Biography, Part 3:
An Unexpected Career (1997–1999)
Over the next three years, Cillian learned the craft of acting onstage and won his first film roles. "I was going to go back to playing in a band; I was just acting as a laugh. But it didn't transpire like that. I don't think I realised it was a career until recently. But ... I never got a kick out of anything as much as I get out of acting when it's going well. You build up a real hunger for it."
As The Grim Reaper, Jr. in At Death's Door
During this period, Disco Pigs enjoyed extended tours in Edinburgh and throughout England, as well as performances in Toronto and Copenhagen. Cillian had mixed feelings about this change. "I remember doing Disco Pigs in its first incarnation and turning and getting sweat all over the front row. It was so visceral and dirty and sweaty. Then, when you start playing to bigger auditoriums, it's not as sexy."
Despite the busy Corcadorca schedule, Cillian found time to appear as Claudio in the Bickerstaffe's production of Much Ado About Nothing at the 1998 Kilkenny Arts Festival. Although the production was critically acclaimed, Cillian does not have fond memories of the "love interest" role (he refers to him as "the most boring character in the whole play") and has spoken of wanting to revisit the part.
During breaks between productions, Cillian took his first steps away from the live stage with roles in the short films, Quando, Eviction, and At Death's Door, as well as a small role in the Irish feature film Sweety Barrett and a walk-on part in the BBC television series, The Ambassador (in which his face is not visible).
As Davin McDerby in Sunburn
Cillian's film breakthrough came in 1998 when he was cast as one of three leads in the Nelson Hume film Sunburn. His character, Davin McDerby, is a lost but appealing young Romeo whose irresponsibility and insensitivity always land him in trouble. While the film did not secure theatrical release, it was featured at several film festivals where both the film and Cillian's performance were well-received.
Following the end of the Disco Pigs tour in January 1999, Cillian continued to hone his acting skills on the stage. He played the role of Curly in the Druid Theatre Company's production of John Murphy's The Country Boy, directed by renowned director Garry Hynes, who also directed Cillian in his next role as the tragic Johnny Boyle in Sean O'Casey's Juno and the Paycock at Dublin's Gaiety Theatre.
But the balance of Cillian's career was about to tip decisively toward film. After landing a small part as a soldier in William Boyd's First World War tale The Trench, Cillian closed 1999 by starting work on his second starring role (On the Edge) and began to lay the groundwork for the films that would win him wider renown.