TV & Radio
Her name is Kitten and she's fond of fake fur -- Cillian Murphy makes his mark in 'Pluto'
- John McMurtrie, San Francisco Chronicle Staff Writer
Monday, December 19, 2005
A closeted cowboy, an out-of-the-closet writer, a pre-op transsexual waitress and a bisexual hit man.
Who says Hollywood is traditional?
These were among the characters recognized last week when the Golden Globe nominees for best actors and actresses were announced.
And then there is Kitten.
The cross-dressing protagonist in Irish director Neil Jordan's delightful comic drama "Breakfast on Pluto," she is perhaps the most fun of the gay-bisexual-transgendered bunch honored by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. ("Breakfast on Pluto" opens Friday in Bay Area theaters.)
Though her name is Kitten and she speaks in a delicate purr, this character in platform shoes, fake fur and snakeskin coats is as tough as Russell Crowe's boxer Jim Braddock in "Cinderella Man" (another Globe nominee).
Christened Patrick Braden, Kitten flees repressed 1970s Northern Ireland and journeys to London, where she searches for the mother she never knew. Along the way, she loses herself in the glam-rock underground of the British capital and gets in trouble with the law over her perceived involvement with the Irish Republican Army. She is abused, beaten, choked and even injured in a bombing, but never loses her innate cheeriness and kindheartedness.
"Oh, serious, serious, serious," she says, in pooh-poohing the troubled world around her.
Cillian Murphy is the up-and-coming Irish actor who plays Kitten in Jordan's adaptation of Patrick McCabe's novel.
"I fell in love with the character so much because she's fundamentally good," Murphy, 29, says by phone from his home in London. "And what she wants in life are very, very simple things, you know? Just to be part of a unit, to be loved and just to look pretty."
And does she ever look pretty.
Many in the States will remember Murphy (whose first name is pronounced kill-ee-an) as the none-too-gentle psychopaths in "Batman Begins" (as Dr. Jonathan Crane) and "Red Eye" (as the hit man with the evocative name of Jackson Rippner). He also had prominent roles in Danny Boyle's 2002 cult thriller "28 Days Later" and, the following year, in "Cold Mountain" and "Girl With a Pearl Earring."
Where Murphy's big blue eyes and boyish looks helped conceal the face of a murderer in "Batman" and "Red Eye," in "Breakfast on Pluto," they accentuate Kitten's beauty. Maybe it's the smooth cheekbones and full lips, but few actors look so good done up in rouge and lipstick.
Murphy doesn't remember how many outlandish outfits he wore for the movie -- he seems to be wearing a different one in every scene -- but he enjoyed them all.
"That era lent itself very nicely to androgyny," he says in his lyrical Irish accent. "All of the clothes were flattering to both men and women.
"Kitten," he adds, "finds solace in the cheesier side of it."
To be convincing as Kitten, Murphy says, he avoided the "long tradition of men dressing up as women in cinema. ... I wanted the character to be feminine as opposed to it being an affectation.
"You wanted to avoid camp; you wanted to avoid queeny," he adds. "I think she's a hugely resilient and strong character."
It's been said, Murphy remarks, that "Breakfast on Pluto" is about the loss of innocence. "Where in actual fact," he says, "it's all about the preservation of innocence for her and trying to create this sort of idealized version of her life."
To prepare for the role, Murphy spent a lot of time observing women, watching details such as how they move their hands. He also did more intense research, going out to clubs, in character, with transvestites. That experience gave him a sense of what someone like Kitten must go through.
"That's the reason they have such amazing wit and turn of phrase," Murphy says. "Because they have to when you just get shouted at on the street. It's these leery, stupid, drunken people. You feel threatened, you know?"
Jordan, who directed "The Crying Game" (1992) -- which famously broached gender identity -- didn't concern himself with Murphy's nocturnal outings.
"I just told him to treat himself like a woman," he says with a laugh from his Dublin office. "He could do what he wanted as far as I was concerned. As long as he didn't become a heroin addict, you know?"
Jordan says he chose Murphy for the role after testing all the young Irish actors he knew.
"He brought out a deeply emotional level to the part that really surprised me," Jordan says. "He's deeply instinctive."
Murphy was raised in Cork (as was another rising star, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, who is in Woody Allen's new movie, "Match Point"). He got his start in acting after playing guitar in a Frank Zappa-inspired rock band in his late teens.
"He still is a hero of mine," he says of Zappa, "because he just didn't give a s -- ."
Of his band's talent, Murphy says, "The other members in the band were very, very proficient. And then there was me -- very much not."
Nowadays, Murphy plays guitar just for himself "and at drunk family occasions," he jokes. He and his old bandmates did get the chance to reunite for some music when he and artist Yvonne McGuinness were married last year in Provence.
Over the phone, the couple's 2-week-old son, Malachy, can be heard crying in the background -- or "asserting himself," as his father puts it.
When he's not at home changing nappies, Murphy spends his days on the set of Boyle's next film, a sci-fi thriller called "Sunshine." He plays a physicist who travels into space, with a crew, to set off a bomb inside the sun, which is dying.
Once the film is finished, Murphy is going to take some much-needed time off: no more cross-dressers, no more killers, no more scientists in space.
"I'm just going to stop," he says with a sigh. "I'm going to hang out with my boy. That's my plan."
E-mail John McMurtrie at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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'Breakfast on Pluto' Review - LA Times