How Cillian Murphy Explored Oppenheimer’s Relationship to Manhattan Project and Bomb (Exclusive)

Most consider J. Robert Oppenheimer to be the father of the atomic bomb, given the physicist oversaw the Manhattan Project and, in turn, the creation of the nuclear weapons that killed upwards of a quarter of a million Japanese civilians at the end of World War 2. In the coming weeks, the divisive scientist will be immortalized in cinema because of Christopher Nolan‘s Oppenheimer, a film that Cillian Murphy says might be his most complicated yet.

“It’s so complicated. It’s not straightforward. It’s not linear. It’s really not black and white,” Murphy tells us of the race to create the world’s first nuclear weapons. “The rush to make the bomb because they’re in the race with the Nazis, that’s very clear. Well, then, when the Germans surrender, then it becomes very opaque and then obviously plotting [Oppenheimer’s] moral journey, which is quite complicated as well.”

Murphy says he worked extensively with Nolan to get the characterization right, given Nolan served as both director and screenwriter on the project.

“So I lent on [director Christopher Nolan] an awful lot. The script comes from Chris’ head. He knows each frame,” Murphy adds. “He knows every single scene, so we just talked and talked about it. Obviously, I would do an awful lot of work and then we would just plot it. And you’re right, it’s tricky shooting it out of sequence, but it’s just a lot of communication really.”

Nolan previously revealed he managed to check something off his filmmaking list for the first time on Oppenheimer after he wrote the entire screenplay for the biopic in the first person.

“I actually wrote in the first person, which I’ve never done before,” Nolan said in an interview with Empire Magazine earlier this year. “I don’t know if anyone’s ever done it before. But the point of it is, with the color sequences, which is the bulk of the film, everything is told from Oppenheimer’s point of view — you’re literally kind of looking through his eyes.”

He continued, “Odd thing to do. But it was a reminder to me of how to shoot the film. It was a reminder to everybody involved in the project, ‘Okay, this is the point of view of every scene.’ I wanted to really go through this story with Oppenheimer; I didn’t want to sit by him and judge him. That seemed a pointless exercise. That’s more the stuff of documentary, or political theory, or history of science. This is a story that you experience with him — you don’t judge him. You are faced with these irreconcilable ethical dilemmas with him.”

Joining Oppenheimer lead Cillian Murphy are Emily Blunt as Katherine “Kitty” Oppenheimer, Matt Damon as Leslie Groves, Robert Downey Jr. as Lewis Strauss, Florence Pugh as Jean Tatlock, Benny Safdie as Edward Teller, Michael Angarano as Robert Serber, Josh Hartnett as Ernest Lawrence, Dylan Arnold as Frank Oppenheimer, David Krumholtz as Isidor Isaac Rabi, Matthew Modine as Vannevar Bush, Josh Peck as Kenneth Bainbridge, Devon Bostick as Seth Neddermeyer, Matthias Schweigh?fer as Werner Heisenberg, Christopher Denham as Klaus Fuchs, Guy Burnet as George Eltenton, Danny Deferrari as Enrico Fermi, Emma Dumont as Jackie Oppenheimer, Gustaf Skarsg?rd as Hans Bethe, Trond Fausa Aurv?g as George Kistiakowsky, and Gary Oldman as Harry S. Truman.

Opening on July 21st, Oppenheimer is based on Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer.