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It’s hard to imagine anyone but Cillian Murphy heading up the formidable Shelby clan on Peaky Blinders, but according to writer-director Steven Knight, a very different actor almost landed the role.

Jason Statham also auditioned to play menacing criminal mastermind Thomas Shelby in the BBC drama, Knight has revealed, but Murphy secured the role with a late-in-the-day SMS message.

“I met them both in L.A. to talk about the role and opted for Jason,” Knight told Esquire. “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.”

However, Knight says he realized the error of his ways when “afterwards, [Murphy] sent me a text saying, “Remember, I’m an actor.’”

“Which is absolutely the thing because he can transform himself,” Knight added. “If you meet him in the street he is a totally different human being.”

Murphy has now played Tommy Shelby in five seasons of Peaky Blinders, which airs on BBC One in the U.K. and Netflix in the US. Season six was due to have started shooting earlier this year but is currently on hold due to coronavirus.

Can you imagine Jason Statham as Tommy Shelby? Do you think it could have worked?

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By Nick Levine