Cillian Strikes Gold at the Oscars

Comhghairdeas mór to Cillian Murphy becoming first Irish-born actor to win Best Actor at the Academy Awards

By Brian Bowe

Best Actor and National Treasure, Cillian Murphy

He did it! Ireland’s own Cillian Murphy claimed an Academy Award last month, triumphing for his excellent portrayal of the enigmatic J. Robert Oppenheimer in Christopher Nolan’s blockbuster biopic, Oppenheimer

This momentous win marked a historic milestone, making Murphy the first Irish actor to ever win an Oscar for a lead performance. Of course, Daniel Day-Lewis, an Irish citizen, has won before (three times, in fact), but come on, it’s not the same thing. Cillian’s win is huge! 

The Cork man said he was “overwhelmed” to have won, adding, “I’m a very proud Irishman standing here tonight.” He thanked Nolan and producer Emma Thomas for taking him on “the wildest, most exhilarating, most creatively satisfying journey.” Murphy also paid tribute to “every single crew and cast member, you carried me through,” concluding: “We made a film about the man who created the atomic bomb, and for better or for worse, we are all living in Oppenheimer’s world, so I’d like to dedicate this to the peacemakers everywhere. Go raibh míle maith agaibh.”

His historic feat marks only the fourth time an Irish individual has triumphed in an acting category, and will no doubt put him in high demand in the future. Though, the awards campaign wasn’t all clear sailing for Murphy, as many fans feared Paul Giamatti, whose fine but routine performance in Alexander Payne’s The Holdovers, might break Irish hearts. 

Best Director, Christopher Nolan

Thankfully, the Academy decided to honour Murphy’s superior, transformative performance. To play the role of J. Robert Oppenheimer, Murphy went through a radical physical transformation. Emily Blunt, who plays Murphy’s on-screen wife, told Extra: “He had such a monumental undertaking. And he could only eat, like, an almond every day.” 

Well, the strict diet paid off! Social media was ablaze with celebrations after his win. Tánaiste and fellow Cork man, Micheál Martin was one of the first notable figures to extend their congratulations and said Murphy gave an “outstanding” turn in a movie “that will stand the test of time . . . At Leeside in Cork, we’re delighted for him and for his wonderful family – the nation rejoices in a well-deserved Oscar award for Cillian Murphy.”

Oppenheimer co-star Emily Blunt (Image: Vanity Fair)

In a predictable turn of events, Oppenheimer, which has been hoovering up gongs throughout the awards season, dominated the Oscars ceremony, securing several prestigious awards, including Best Picture and, for Nolan, Best Director, beating out Martin Scorsese and Jonathan Glazer. A filmmaker known for his complex action films, like Inception, The Dark Knight and Dunkirk, many felt his Oscar was overdue. Another Oppen-homie, Robert Downey Jr won his first Oscar, after being nominated twice before for 1992’s Chaplin and Ben Stiller’s raucous comedy Tropic Thunder. “I’d like to thank my terrible childhood and the Academy in that order,” he said before later adding: “I needed this job more than it needed me.”

For better or worse, 2023 was dominated by Barbenheimer discourse, and while Oppenheimer claimed all the prizes on Oscars night, Greta Gerwig’s piece of pink pop feminism did manage to sneak out one statuette from Oppenheimer’s clasp, taking home the award for Best Original Song. Billie Eilish, who won her first Oscar back in 2022 for No Time to Die, now has two Oscars at just 22, insane! 

Best Supporting Actor, Robert Downey Jr

The American pop star delivered a heartfelt performance of her winning song, What Was I Made For? But, in all honesty, it was Ryan Gosling’s banger from Barbie, I’m Just Ken, which stole the headlines and clogged our Twitter feeds for days. The Academy threw everything at this one. It’s surely their most lavish production to date, with immaculate staging, hordes of dancers (65 dancers, to be precise), playful bouts of audience interaction and clever nods to Busby Berkley’s Dames and Monroe’s iconic performance of Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Oh, and a cameo from guitar legend Slash, as ya do!

Not as glitzy but equally moving was Da’Vine Joy Randolph’s emotional speech after winning Best Supporting Actress earlier in the night. Considering her track record along the awards circuit this year, Randolph’s win for The Holdovers was a no-brainer. Receiving, as is traditional for that category, the first award of the evening, Randolph was in tears even before her name was read out. “I wasn’t supposed to be doing this as a career,” she said. “For so long I’ve always wanted to be different. And now I realise I just needed to be myself. I thank you for seeing me.” 

Best Supporting Actress, Da’Vine Joy Randolph (Image: The Philadelphia Inquirer)

Despite the celebratory atmosphere throughout, the event was not without its share of social commentary. Pro-Palestine protesters disrupted traffic outside the venue, prompting a delay in the proceedings, while inside, celebrities wore red pins in support of a ceasefire in Gaza. Host Jimmy Kimmel addressed the ongoing negotiations between the union IATSE and the alliance representing studios, expressing solidarity with teamsters and below-the-line members. 

Some winners used their time on stage to address the ongoing conflict in Gaza, though only Jonathan Glazer, director of the Best International Feature winner The Zone of Interest, a haunting and challenging drama set in Auschwitz, made explicit reference to the violence in the Middle East. “Right now we stand here as men who refute their Jewishness and the Holocaust being hijacked by an occupation which has led to conflict for so many innocent people, whether the victims of October 7th in Israel or the ongoing attack in Gaza.”

Another powerful moment came from Ukrainian war correspondent and filmmaker Mstyslav Chernov, director of “20 Days in Mariupol“, a harrowing chronicle of Russia’s invasion of the Ukrainian city. His poignant words underscored the tragic reality of his people’s suffering. “I wish to be able to exchange this to Russia never attacking Ukraine, never occupying our cities,” Chernov continued. “I wish to give all the recognition to Russia not killing tens of thousands of my fellow Ukrainians. I wish for them to release all the hostages, all the soldiers who are protecting their lands, and all the civilians who are now in their jails.”

Best Actress, Emma Stone

Murphy wasn’t the only Irish success story. Yorgos Lanthimos’ offbeat period comedy Poor Things, produced by Andrew Lowe and Ed Guiney of Element Pictures in Dublin, garnered significant attention, taking home four of its 11 nominations, including a second Best Actress Oscar for its lead Emma Stone. The actress looked totally stunned as her name was being read out. Many, including me, had bet on Lily Gladstone winning for her stunning but subtle performance in Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon. Stone previously won for La La Land in 2017. “It’s not about me, it’s about a team that came together to make something greater than the sum of its parts,” she said during an emotional speech. 

After a good year for movies and a tough year for the industry – what with the strikes and all – Hollywood’s biggest night of the year was a reminder of how cinema can both entertain and challenge audiences. The event was a breath of fresh air, recognising international films – Anatomy of a Fall, Past Lives, and Zone of Interest – which in the past would have likely been ignored. Of course, there’s more work to be done, many of this year’s films and performances didn’t even get nominated, most notably Todd Hayne’s May December and Kelly Reichardt’s Showing Up, but this year’s Academy Awards was a good start towards a better future.