In "Batman Begins," Cillian Murphy plays a villainous American psychiatrist who drugs Katie Holmes' Gotham City prosecutor and terrorizes...

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In “Batman Begins,” Cillian Murphy plays a villainous American psychiatrist who drugs Katie Holmes’ Gotham City prosecutor and terrorizes her with his raggedy, scarecrow mask. In “Red-Eye” (opening Friday), Murphy portrays a charming American stranger who flirts with Rachel McAdams’ hotel manager, then terrorizes her into cooperating with a planned murder.

Hmmm. … Two really bad guys hassling comely heroines in big summer movies of 2005. An up-and-coming actor like Cillian (pronounced “Killian”) Murphy, from County Cork, Ireland, could get stereotyped as a nasty, U.S.-born creep.

“I don’t worry about it,” Murphy, 29, says by phone from Los Angeles. “I just worked with Neil Jordan on ‘Breakfast On Pluto,’ where I play an Irish transvestite singer in a London cabaret.’ “

Ok. Perhaps it’s time to catch up with Murphy’s chameleon-like acting career, which began at the age of 20 when he abandoned law school to play the emotionally raw Pig in Cork’s Corcadorca Theater production of “Disco Pigs.”

That was 1996. It all began there for me,” Murphy says. “I come from a long line of teachers. Not only did I not go into the family business; I had an aborted law career and I played in bands. ‘Disco Pigs’ was my first professional acting experience.”

The prolific Murphy’s hard work paid off with Danny Boyle’s 2002 “28 Days Later.” Murphy played the central character, Jim, who awakens from a coma to find London teeming with zombies.

“That was the first time people noticed me in the U.S.,” Murphy says.

After “28 Days,” John Crowley’s enjoyable “Intermission” cast him as a sympathetic loser pining for an ex-girlfriend.

“That was a fun script and a lot of great Irish actors,” Murphy says, referring to a large ensemble cast including Colin Farrell, Colm Meaney, and Brian F. O’Byrne.

Next was Peter Webber’s Vermeer drama, “Girl With a Pearl Earring,” in which Murphy had a small but memorable part as a butcher’s son.

“It was my bad-wig movie,” Murphy groans.

The role of Bardolph in “Cold Mountain” followed, and then his stint as Dr. Jonathan Crane in “Batman Begins.” Murphy’s boyish, slightly otherworldly looks and strangely translucent blue eyes make Crane (and other Murphy characters) seem oddly dangerous. Murphy describes making “Batman” as a joy.

“I was obsessed with Batman as a kid,” Murphy says. “I did the film in part just to be near the Batmobile. But I also think [director] Christopher Nolan made a very fine, intelligent film.”

“Red Eye” brought Murphy together with another filmmaker he admires, Wes Craven (“Scream”).

“I was excited,” Murphy says. “I thought with his ability to manipulate an audience and a smart piece of writing, we could really have something.”

Murphy plays Jackson Rippner, paid by assassins to set up a government official. Rippner requires assistance from Rachel McAdams’ character, and he pressures her relentlessly while on an airline flight.

“He needs the girl,” Murphy says. “It’s that simple. There’s no question of morality for him.”

“Red Eye” is an enjoyable, clockwork thriller. (“I did all the stunts they’d let me do,” says Murphy.) But some of the best passages occur early, when Craven captures, with dismaying familiarity, the dislocating feeling of being among strangers in an airport and on a plane.

“That’s the point,” Murphy says. “You think you could be in that situation. It brings up all those universal anxieties about flying, even before the story turns dark.”

Murphy, who lives in London with his artist wife, Yvonne, is next reteaming with Danny Boyle on “Sunshine,” a science-fiction movie, and collaborating with Ken Loach on “The Wind That Shakes the Barley.”

I mention that his voice, which is deep on the phone, doesn’t sound like any of his characters, regardless of accent.

“That’s what acting is about,” Murphy chuckles. “Funny wigs and voices, that’s what we do.”