It’s hard to imagine anyone else in the role of Tommy Shelby now, other than Cillian Murphy. He has finally hung up his peaked cap, as the sixth and final season of Peaky Blinders has just arrived on Netflix in the US. However, Tommy could have had a very different vibe, as he was almost played by…Jason Statham.
The creator Steven Knight says that he met both Murphy and Statham in Los Angeles to talk about the role and actually chose Jason, presumably based on the fact that he’s physically imposing. Shelby, is of course, a gangster and Murphy is only 5 foot 7 or 8 and somewhat skinny.
We all know that Murphy would go on to create a haunted character, suffering PTSD from World War One, and one who could be convincingly threatening just through the sheer power of his acting skills. The force of his icy blue eyes certainly help give him a menacing stare too. You could even argue that part of what makes Shelby such a good character is his size, as you don’t expect him to be as intimidating as he is.
In 2020, Steven Knight told Esquire; “I met them both in LA to talk about the role and opted for Jason. One of the reasons was because physically in the room Jason is Jason. Cillian, when you meet him, isn’t Tommy, obviously, but I was stupid enough not to understand that. He sent me a text [later] saying, ‘Remember, I’m an actor,’ which is absolutely the thing, because he can transform himself.”
While Statham is great at what he does (especially in his gangster roles in Guy Ritchie films), it’s hard to imagine him doing a convincing Brummy accent for starters, let alone having the acting skill to pull off such a character arc over six seasons. We have long been promised by Knight that Peaky is going to follow the six-seasons-and-a-movie model.