As hard as it is to believe, there was a brief window in history when Bruce Wayne / The Dark Knight wasn’t the coveted movie role it is in present day (nor did it have the same allure post-Michael Keaton in Tim Burton’s 1989 adaptation). In 2003, six years after the campy disaster that was Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin – starring George Clooney, Chris O’Donnell, Alicia Silverstone, and Batnipples – the franchise found itself in an odd limbo. Fortunately, visionary director Christopher Nolan was up for the challenge of a hard reboot in Batman Begins… with Peaky Blinders star Cillian Murphy once in serious consideration to don iconic the cape + cowl.
After beating out high-profile candidates such as Jake Gyllenhaal, Josh Hartnett, Joshua Jackson, David Boreanaz, and even future award-winning Joker actor Heath Ledger during the extensive audition process, the Irish thespian – who had just completed 28 Days Later – was a finalist alongside Band of Brothers talent Eion Bailey and, of course, Christian Bale.
All three had made it to the screen test stage, running lines opposite future Lois Lane actress Amy Adams as Rachel Dawes. Adams herself was later replaced by Katie Holmes during actual production; and incidentally, Holmes was later replaced by Maggie Gyllenhaal (sister of Jake) in The Dark Knight. All roads lead to DC, apparently…
“I don’t believe I was close to landing that role,” Murphy tells The Hollywood Reporter.
“The only actor who was right for that part at that time, in my estimation, was Christian Bale, and he absolutely smashed it. So, for me, it was just an experience, and then it turned into something else.”
“It turned into that character – Scarecrow – and it turned into a working relationship with [Christopher Nolan]. So I think back very, very fondly on that time, but I never, ever, ever considered myself Bruce Wayne material.”
Muphy’s instincts were right on the money. Christian Bale would go on to redefine the landscape of big screen superhero portrayals during his tenure, bringing a grounded realism to the Christopher Nolan DC universe. And in addition to appearing as Dr Jonathan Crane / Scarecrow in every instalment of Nolan’s trilogy – Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises – Cillian Murphy would eventually reunite with the high-concept director as Robert Fischer in Inception, then as the shell-shocked Shivering Soldier in Dunkirk.
“Every time I see Chris or every time we talk about doing something, we have a laugh about whether or not I’m going to be wearing a bag over my head at some point in the story,” adds Murphy.
“So it is a gag that has developed. I don’t know why he insists on doing that [Laughs]. But yeah, there was nothing on my head in Dunkirk.”
Not too shabby, all things considered. Especially given the fact Cillian Murphy might one day take on another legendary mantle in cinema – a mantle which comes with a three-digit codename that’s up for grabs immediately after the conclusion of Daniel Craig’s run in No Time To Die.
Check out the brief screen test footage of Cillian Murphy as Bruce Wayne / Batman below.