Cillian Murphy vs. Nils Frahm

One Man, One Stage

Jan 17, 2014 Photography by Wendy Redfern (Cillian Murphy photo) Issue #48 - November/December 2013 - HAIM
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Irish-born, London-based actor Cillian Murphy has made a big-budget name for himself with roles in Inception, Tron: Legacy, and the Dark Knight Batman trilogy. Despite an ongoing flirtation with Hollywood, Murphy has also carved out a dual niche for himself, appearing in more independent films such as 28 Days Later (his breakout role), Breakfast on Pluto, and Sunshine, and performing in Enda Walsh's one-man play, Misterman. Coming up are roles in Cry/Fly, Ron Howard's In the Heart of the Sea, and opposite Johnny Depp and Morgan Freeman in Transcendence. And he also currently stars in the BBC TV drama Peaky Blinders. But for all his show business experience, he admits that the thought of speaking with Berlin-based pianist Nils Frahm makes him a bit starstruck.

A premier artist on the nu-classical label Erased Tapes, Frahm has etched out a career filled with intimate crystalline compositions that invite the listener to sit beside him in his bedroom studio. Although he's released nine albums, his newest, Spaces, is the first to truly capture Frahm in a concert settingimprovisatory, heartfelt, and often quite funny. Despite not owning a television and rarely finding time in his busy touring schedule to see films, Frahm found an immediate kinship with Murphy, bonding over shared performance experience, creative curiosity, and a passion for art that extends far past technical perfection.

Cillian Murphy: I was thinking that we could start a little bit by talking about Berlin. Has living there had an influence on your music?

Nils Frahm: Comparing it to New York or L.A., or London, it still has a socialist feel. People don't elbow their way through the pack, but are more interested in working together. They're collaborating, and it's not so much about meeting somebody who could help to meet this or that star. When I was in New York, I felt like everybody wanted to meet Lou Reed. If you're not the link to Lou Reed, you're not interesting to talk to.

Cillian: I always enjoyed the few times that I've been able to collaborate. Not for any social gain or financial gain. Just because you like somebody's work and they like yours.

Nils: Do you have time to work on left-field film projects?

Cillian: Occasionally I can do little things here and there. I did this play last year that was a one-man show. We toured it around Ireland and London and New York. I wanted to tell you about it because I wanted to talk about the intensity of solo performance and what it means to you.

Nils: You probably know what it's about, being alone backstage and knowing you have to get onstage in three minutes, just yourself.

Cillian: Do you have any rituals?

Nils: I always try to find a piece to play in the beginning that brings me to that spot where I need to be for a performance. The music always sucks me into this amazing place where I feel totally relaxed and comfortable. But I totally doubt every time that I play that I will get there again. It's this weird anxiety.

Cillian: I know that anxiety so well. I think it's probably what keeps us doing it. If you ever felt completely confident every night you probably wouldn't do it.

Nils: It probably also wouldn't be wonderful then. It is funny, and it's really hard on yourself. For me, I'm a whole football team in that moment. You need to play all these different characters. When you have a band you can rely on your buddies. If it sucks, they can counteract it. But if you're alone, whatever happens is up to you.

Cillian: Was Spaces recorded over different concerts and different cities? Or was it just in one evening?

Nils: This was basically the selection of almost 30 recordings that I did in the last two years. After a couple of shows of recording, I totally forgot that we were rolling all the time. Then I listened to all the material. Listening to 30 shows of your own sucks. Maybe it's a little narcissistic to sample the album from my favorite moments, but in the end, this was the only way that I could do it.

Cillian: The album that I listened to first was Screws, which had a profound effect on me. This recordand I think everybody knows the storyyou broke your thumb and then you recorded with nine fingers. I wanted to ask you about that, in terms of emotion in your music. Is that something you try to achieve, that your music will elicit certain responses?

Nils: For me, it's not so much about the notes that I'm playing, but how I play them. That's what I tried on Screws, to fuck whatever the composition is itself. It should all be about the touch. I think that's maybe what you felt. And it's really good to hear.

Cillian: What I love is the difference between Screws and your electronic work. I find that fascinating and amazing that you can move between the two.

Nils: It's like the curiosity of a kid in a candy store.

Cillian: At the moment are you working on the piano or working electronically?

Nils: I got curious about electronics again after Screws and Spaces. I don't know how it is for you, when you work so long on a movie and then you watch it yourself. Can you enjoy it?

Cillian: The thing about films is, I finish work on it, and then a year and a half later you see it. You have this new relationship with it. It's the director who has lived with it for the last three years or whatever of their lives. I'll watch it once, and then I won't return. I think it's necessary to keep moving forward. I've always said that nostalgia is death, really for anyone creative. That's the thing about being an actor. You pass it over and you move on. I've learned that as I've gotten older. I wanted to ask you, have you scored any films?

Nils: If a director would knock on my door and give me a reason why he wants to work with me, then I would be up for it. But I think I wouldn't really try to produce Hollywood teenage movies just for the budget.

Cillian: [Laughs] I hope that it does happen, and the right director comes knocking, because I think the possibility is ripe.

Nils: When will you direct your first movie?

Cillian: Well,  I just directed a little music video, which is my first move in that direction. It was this band from Manchester called MONEY. I think I'd be cautious like you. I'd want to wait until the right story came along. I think that stories find you. Then I'll call you and ask you to do it. Do you ever practice? Or do you just play for pleasure?

Nils: Well, I have times where I practice more, and times where I play more. The only thing I try to watch carefully is that I never lose the love for the instrument. That's also why I decided against a professional piano career when I was younger. When my parents asked if I wanted to study piano, I said, "Not really," because the piano is my personal friend, like my dog or my cat. It's just there to make my life better. If I could connect all ambitions in the world and all career ideas on the piano itself, then I might lose that friend. Now it's a weird situation. My living is being a musician and playing piano.

Cillian: I identify a lot with what you're saying. There has to be a joy in it, and there always has to be a sense of fun. Everyone wants to push themselves. But for me, I can never do it from a dark place.

Nils: I'm actually quite happy where I am technically. I'm not the fastest, I can't jump the highest. But in the end, what I care about in art and music is the intention of the art.

 

 

[This article first appeared in Under the Radar's November/December 2013 issue.]



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Kathleen
January 29th 2014
2:09pm

Well done Cillian

sarah
January 29th 2014
3:31pm

that’s so magical

Marck doriyos
February 25th 2014
7:59am

thats so magical , tankhs