Cillian Murphy remembers ‘Peaky Blinders’ co-star Helen McCrory in new tribute

"Her kindness is what I miss the most"

Cillian Murphy has penned a new tribute to Helen McCrory, his Peaky Blinders co-star who died earlier this year.

McCrory, who starred as Polly Gray in the hit BBC series, passed away in April following a secret battle with cancer.

Following the news of her death, tributes were paid by her co-stars and poured in from across the entertainment industry. Among them was Peaky Blinders actor Murphy who said he was “broken-hearted to lose such a dear friend,” in a statement at the time.

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Murphy has now penned a larger tribute to McCrory as part of The Observer‘s obituaries of 2021 series, where those from the entertainment world who have died this year receive tributes from their co-stars, collaborators and friends.

Recalling meeting McCrory for the first time during an audition for a play at the Donmar Warehouse in London, Murphy said: “I was just starting out, really nervous, and I think she picked up on that. We went outside at one point to smoke a rollie and she was really kind and supportive.”

“Helen had this genuine compassion. It was part of her DNA,” he wrote. “She wasn’t an actor who turned up, did the gig and went home. All the way through Peaky Blinders, she would chat to members of the crew as well as the actors. She knew everyone’s name.”

He continued: “On Peaky Blinders, I think the key relationship was always between my character, Tommy, and her character, Polly. It was complex. She was his aunt, but sometimes his mother and sometimes his sister. At times, they were almost a husband and wife team.”

“Helen was my closest pal on the set and I think I can say that the same was the case for her.”

Helen McCrory
Helen McCrory as Polly Gray in ‘Peaky Blinders’ series 5. CREDIT: BBC

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Speaking on McCrory’s talent as an actor, Murphy said he “sensed from the start that she was operating on a different level”, adding that she “elevated every scene we were given on the page”.

Murphy also touched upon McCrory’s illness. “Towards the end, Helen was incredibly private about her illness,” he explained. “She did not tell everyone, so most people on the set were unaware, even on series five, when she was really ill and having treatment. Never ever would she ask for sympathy. She just wasn’t that kind of person. I spoke to her close to the end and she was still making jokes. The way she handled it was just so absolutely brave and dignified.”

He concluded: “As an actor, Helen was all about truth, dedication, commitment, ambition, empathy. When I think of her best performances, it’s her power and her presence that come to mind most of all. As a person, you just run out of superlatives. I guess for me her kindness is what I miss the most. I think about her a lot. I still can’t believe she’s not here.”

Meanwhile, next on the slate for Cillian Murphy is Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer, which will see him take on the role of J. Robert Oppenheimer. The film is set to arrive July 21, 2023.

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