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Cillian Murphy brings ‘Wind That Shakes the Barley’ to Toronto fest

TORONTO (CP) _ When Cillian Murphy signed on to star in "The Wind that Shakes the Barley," he literally had no clue how it would turn out.

"I had never read a script before we started shooting," the Irish actor said in an interview just hours before the movie had its North American premiere this week at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Such is the modus operandi of acclaimed British director Ken Loach, known for his gritty portrayals of working-class life in films like "Bread and Roses" and "Ladybird, Ladybird."

In "The Wind That Shakes the Barley," Loach casts his unrelenting lens on Ireland’s blood-drenched battle for independence in the early 1920s.

Shot chronologically, the actors were mostly in the dark about what was in store for their characters, often receiving only a few pages of script each day.

Murphy went into the film knowing only that he would play one of two brothers.

"The way Ken shoots his films is extraordinary," said the actor, his icy blue eyes lighting up.

"I mean, it’s not like make-believe, it’s like real life. It’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. In my opinion every film should be shot like this."

"It’s completely honest. There’s no intellectualization of your part …. It feels like you’re watching real people."

The film is already a sensation, winning the prestigious Palme d’or at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year and earning huge box-office returns in Ireland. It has also incited controversy, with some critics dubbing it "anti-British." But Murphy, who lives in London, dismisses that suggestion.

"It’s anti the policies of the British administration of that time … Obviously Britain doesn’t want to look at this period in history."

"It’s not meant to be inflammatory it’s just meant to get people thinking and talking."

Murphy, whose previous screen credits include "Red Eye," "Cold Mountain" and "Batman Begins," is the emotional core of the film as Damien, a young doctor who gives up a promising job at a London hospital to fight for independence.

"The Wind That Shakes the Barley" was also a personal journey for the actor, who grew up in County Cork, where the film is set. He lost a distant cousin at the hands of the Black and Tan squads sent in from Britain during the conflict.

"It’s only two generations ago that this story takes place in a small little county. Almost everyone has a story about this struggle," he said.

"It was a civil war and divided people very viciously. And it’s not that long ago."

Loach, who could not attend the Toronto fest, was just the man to bring the past into focus, added Murphy.

"I think any actor in the world worth their salt would want to work with Ken Loach," said the actor. "He’s a master."