Cillian Murphy (The Dark Knight Rises, The Wind That Shakes The Barley, 28 days Later) is Thomas Shelby in BBC Two’s Peaky Blinders

Q: What drew you to Peaky Blinders?
A: Well, I always try and follow the writing and I’ve been a fan of Steven Knight‘s work for quite a while and the quality just jumped off the page. It’s just very unusual and very compelling and the character Tom Shelby is kind of an enigma. I haven’t done television in many, many years and there’s kind of a golden age with television now and for actors to get to explore characters over the course of six hours is a real treat, especially when you have writing of that calibre.

Q: Tell us about your character and the world he lives in?
A: Tommy Shelby is the second oldest in the Shelby family. We meet him when he’s a year out of the services back from the first world war and he is a man on a mission. The family are a feared and respected family in that part of Birmingham but when we meet him the stakes have just been raised for a number of reasons and he decides that there’s a new circle of power and Tommy becomes the head of the family and raises the stakes. He starts to take control and wants to sort of manoeuvre the family towards more power and to give the family more leverage. It is a very tumultuous time with the fall out of the first world war when so many young men died and the effect that had on the soldiers who survived. I did a lot of reading, research and talking to people, they were deeply disillusioned to the point of being bitter by what happened in the great war. Many of them were hugely traumatised and obviously PTSD and stuff like that didn’t exist and they were just thrown back into civilian life and told to get on with it and that’s the sort of the situation my character finds himself in. He was sergeant major and he was decorated so he’s come back into this and has to try and fit those experiences into normal life. That element is very interesting, because you know, he’s a fighting man I guess. He’s come back from there with a massive distain for authority and godless. He’s seen the fragility of life and how it disappears and so Tommy thinks; right I’m here and I’m gonna do something with this life and this family; and so we see him being very driven but not quite sure what it is he’s driving towards in the first few episodes and it’s only as the show evolves we begin to see what plan he has. The family fall in and out of love with each other and there’s a lot of conflict and then resolution, as happens in all families. But ultimately they know they will stay together and ultimately Tommy does prove himself to be right in his instincts and his vision but it causes a lot of tension… which is wonderful for drama obviously.

Q: Tell us about Tommy’s relationship with Grace?
A: He meets this girl who works in the pub and she gets to him. You begin to see the chink and the man that we would have known from before the war. It’s a beautifully observed relationship because it happens very, very subtly and slowly , it’s sort of a gradual defrosting between the two of them. It becomes quite intense over the course of the series. He has that fierce drive and ambition, and capacity for violence but also you see the other side of the man and the beauty of it is that he starts in love with this girl.

Q: What did you find were the differences between working on movies and coming back to television?
A: The difference is minimal really in terms of production values and the quality of the crew and everybody working on it, the actors and the script . You have to move faster and work faster but I also enjoy that. When you’re confident in the material and hopefully confident in the character then you can just go at a pace.

Q: What was the hardest scene for you to film?
A: I’m not a tough guy at all so it was by far the toughest character I have ever portrayed, and him being so physical and the amount of respect and fear that this family has in this town means that we all had to look tough. You got to commit to the material and commit to the character and his choices. We did a lot of fighting, stunts, and so I’ve been to the gym more than I ever been in my whole life! Also learning to handle horses as I’ve never really done that before so I had go and spend weeks learning how to ride and how to look reasonably competent on a horse.