Why We Never See Thomas Shelby Eating Anything On Peaky Blinders

"Peaky Blinders" has been devoted to exploring what makes Thomas Shelby tick — a question also shared amongst his most devoted allies and fiercest enemies alike. Yet, the source of his ambition and motivations have remained mostly an enigma even to Tommy himself — driven as he is to accomplish both great and terrible feats. After all, his actions have launched him and his family from the soot-covered streets of Small Heath all the way into the halls of Parliament. Though one thing's for sure: his monumental rise to more legitimate and dangerous positions of power is occasionally indistinguishable from a downward spiral.

Of course, that's made Tommy no less ominous or dangerous himself, with his reputation preceding him everywhere he goes. For actor Cillian Murphy, building this aura and nearly mythic image of his character has been both planned and accidental. Since he started playing Tommy in 2013, he's had just as much a (red-right) hand in molding him as series creator and writer Steven Knight. Like the decision to never show the leader of the Peaky Blinders eating — a character choice that only came about after the duo realized it was something they were already unconsciously doing.

It's not food that keeps Tommy going

Ironically enough, fans were the first ones to notice back in season 4 that Tommy had a habit of neglecting his food. Digital Spy reported both Murphy's acknowledgment of fan observations and also confirmed their intentionality. "It seems like he never sleeps or eats," he said, calling his character "all-consuming." During a recent interview with BBC Radio 1, the "Oppenheimer" actor went into more detail about how he and Knight stumbled upon such a quintessentially Tommy quirk.

"It became a Tommy thing. These things develop over the course of the show. For example, I remember we'd gotten through the first two series and then we realized Tommy has never eaten. We've never seen Tommy eat — like he's sat down at tables but has never consumed a morsel. So then we kind of made it a running gag. So throughout the thirty-six hours of television, Tommy Shelby never consumes anything. Except I think once he consumes a sprig of mint when he's with his son."

Having a character like Tommy, one with a voracious need to amass more power and wealth, abstain from consuming something as necessary as food is a potent metaphor. It's a logical extreme from a man so obsessively industrious — not to mention it's not unheard of for individuals consumed by their work to ignore healthy eating habits. This is probably why both Murphy and Knight decided to keep going with the gag, so all we ever see Tommy consume are cigarettes and alcohol. He's truly the very antithesis of every character Brad Pitt — a.k.a. prolific on-screen muncher — has ever played. Before this last season, Tommy actually drinks a total of 213 times, so it probably says enough about him that he can function on such a diet.

Creating those Shelby idiosyncrasies

Smoking is another habit – like his lack of eating – that resulted in the creation of a different Tommy tick. Fans of the show will know that whenever he's about to light up he always preps his stogie in a very particular way. "If you don't rub them across your lips initially, they will stick," Murphy explained on BBC Radio 1. "That just became this sort of idiosyncrasy but it was out of necessity." Murphy continued:

"So these things develop when you have the luxury of being with a character for so long, these little things arise. I will say to Steve, or Steve will pick up on it, and we'll just sort of run with it, you know?"

At a certain point, when an actor has been playing a role for so long, even the most minute and seemingly insignificant habits become a part of their character. Just like his onscreen fasting, Tommy's cigarette routine is a constant throughout the series. While perhaps less figuratively loaded than the former it has turned into a noticeable and even expected mannerism. It also helps that Tommy's usually smoking during moments of deep contemplation, depression, or anxiety – which makes his idiosyncrasies even more pronounced. If anything, these anecdotes reveal just how comfortable Murphy has become in Tommy's skin, something the actor obviously credits to being able to live in his shoes over six seasons. And with Murphy headed to the big screen in the upcoming "Peaky Blinders" movie, it's all but been assured that playing Tommy has made him virtually synonymous with the character.