“I ain't shaving my beard off. To shave my beard off would be to cut my f*cking nuts off. You know what I mean? Without them, I am no longer… I am now a lie. Why would I do that?”
So said Tom Hardy in a recent interview, when asked if he would remove his face fuzz for a photoshoot. So it’s hardly surprising to see that the actor is hirsute in the second series of BBC crime drama Peaky Blinders. Clearly, even if Hoxton beards weren't popular in post-First World War Birmingham, getting Hardy to shave simply wasn’t an option.
The Dark Knight Rises star has some massive projects next year, including Mad Max and his Kray Twins biopic (in which he plays both Ronnie and Reggie), but before that – as these exclusive shots show – there’s his anticipated stint in Peaky Blinders.
Hardy is rumoured to be playing a vicious new antagonist in the show, which tracks the blood-spattered antics of the eponymous Midlands gang (so named for sewing razor blades into their caps) in the early 20th century. Cillian Murphy returns as gang boss Tommy, who’s trying to expand his empire, while other actors include Game Of Thrones’ Noah Taylor and Hardy’s real-life wife, Charlotte Riley.
Creator Steven Knight – who directed Hardy in Locke – says this series will be “more dangerous… The gang are entering areas of even greater jeopardy”. Which is presumably down to nudging some Gillette products in the way of Hardy.
Cillian Murphy on the return of Peaky Blinders
Cillian Murphy is in the fledgling throes of an identity crisis. For an actor by trade, it’s somewhat fascinating to see the striking Irishman visibly unsettled. ‘I don’t know when it happened, but it happened quickly,’ he explains, slowly delivering his quiet revelation.
Returning this month with a brand new series of gritty BBC period epic, Peaky Blinders, Cillian had previously relied on that cherubic pout and mystifying baby blues to win roles of a youthful vivacity and prowess. Skirting 40, however, a change is imminent.
‘As you go over 35, you’re much closer to 40. It’s a magnetic pull. I’m 38 now and I try not to think about it, but it’s harder to ignore when you’re put forward for the “dad roles”. Recently I did a movie where I play a dad for the first time. It was different. You’re suddenly perceived in a different light.’
He pauses, chuckling at his intensity of his words. ‘But sure, I am a dad, so I don’t know why I’m ultimately that surprised. I’ve plenty of experience off-screen…’
Since his breakout in Danny Boyle’s zombie classic 28 Days Later, Cillian has snagged a string of starring roles from Ken Loach’s The Wind That Shakes the Barley and Wes Craven’s airborne thriller Red Eye, and cultivated an advantageous working bond with Christopher Nolan, lending to central parts in Inception and the Dark Knight trilogy.
However, for a man who abhors the idea of ‘celebrity’ with his entire being, soaring Tinseltown accomplishment holds little importance in contrast to his low-key family life in QueensPark. Settled in the leafy suburb after the birth of their first son, Cillian and wife, artist Yvonne McGuinness, eschew the glare of the spotlight for a chilled existence filled with farmer’s markets, village strolls and footy kickabouts with Malachy, eight, and Aran, seven.
‘There’s a lovely pace to [QueensPark],’ he says, ‘it’s bubble-like for want of a better expression and I mean that in a positive sense.’ Eagle-eyed fans frequently spot Cillian sitting quietly under the radar outside Jack’s Café and popping in for a drink at The Salusbury. Best place to catch the actor, however, is in QueensPark with his boys. ‘It’s a fantastic lung for the area, I think we’d all be lost without the park. And it’s great to step out there with the boys, have a play around with the ball. Get some fresh air. I grew up in quite a green city [Cork] so it’s important for me and them that we have that availability.’
Cillian will soon return to our screen for a follow-up season of Peaky Blinders, BBC’s award-winning saga centring on the gangland battles of post-WWI Birmingham. Created by Locke and Hummingbird scribe, Steven Knight, the actor reprises his performance as hardened gang lord Tommy Shelby, who’s now eager to leave behind the shackles of his organised background.
‘The Shelby family expands,’ he explains, ‘but Tommy has his sights set on bigger goals. But it’s the classic thing of the gangster family dragging you back in again.’
With a returning cast including Helen McCrory and Annabelle Wallis, Peaky Blinders will also welcome new addition, Murphy’s good friend and Inception co-star Tom Hardy. ‘We’ve always got on so well, so it was the pleasure of coming back to a series that you already had so much love for, but to then welcome old friends from previous jobs… you can’t top that.
‘I really can’t say much except the acting in this series is unlike anything I’ve ever witnessed before,’ he says, giving nothing away. ‘Steve Knight wrote six astonishing episodes that are all as brilliant as the other.’