Jason Statham, no matter the role, looks like a badass. He’s got a gruff demeanor and a face that says, “Yeah, I believably look like a guy who would snap jumper cables to my tongue and turn on a car battery.” Meanwhile, Cillian Murphy has been both an emaciated survivor of the zombie apocalypse in “28 Days Later” and a waif-ish transgender woman named Kitten in “Breakfast on Pluto.” But the thing about Tommy Shelby is that he isn’t a wall of brute force — he’s a mastermind who manipulates his surroundings and capitalizes on people’s trust. At least, that’s how he came to be with Murphy in the role. Had Statham gotten the job, the character would have been completely different.
In the Esquire interview, Knight said that the text from Murphy inspired his change of heart. “[That] is absolutely the thing, because he can transform himself,” he said. And that’s one of Murphy’s greatest strengths as an actor. Yes, he’s been these characters who don’t appear physically imposing, but he’s also been an absolute menace in films like “Red Eye” and even “Batman Begins.” This isn’t to say that Statham couldn’t have made a good Tommy Shelby, but he would have been a completely different Tommy Shelby than the one we got.
And hey, not playing Tommy Shelby opened Statham up to join the “Fast and Furious” franchise. Everybody wins!