Cillian Murphy and Rodrigo Cortés Go Paranormal

Filmmaker Rodrigo Cortés caused a feeding frenzy among buyers when his last film, BURIED, premiered at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. The film starred Ryan Reynolds as an Iraq-based American truck driver who’s attacked, and finds himself buried alive in a coffin with only a lighter, flask, flashlight, knife, glowsticks, pencil and a mobile phone. His captor torments him via cell phone, making him perform a series of sadistic funny games in order to win his freedom.

RED LIGHTS is Cortés’ latest exploration of how far people are willing to go to satisfy their curiosity. Tom Buckley, played by Cillian Murphy, is the assistant to psychologist Margaret Matheson (Sigourney Weaver), who specializes in debunking paranormal phenomena. When the legendary blind psychic Simon Silver, played by Robert De Niro, reemerges after thirty years in hiding, it threatens to challenge the two psychologist’s theories. The film, which also stars Elizabeth Olsen, Toby Jones, and Joely Richardson, made its premiere at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival.

Sundance Channel sat down with star Cillian Murphy and director Rodrigo Cortés to chat about their creepy film, their own experiences with the paranormal, and DARK KNIGHT RISES hysteria.

How did you two hook up for RED LIGHTS?
Cillian Murphy: I saw BURIED and then I saw THE CONTESTANT, Rodrigo’s first movie, and then I read the script, and I fucking desperately wanted to do it based on his two movies and the script. That was me begging to be in the film!

Rodrigo Cortés: In my case, I wanted a good writer but I couldn’t pay for it, and I wanted a good director and I couldn’t pay for it. [Laughs] We have this journey where we start with a boy scout with an innocent gaze and this disturbing man. Cillian has two faces—he can be so innocent, and so disturbing. He can go from a romantic comedy to a horror film with the turn of his eyes.

Cillian, your character is almost like the polar opposite of Dr. Jonathan Crane from BATMAN BEGINS.
Cillian: I never thought of that! It’s like Rodrigo says, to get to go on a journey with a character and go from point A to point Z is every actor’s dream.

Rodrigo, between BURIED and RED LIGHTS, you seem to really love psychologically tormenting your leading men.
Rodrigo: There’s probably something sick inside me, like revenge or something. I like movies that are not meant to only be seen, but also experienced. In order to get that, you need a dramatic journey.

Cillian, did Rodrigo have ways to unhinge you? I know Polanski loves to place the camera right up against his actor’s faces to manufacture a claustrophobic feel.
Cillian: No, he didn’t! He pushes you, but I love that, and sometimes if you get pushed and you want to be, you can unlock something.

Do you guys believe there are paranormal forces out there?
Rodrigo: I guess I’m a skeptic. I doubt everything, and at the same time, I’m open to everything. During my research, I found that ninety-nine percent of the paranormal cases I studied had a natural origin, were a result of misperception, or were fakes. But there’s still that one percent, so you never know.

Cillian: I’ve had weird stuff happen but I’d definitely be on the skeptic side as well. What I’m fascinated by is how rational, intelligent people will put logic aside and believe what they want to believe in. It’s big, big money—these guys who claim to heal people—and they manipulate and use people. It’s strange that you can convince yourself to believe in that because you’re emotionally broken.

Do you have a memory of something that freaked you out?
Cillian: I believe that if you love or care about something, shit can happen that you can’t really explain.

Rodrigo: I remember this one day shooting, a bird crashed on my window [like in the film], and that very same day, a pigeon crashed on Cillian’s hotel window.

Cillian: It’s just a coincidence, but I lot of people run with it.

Cillian, you have very distinctive eyes. And Christopher Nolan has even said that he invented new close-ups to highlight this feature of yours.
Rodrigo: His eyes are so powerful you don’t need to do much. They have their own language. Eighty percent of our expression is in the eyes, and when you have these powerful eyes that can be so beautiful and yet so disturbing, you play with them in really weird ways.

Cillian: I just use them for lookin’ through, you know? [Laughs]

What was it like working with Robert De Niro? The film is slowly building up to an inevitable showdown between you and De Niro, this acting legend.
Rodrigo: He’s a few words guy, so if he starts a sentence and you finish it, he doesn’t feel the need to talk. He doesn’t have any anxiety about getting something, just about being, and then magic happens, and you steal it and cut it.

Cillian: Even before I ever wanted to be an actor, I watched his movies and they stayed with me. And it’s funny, the first scene we shot with him was the scene where I call on him in his apartment or whatever the fuck it is, and I have to be nervous and terrified, so there was no acting required! But just watching him work was a lesson. It’s very precise and small, and then you see this huge energy from him and it’s wonderful.

Is your project with Al Pacino, DALI & I: THE SURREAL STORY, going to happen?
Cillian: Oh, right! I don’t know. That’s kind of up to Al. It’s a good script!

And I’m hearing of a cameo in DARK KNIGHT RISES?
Cillian: Oh! I can’t… I don’t want to say anything about that.

The midnight IMAX screening opening day already sold out in New York City, and tickets are going for hundreds on Ebay.
Cillian: Shut up! Fucking hell. That’s crazy!

And Rodrigo, what’s next with you?
Rodrigo: Sleeping! I haven’t really stopped for the last several years since BURIED. First, I should sleep, then I’ll figure out the right step to take.

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