TORONTO - Irish actor Cillian Murphy has long shown a preference for films as inscrutable as his cool blue eyes.
Whether it was such smaller projects as "Peacock" and "Sunshine" or the blockbuster "Inception," Murphy has appeared in no shortage of twisty, mind-bending psychological puzzles.
In his latest, "Red Lights," Murphy and Sigourney Weaver play a pair of paranormal investigators who trot about the globe debunking frauds. Eventually, some seriously weird stuff starts to happen but given Murphy's filmography, would you really expect anything different?
"As a viewer, it is something I enjoy," said a smiling Murphy during a recent interview in Toronto, with the film's writer-director Rodrigo Cortes at his side.
"It's what Rodrigo said about the films not ending when they end, so that you go and you discuss them with your friends, or you talk about them or you're trying to figure them out when you leave the theatre.
"I don't like instantly disposable films. I hope to be in a lot of films that make you think."
Well, "Red Lights" will try to make you jump a couple times too.
Murphy and Weaver portray Tom Buckley and Margaret Matheson, skeptics who doggedly dig into far-flung locales to expose trickster mediums, psychics and telekinetics, despite fading funding from the university that seems to only reluctantly keep them employed.
The majority of the supernatural swindlers they encounter are bumbling and mostly harmless but for one — Simon Silver, a sinister blind showman played by Robert De Niro who sacrificed his worldwide celebrity when his most prominent detractor died under mysterious circumstances.
Part faith healer, televangelist and magician, Silver makes an unexpected return to the spotlight after years in reclusive exile and begins tormenting of Buckley and Matheson, who are left uncertain whether his gifts could possibly be genuine.
The audience is unsure too, and the film's footing in reality loosens as it gives way to a nightmarish second half of paranoid psychedelia. And Cortes, who's most famous for directing the acclaimed claustrophobic Ryan Reynolds thriller "Buried," wanted it that way.
"In a way, (we) tried to misguide (the audience)," he said. "The film is about ... perception and illusion. It's about making everybody look at your right hand while your left hand steals their wallet."
The film relies heavily on Murphy as a mysterious man who becomes increasingly obsessed with exposing Silver.
Cortes knew the 36-year-old "Batman Begins" actor would be up to the challenge, deeming their sensibilities "perfectly compatible." The admiration was mutual.
"A lot of people claim to be the real deal but this guy really (is) the real deal," Murphy said of his Spanish director, adding that he loved both "Buried" and Cortes' other directorial project, "The Contestant."
"To be that versed in the vernacular of cinema in all respects is really rare."
Murphy too took his preparation for the film seriously, travelling to Las Vegas to take in flashy Strip sensationalism in person.
"I went there because ... De Niro's character is an amalgam of all these guys — the televangelists, the stage magicians, the psychics, and so I wanted to see every aspect of it that I could," he said. "So I went to see David Copperfield and Criss Angel do their thing in Vegas, and it was amazing.
"They're great, great shows. But it's pure entertainment. There's nobody claiming to heal anybody or converse with a dead relative or anything like that. But it was fascinating to watch."
He also picked up a neat little coin trick that he performs in the film — but he won't soon be wowing at any dinner parties.
"You get good at it for the movie and then you're sort of onto the next job and you're learning another skill," he said. "I was trying to do it the other day and I was terrible."
Cortes seems to have pulled off a nifty trick of his own in landing such an all-star cast for the film, a group that also includes 23-year-old breakout Elizabeth Olsen.
And while Murphy acknowledges some intimidation in working with Weaver and De Niro, he says such feelings faded once they gathered onset.
"Both of them are such legends — you put a camera on that presence and it's instantly magnified," he said. "But what I found so striking was that they were both in Barcelona working on a reasonably small-budget film, both of them, because they wanted to be there to serve this story and play these characters.
"They were so kind and warm and generous to everyone onset. You're still aware of them being such icons and such legends, but when people are that warm and embracing, it makes it easy for everyone."
"Red Lights" opens Friday in Toronto.