“Oh, thank you very much,” the Cork-born actor replied to compliments on how lovely he appears in the film.
“That’s the problem or the challenge with this character. It’s easy to look pretty or glamorous in women’s clothes, but if you don’t invest in the character, then so what?”
Based on Patrick McCabe’s critically acclaimed 1998 novel about a cross-dresser with a heart of gold, the movie’s screenplay was co-written by McCabe and Jordan, the acclaimed Irish filmmaker who also brought McCabe’s “The Butcher Boy” to the big screen in 1997.
In the new film, which begins in 1958 in the fictional town of Tyreelin, near the border with Northern Ireland, Murphy plays Patrick Braden, the illegitimate son of Father Bernard (Liam Neeson) and Eily Bergin (Eva Birthistle,) a young housekeeper who bares a striking resemblance to “South Pacific” siren Mitzi Gaynor. When Eily drops the infant off on Father Bernard’s doorstep one morning before heading off to London to start a new life, the surprised priest takes the boy to be raised by foster mother Ma Braden (Ruth McCabe,) refusing for years to acknowledge him as his own.
Growing up in a bleak, loveless home, Patrick turns to his friends and fellow misfits — Charlie, Irwin and Laurence — for companionship and support. As a teenager, Patrick discovers he is not like other boys as he loves to wear glam makeup and design flashy clothes. Irrepressibly optimistic and with absolutely no desire to fit in, the flamboyant Patrick, now going by the name of Kitten, continually draws the ire of the narrow-minded folks in his provincial town. Wanting more out of life, he sets off for London to search for his long-lost mom -and a place where he can just be himself.
It isn’t long before Kitten makes the full transition to transvestite and falls in love with several men, all of whom betray her for one reason or another. As much as she scorns anything “serious, serious, serious,” Kitten is forced to deal with the reality of fighting in her homeland when a lover hides guns in her caravan, one friend is killed by a car bomb and another is murdered after falling out with some of his IRA comrades. Later, Kitten is even wrongfully accused of blowing up a London nightclub based on nothing but the fact that she is an Irish man dressed like a woman.
“It’s one of those roles of a lifetime,” the 29-year-old “Batman Begins” and “Red Eye” star told The Irish Echo in an interview Saturday before “Breakfast on Pluto” premiered as the Centerpiece of the New York Film Festival.
“What makes it very different is the fact that, normally, characters start off as A and they turn into Z by the end of the movie, while Kitten, although she changes and grows, she’s kind of relentlessly herself throughout the movie,” Murphy explained. “She’s a different thing and people are affected by her and people change around her rather than the character changing drastically.”
A big fan of McCabe’s book, Murphy said he did a screen test for Jordan about four years ago, but was then told the film adaptation had briefly been put on hold. The pair met again when Jordan produced the actor’s 2003 film, “Intermission.”
“So, we were hanging out during the making of that and I kept asking him about ‘Breakfast on Pluto,'” Murphy recalled. “Then [Alan Moloney], the producer of ‘Intermission,’ who also produced ‘Breakfast on Pluto,’ said, ‘If you guys do it, give me three weeks and I’ll get the money.’ And he got the money in three weeks. He’s a very good producer.”
The director of “The Crying Game” and “Michael Collins” said he never thought of another actor after Murphy did his screen test, but admits he did have trepidation about making another film about transvestites or terrorism, or both.
“Cillian is one of the best actors around anywhere,” the Sligo-born filmmaker noted. “I’d written this part and I’d tested Cillian and some other actors and the question in my mind was: ‘Can this be delivered? Can anybody around do this? Play this rural Irish boy who expresses his femininity and goes on this big journey?’ And Cillian gave this performance, which was great. It blew me away and then, because I was worried about making another film about political violence, I didn’t come to it for a long time. Cillian eventually came to me and said, ‘Look, are you going to make this before I’m too old? Please make it while I can still play it.'”
Asked how he knew he could pull off the extraordinary role, the handsome blue-eyed actor said, “I didn’t, really, and that’s the whole thing.
“That’s the appeal,” he emphasized. “I think that if you know you can do it, then there would be no challenge. There would be no draw.”
Although most people are talking about his spectacular physical transformation for the role (sort of the opposite of what Charlize Theron did for “Monster”) Murphy said it was understanding and depicting Kitten’s interior life, which ran the gamut of human emotions, that were the true trials for him as an actor.
“Finding the soul of the character was the real challenge,” he confided. “I didn’t want to make the character effeminate or affected. I wanted the character to be feminine. I didn’t want to do a campy, queeny thing.”
Jordan agreed they should show Kitten simply being herself, not trying to deceive anyone or even attract attention by donning women’s clothing.
“The first thing I said was: ‘I don’t want “La Cage Aux Folles.” I don’t want high camp going on here at all because it wasn’t about that,'” the 55-year-old filmmaker remarked. “It was really about the inner soul of the character because the character was somebody who was just who they were. … So, even if Cillian had been all muscled up and looked a bit more like Vin Diesel, the character probably would have been the same.”
Both Jordan and Murphy said they were pleased with McCabe’s decision to radically adapt his text for the film, giving Kitten the happy ending she deserves.
“It’s kind of a fairytale,” Murphy said of the film. “And at the end she kind of creates this prototype nuclear family with [her friend] Charlie and her baby…
“I think Neil wanted it to shift,” he added. “So that you care for the character so much, hopefully, you want it to work out right.”
Describing “Breakfast on Pluto” as a companion piece to “The Butcher Boy,” Murphy noted that both feature protagonists that are determined characters with their own realities.
“I think it’s not a conscious thing,” he observed, comparing how the characters of Francie and Kitten both seem to invent their own little worlds with different results. “I think it’s just the way they’re hard-wired. … Francie Brady was a dark, dark character where Kitten is a fundamentally good person. There’s not a bad bone in his body.”
Asked whether he thinks Kitten’s strength and resilience are a fa