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Peaky Blinders' Cillian Murphy: 'There's a whole new world of pain for Tommy Shelby'

As a new series of Peaky Blinders kicks off on BBC2 (Thursday, 9pm), with ever more mayhem, murder and razor slashings using those deadly peaked caps, Cillian Murphy told What's On TV what to expect from the notorious Birmingham gangsters this time...

This second series of Peaky Blinders (opens in new tab) starts two years on... Where do we find your character Tommy?

"The world has expanded and so have Tommy's ambitions. Tommy wants to move out of his Birmingham stronghold and make his mark in London and the south. It's the classic gangster story of the desire to eventually make his business interests legitimate, but forever being pulled back down into the world of gangsters."

Are we going to see him and his family gang mixing it with those from high society?

"That's inevitably the arc that these characters take... they acquire wealth and with wealth comes status and power so inevitably they mix with other people who have wealth and status and power, but aren't necessarily gangsters."

Are there new rivals in this series?

"We have a couple of new nice antagonists in it. Tom Hardy plays London gangster Alfie Solomons, and Noah Taylor (opens in new tab) is an Italian crime boss called Darby Sabini. There's a whole new world of pain for Tommy to deal with. There are a lot of similarities between Tommy and his new enemies. They're both very clever, charismatic men who both want to expand their territories and that brings big conflict with it."

How's Tommy coping after Grace left Birmingham?

"Tommy's got a really soft centre but over the years and with what's happened to him in his life he's had to protect that. Grace managed to access that and it's all about whether he's going to let that side of him out again or not. Men always underestimate women, and the beauty of Peaky Blinders was you see this man demobbed from the army and he's emotionally disconnected, then you see him emotionally reawaken even though she was stabbing him in the back! It's a question of what he does with that this year."

What sort of person would Tommy be without his traumas?

"His Aunt Polly says in the first season that he wanted to work with horses and I think something like that, in that field... he's such an ambitious and clever character that if it wasn't for the criminal route he took it would be politics or business, but he'd still get to that goal. For him the criminal route seemed the most expedient. But once you get into the crim world it's very difficult to get out of it."

Tommy's always snappily dressed, despite the razor blade in the hat...

"Yeah. You set up a recognisable style in a show and then you can't really ditch it. It's part of what people really like. I was so horrified with the haircut last year, but you realise a lot of the guys you meet in the street are loving it. It's become fashionable!"

Were you surprised by the reception to Peaky Blinders when the first series was shown last year?

"It grew in the best way you want it to grow, which is by word of mouth, and apparently there's lots of social media stuff. But that to me is the best way for things to grow rather than it being shoved down your throat by advertising. And as a result it's got a great following. We'll see what happens in America as there's never been a long-form show about British gangsters."

What was it like working with Tom Hardy (opens in new tab) this time around?

"We get on really well. Everyone was very comfortable with each other and he's such a phenomenal actor and loves the show. He loved the character, and so did I."

And Tom's fianceé Charlotte Riley (opens in new tab) stars in this series too, as aristocrat May Carelton...

"Yeah she's wonderful. I've known her for a few years through Tom. Her character is a really nice counterpoint to Grace in the story as well."

And what's happening with Aunt Polly (Helen McCrory (opens in new tab)) this time?

"Polly's son reappears. It's an amazing storyline. It just broadens the whole story a bit more. Polly and Tommy have this amazing dynamic because she's definitely the matriarch. But she's not his mother and occasionally they're like a married couple and she's the one he trusts most out of all of them."

Peaky Blinders Series 2 begins on BBC2, Thursday October 2 at 9pm

Nicholas Cannon
Nicholas Cannon

I'm a huge fan of television so I really have found the perfect job, as I've been writing about TV shows, films and interviewing major television, film and sports stars for over 25 years. I'm currently TV Content Director on What's On TV, TV Times, TV and Satellite Week magazines plus I previously worked on Woman and Woman's Own in the 1990s. Outside of work I swim every morning, support Charlton Athletic football club and get nostalgic about TV shows Cagney & Lacey, I Claudius, Dallas and Tenko. I'm totally on top of everything good coming up too.