Take a look at the real-life people played by Cillian Murphy, Emily Blunt, Matt Damon and more in Christopher Nolan’s historical biopic
Oppenheimer is already one of 2023’s most explosive films, thanks to its remarkable ensemble cast.
Christopher Nolan’s highly anticipated war drama revisits the pivotal development of the atomic bomb and depicts all the people who had a hand in the history-making. Nolan has previously spoken about the weighty task of directing J. Robert Oppenheimer’s biopic.
“It’s a story of immense scope and scale,” Nolan told Total Film in December 2022. “And one of the most challenging projects I’ve ever taken on in terms of the scale of it, and in terms of encountering the breadth of Oppenheimer’s stories.”
Cillian Murphy, Emily Blunt, Matt Damon, Robert Downey Jr. and Florence Pugh are just a few of the big names handpicked by Nolan for his epic film. See how these impressive stars compare to the historical figures they revived for screens this summer.
Cillian Murphy as J. Robert Oppenheimer
Cillian Murphy plays the titular theoretical physicist in Christopher Nolan’s long-awaited flick. Speaking to the Associated Press back in May, Murphy opened up about playing the man remembered as the “father of the atomic bomb.” He called the role “a huge responsibility” since Oppenheimer “was complicated and contradictory and so iconic.”
Murphy endured the physical and mental challenges as he prepared for the part. He told the New York Times about how he lost “quite a bit of weight” to appear as Oppenheimer did. “He was very slim,” said the Irish actor. “Almost emaciated.”
In conversation with The Guardians, Murphy explained that his extreme diet affected his behavior, too. “I was running on crazy energy; I went over a threshold to where I wasn’t worried about food or anything,” he said. “I was so in it, a state of hyper something. But it was good because the character was like that. He never ate.”
Emily Blunt as Katherine “Kitty” Oppenheimer
Oppenheimer’s wife is revived for screens by Emily Blunt. The biologit moved to Los Alamos, New Mexico with her husband in 1943, while she was working on the Manhattan Project. As Oppenheimer covertly developed the nuclear weapons, Kitty worked with a physician to assess the danger presented by radiation.
Blunt spoke to PEOPLE about her relationship with her on-screen husband just a month before the film’s premiere in mid-July.
“Me and Cillian are as thick as thieves because we worked together before [on A Quiet Place Part II] and I adore him,” she said. “We have a lot of trust between us. So I spent the most time with Cillian.”
Matt Damon as Leslie Groves
Matt Damon plays Lieutenant General Leslie Groves in the historical drama. During World War II, the Army Corp Engineers officer worked on the Pentagon’s construction before directing the Manhattan Project.
Damon recently expressed his excitement about working with Christopher Nolan again in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, and how his passion for the director cuts deep into his personal life. Damon shared that he promised his wife, Luciana Barroso, that he’d take time off work unless Nolan offered him a role.
“This is without knowing whether or not he was working on anything, because he never told you,” added the actor, who also appeared in Nolan’s 2014 space drama Interstellar. “He just calls you out of the blue. And so, it was a moment in my household.”
Robert Downey Jr. as Lewis Strauss
Atomic Energy Commissioner chairman Lewis Strauss — played by Robert Downey Jr. — worked closely with Oppenheimer during the development of nuclear weapons. However their differing political and ideological values led to high tensions between the two figures. Strauss suspected the physicist was affiliated with communist forces and requested that the FBI investigate further. This resulted in months of court hearings about Oppenheimer’s actions and background and, ultimately, his top-security clearance was revoked.
While Downey’s character had more than a few qualms about Oppenheimer’s story, the actor himself couldn’t feel differently. Deadline shared a video of the star praising the film at its London premiere.
“Just going to flat out say it: This is the best film I’ve ever been in,” Downey says in the clip. “I cannot wait for you all to experience it.”
Florence Pugh as Jean Tatlock
Florence Pugh played Oppenheimer’s mistress, Jean Tatlock. Her associations with the Communist Party placed the physicist in a precarious position during the investigations of his political affiliations.
the midsommar the actress also expressed her appreciation for Nolan’s casting her in the film. Pugh complimented his directing approach while speaking to the Radio Times.
“When I walked on set, I couldn’t believe there was that similar, incredible adrenaline, which I hadn’t felt on a massive movie for a long time,” she said. “It’s a wonderful thing to inject into a film set — believing in yourself and what you’re making.”
Josh Hartnett as Ernest Lawrence
The war drama features Josh Hartnett as Ernest Lawrence, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist who played a key role in the Manhattan Project.
Casey Affleck as Boris Pash
Casey Affleck plays a military intelligence officer tasked with interrogating Oppenheimer, among others, about their possible affiliations with the Communist Party. Boris Pash eventually concluded that the Manhattan Project leader wasn’t a spy, and should remain a part of the nuclear development efforts.
Kenneth Branagh as Niels Bohr
Kenneth Branagh plays one of quantum physics’ most foundational minds, Niels Bohr. During World War II, Bohr supported the efforts of Robert Oppenheimer and his colleagues working on the Manhattan Project. As a promoter of scientific progress, Bohr’s hopes for nuclear development aligned with Oppenheimer’s, despite the impact both knew it would have on international affairs.
Benny Safdie as Edward Teller
Edward Teller, played by Benny Safdie in Christopher Nolan’s epic war drama, was the only member of the scientific community to testify against Oppenheimer at his security clearance hearings.
Safdie’s Oppenheimer role is his biggest to date. speaking to GQNolan said that he cast the actor after seeing him in Good Time (which Safdie directed with his brother) and in Paul Thomas Anderson’s 2021 indie film, Licorice Pizza.
“I called Paul [Thomas Anderson] and I asked about Benny,” Nolan recalled. “And he gave him the strongest possible endorsement and pointed out that he’s an incredible actor, but also just a wonderful guy.”
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