“This was a cassette that we had in the car when we were kids,” says Cillian, the eldest of four children. “We would be all squished in the back and would be going on camping trips to France or Ireland or wherever we'd be going.”
“We had this album, I know every single lyric from every single song, and I don't think I knew how good the album was at the time.”
“I remember one particular trip - we went to France on the ferry. I remember we had a Nissan Bluebird and I remember it was my mom and dad in the front, and then me and my brother and my sister in the back, and my little sister in the baby seat and also my grandmother. I have no idea...”
“That's too many for one car,” interjects a laughing Lauren.
“It's not possible or legal now, but we did it,” says a nodding Cillian.
The track is The Boy in the Bubble by Paul Simon from the Graceland album.
“They met in West Kerry at a session, a traditional Irish music session, and that became a kind of constant for us,” says Cillian.
“They're both teachers... They were all teachers, almost exclusively on my mother's side and then farmers on my dad's side.“
“We'd be going to sessions in pubs. You know, the classic Irish childhood – falling asleep under the table with packet of crisps...”
“I thought I should play some traditional Irish music [on Desert Island Discs] because it was so much part of my childhood. I should say that I rejected it all when I was a teenager and wouldn't listen to it. But now I'm starting to really appreciate it again. And this particular track my dad found this on vinyl in some second-hand shop recently and gave it to me. I put it on the turntable and it just sounds absolutely beautiful.”
The track is The Wandering Minstrel by piper Séamus Ennis.
“I enjoyed primary school more than secondary school. You know, I was a bit of a messer,” says Cillian. “Nothing malicious, but I'd say I was a bit of a pain in the arse to teach. It was probably difficult for my parents [being teachers] knowing that I was that kid in the class.”
“It was quite an academic school and there wasn't that much scope for the arts there and it was quite a sporty school and it wasn't really my thing, but luckily I had a really good English teacher, Billy Wall, who's a poet and novelist and he very much encouraged me.”
In an interview with The Irish Examiner in 2021 the poet William Wall, Cork’s first ever Poet Laureate said of Cillian: “He did a school play. I could see he was a natural. It just jumped out at you that this guy can act. He didn't need training of any kind. And he's a lovely person as well who despite his fame has retained his affection for Ireland and Cork."
Cillian says: “It's always good to have one good teacher in your corner because I know coming from a long line of teachers how important one good teacher is, they can make a big difference and I think they're undervalued as a profession, but they can really set you on the right course.”
Cillian knew from the start that portraying the theoretical physicist J Robert Oppenheimer would involve revealing his character’s thoughts through the smallest movements and gestures.
“I think that's always been the sort of acting that's intrigued me - when you can see the character thinking, seeing the face as a landscape. And I knew that Chris [Nolan] was going to do that on this piece.”
“I knew the character was so much in his head that it had to be an interior kind of performance and a small performance. I also knew in the back of my mind that he was shooting this mainly on IMAX camera [a very high-resolution format] so that it would be shown on an 80 foot screen so that there wasn't that much demonstrating you needed to do physically.”
“It would be more how you could transmit the thought process through the face and the eyes and all that. But I knew that it wouldn't be an impression - that's not where my strengths lie.”
“And then I guess you bring an element of yourself to it and then you put it all in the mix and it becomes Chris's version and my version of Oppenheimer.”
During his teenage years, Cillian was a vocalist and guitarist in a band called Sons of Mr Green Genes, which also featured his brother, and for a while it looked like music would become his career: “That was what I really wanted to do. That was it. There was no other question of anything that I wanted to do and for a while it looked like that would work out.”
The band were offered a five album deal by a London record label, but Cillian’s youthful musical ambitions were quickly curtailed: “My parents and some of the other parents just refused to allow it to happen - and they were right! I wouldn't my allow my kid, I think, at that age to sign his soul away to a corporation or a version of that.”
While turning down a record deal might seem like a huge blow for an aspiring artist, Cillian says he quickly came to terms with it: “I should say I was heartbroken, but I think I took it on the chin and just moved on.”