Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer” is shaping up to be a career-defining role for Cillian Murphy. The longtime Nolan ensemble member stepped into a lead role in one of the auteur’s films for the first time, and his nuanced performance as atomic bomb inventor J. Robert Oppenheimer has made him an early Oscar frontrunner. You could even say that Oppenheimer was a role that Murphy was born to play.
As it turns out, Murphy came close to portraying the infamous nuclear physicist in another project nearly a decade ago. One of the most recent dramatizations of the Manhattan Project was the WGN TV series “Manhattan,” which featured Daniel London in a reoccurring role as Oppenheimer. In a new interview with Vanity Fair, showrunner Sam Shaw and writer Lila Byock revealed that they cast a wide net when searching for the right actor to play father of the atomic bomb. Other candidates included Beck, Ebon Moss-Barach, and none other than Murphy himself.
“A thousand percent, Cillian Murphy was on that list,” Shaw said.
Murphy is certainly happy with the way things ultimately turned out. He has often spoke about his lengthy collaborative relationship with Nolan, and how much it meant to receive his first lead role.
“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 said in a recent interview. “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.”
Once Murphy had the job, he threw himself into the preparation with a vigor that impressed his co-stars. Robert Downey Jr. recently heaped praise on Murphy’s dedication to the role.
“I have never witnessed a greater sacrifice by a lead actor in my career,” Downey said. “He knew it was going to be a behemoth ask when Chris called him. But I think he also had the humility that is required to survive playing a role like this.”