“Like it or not, J. Robert Oppenheimer is the most important person who ever lived,” director Christopher Nolan said at Universal’s CinemaCon in Las Vegas. Oppenheimer might also be the most important role of leading man Cillian Murphy’s career. The 28 Days Later and Peaky Blinders actor plays the eponymous Oppenheimer, described by studio Universal as “an enigmatic man who must risk destroying the world in order to save it.” The dramatic thriller reteams Murphy with Nolan for the sixth time — Murphy appeared in all three films of Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, Inception, and Dunkirk — but in a first, Murphy is number one on the call sheet.
“He’s so understated and self-deprecating and, in his very English manner, just said, ‘Listen, I’ve written this script, it’s about Oppenheimer. I’d like you to be my Oppenheimer.’ It was a great day,” Murphy told The Associated Press. “I have always said publicly and privately, to Chris, that if I’m available and you want me to be in a movie, I’m there. I don’t really care about the size of the part. But deep down, secretly, I was desperate to play a lead for him.”
Murphy leads a starry cast that includes Emily Blunt (A Quiet Place) as Oppenheimer’s wife, biologist and botanist Katherine “Kitty” Oppenheimer, Matt Damon (AIR) as General Leslie Groves Jr., director of the Manhattan Project, Robert Downey Jr. (Avengers: Endgame) as Lewis Strauss, a founding commissioner of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. Oppenheimer also reunites Nolan with his Batman star Gary Oldman as Harry S. Truman and features a cast that includes Florence Pugh (Dune: Part Two) as psychiatrist Jean Tatlock, Benny Safdie (Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret) as theoretical physicist Edward Teller, Michael Angarano (Minx) as Robert Serber, and Josh Hartnett (30 Days of Night) as pioneering American nuclear scientist Ernest Lawrence.
The ensemble also includes Dane DeHaan (The Amazing Spider-Man 2), Dylan Arnold (Halloween franchise), David Krumholtz (The Ballad of Buster Scruggs), Alden Ehrenreich (Solo: A Star Wars Story) and Matthew Modine (The Dark Knight Rises).
“You realize this is a huge responsibility. He was complicated and contradictory and so iconic,” Murphy added of portraying the “father of the atomic bomb” who forever changed the world. “But you know you’re with one of the great directors of all time. I felt confident going into it with Chris. He’s had a profound impact on my life, creatively and professionally. He’s offered me very interesting roles over and I’ve found all of them really challenging. And I just love being on his sets.”
Oppenheimer opens only in theaters July 21st.