Combustible Celluloid Interview - Cillian Murphy & Rodrigo Cortés
Combustible Celluloid

Interview: Cillian Murphy & Rodrigo Cortés

Unexplained 'Lights'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

June 19, 2012—While working on his new horror-mystery Red Lights, which opens this week in Bay Area theaters, the Spanish-born filmmaker Rodrigo Cortés (Buried) walked a fine line between the real and the unexplained.

In the movie, Tom Buckley (Cillian Murphy), who works with experienced paranormal investigator Dr. Margaret Matheson (Sigourney Weaver), takes it upon himself to look into a famous, reclusive psychic, Simon Silver (Robert De Niro).

Cortés, who visited San Francisco with actor Murphy to discuss the film, says he researched this topic for a year and a half, studying both the "skeptics and the believers."

"Both behave in a very similar way," he says. "No matter what they claim to do, they only accept what confirms their previous positions, and they reject everything else."

The filmmaker says that, of all the psychic phenomena he read about, over 90% was fake, and that 1% resisted explanation. He explains that he does not believe in the supernatural, because he feels that nature cannot be transcended.

"But if you ask me if I believe in the paranormal, then absolutely. I would consider that phenomena in search of an explanation," he says. "I'm only interested in trying to understand."

Murphy, the blue-eyed Irish actor perhaps best known for his role as the Scarecrow in Batman Begins, was fascinated by his character: a skeptic that is nevertheless interested in magic tricks.

"He's a contradiction, as all great characters are," he says. "We talk about the way magicians operate and the classics of misdirection, and I think that this film does that."

Murphy actually performs several classic stage tricks in the movie. "They're not too fancy," he says. "I learned them off YouTube. There are all these channels with all these 11 year-old kids teaching you how to do it."

Another trick Cortés pulled off is making his $15 million movie look like a $50 million movie with three big stars.

"In my experience, an actor is willing to jump from the 18th floor. He just wants to know that there's a net below," Cortés says. "So you only make things that you truly believe in."

Murphy agrees, saying that he didn't need any concrete definitions to do his job. "We discussed the ending, but never in literal terms. You should have your own take on what it means."

Cortés adds, "As a storyteller, you don't want to say 1+1 is 2. You just want to say 1+1. The audience knows how to count."

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