholic guilt kicks in immediately, and I’m like—it's all going to go wrong. You don't deserve this. And I don’t.”

He is known to shun the limelight

Murphy has spoken about how he doesn’t relish the attention that comes with stardom.

“Fame is like commuting,” he told Rolling Stone. “You have to commute to get to your destination.”

“I don’t go out. I’m just at home mostly, or with my friends, unless I have a film to promote. I don’t like being photographed by people. I find that offensive,” he said.

Cillian Murphy has pursued Irish passion projects and has a love of the stage

Murphy has acted in smaller films along the way, including starring in and producing 2024’s Small Things Like These, an adaption of an Irish novella that sheds light on the Magdalene Laundries—workhouses for unwed mothers and other vulnerable women run by four Catholic orders in Ireland until 1996. The film reunited Murphy with his Disco Pigs co-star, Irish actor Eileen Walsh.

Ever since his stage debut as a teenager, Murphy has continued to act in theater. In 2019, he starred in Grief Is the Thing With Feathers, the adaptation of a novel by the same playwright who wrote the show where he got his start.

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