Cillian Murphy on 'Peaky Blinders' Season 5 and the Rise of Fascism

Illustration by Britt Spencer

He's unafraid of death," says Peaky Blinders star Cillian Murphy about Tommy Shelby, the tormented, enigmatic leader of the fictional Shelby crime family. The BAFTA-winning crime saga, which first debuted in 2013, is loosely based off the real Peaky Blinders, a gang who may have sewed razor blades in the peaks of their caps in Birmingham, England, during the early 1900s.

Murphy has appeared in Hollywood blockbusters like Inception, 28 Days Later and the Dark Knight series, but it's playing mob boss Shelby that Murphy considers a real "gift."

Murphy reveals that Season 5 will be more politically charged, showing the rise of fascism in England during the reign of Sir Oswald Mosely (Sam Claflin), the leader of the violent, anti-Semitic British Union of Fascists. Without sharing his own views on politics, Murphy lauds show creator Steven Knight's masterful way of addressing today's climate. "Steven Knight is very smartly commenting on what is happening in the world politically, but doing it through the prism of history, which is a much smarter, a much more elegant way of dealing with it."

Here, Murphy dishes on what's coming up in Season 5 and how it ties in to the rise of fascism:

What is it like to play a character like Tommy Shelby?

It's very satisfying yet quite exhausting. He's a relentless, beautifully written character with all these complexities and contradictions. I wouldn't play any character if I thought it was a walk in the park. I don't necessarily identify with any facet of his personality—but that represents the challenge. To have played him for five seasons is a real gift.

Season 5 is going to be more politically charged, right?

The series deals a lot with the rise of fascism in Britain and with Oswald Mosely. His speeches are readily available online. You can look them up, but he uses phrases like "Make Britain Great Again" and "false news." It's kind of like a playbook for populism.

Tommy struggles with PTSD after WWI. What's his mental state like?

He's very fragile. This season there's no conventional kind of threat. He is dealing with an ideology. The other biggest threat is himself. A lot of things come home to roost; stuff that you've been sweeping under the carpet and not dealing with begins to surface. In Tommy's case, all of that is magnified 1 million times.

What keeps Tommy going?

He witnessed such horror, it made him realize that you gotta take the world by the collar and just kind of shake it up. I don't think he expects [to live]. Every day for him is just like a bonus.