Cillian Murphy explains why he was ‘secretly desperate’ for lead role in Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer

After decades of working with the acclaimed British-American filmmaker Christopher Nolan, Cillian Murphy finally has his first lead part.

The Peaky Blinders star plays J Robert Oppenheimer – often described as the father of the atomic bomb – in Nolan’s next blockbuster, Oppenheimer.

Murphy has a longstanding relationship with the director, having starred in his three Batman films, Inception and Dunkirk,before this latest project.

In a recent interview with the Associated Press, Murphy admitted that after his numerous supporting roles, he was “desperate” to lead a Nolan picture.

“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,” Murphy said. “But deep down, secretly, I was desperate to play a lead for him.”

The Irish actor revealed that he found out he’d got the role after Nolan called him out of the blue one day.

“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,’” Murphy recalled.

‘Oppenheimer’ (© Universal Studios. All Rights Reserved.)
‘Oppenheimer’ (© Universal Studios. All Rights Reserved.)

“It was a great day… We have this long-standing understanding and trust and shorthand and respect. It felt like the right time to take on a bigger responsibility. And it just so happened that it was a huge one.”

For the film, Nolan, who has become known for shunning CGI in favour of pulling off practical stunts, recreated a nuclear weapon detonation in New Mexico without using any special effects.

While showing new footage of the movie at CinemaCon in Las Vegas last week, Nolan told the crowd: “Like it or not, J Robert Oppenheimer is the most important person who ever lived. He made the world we live in, for better or for worse.”

The director continued: “I know of no more dramatic tale with higher stakes, twists and turns and ethical dilemmas. … The finest minds in the country were in a desperate race against the Nazis to harness the power of the atom in World War II.”

Oppenheimer’s cast also includes Emily Blunt, Robery Downey Jr and Florence Pugh, as well as Matthew Modine, Rami Malek, Kenneth Branagh, Dane DeHaan, Benny Safdie, David Krumholtz, Jack Quaid and Alden Ehrenreich.

It will be released in cinemas on 21 July – the same day as Greta Gerwig’s Barbie, which stars Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling.