Cillian Murphy on ‘Oppenheimer’, Christopher Nolan and his favourite job

If you’ve ever read an interview with Cillian Murphy, the Irish actor, you might get the impression that he’s shy, irritable, or even neurotic. Journalists often depict him as closed-off, unwilling to discuss personal matters and providing one-line answers, making their job difficult. However, what those interviews fail to reveal is the side of Murphy that passionately discusses topics he truly cares about, like his latest film project, portraying J. Robert Oppenheimer, the father of the atomic bomb. In this article, we delve deeper into Cillian Murphy’s portrayal of Oppenheimer and explore the complexities of this historical figure.

A Relatable Personality

When meeting Murphy at a luxurious hotel in Soho, he appears relaxed and greets everyone cheerfully. Observing the thick paperback under our arm, he recognizes it as “American Prometheus,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning biography that inspired the film. Playfully, he jokes about signing it for us, showcasing a side of him that is amiable and down-to-earth.

The Journey to Oppenheimer

Murphy’s career has been marked by screaming fans since his breakout role in Danny Boyle’s 2002 horror hit, “28 Days Later.” However, his most famous film roles often came from collaborations with director Christopher Nolan. Now, in “Oppenheimer,” their latest partnership, Murphy finally takes on the lead role as J. Robert Oppenheimer.

The Complex Character of Oppenheimer

J. Robert Oppenheimer was a brilliant American scientist who made significant discoveries in quantum physics during the 1920s and ’30s. He played a key role in developing the atomic bomb for the US Government, leading to its devastating use in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. Despite being an advocate for disarmament later in life, Oppenheimer had a contradictory and complex personality, which Murphy aptly portrays in the film. Oppenheimer’s belief that the bomb would end all wars and create nuclear world governance is characterized as naive by Murphy.

Delving Deep into the Role

To prepare for the role, Murphy immersed himself in the character of Oppenheimer. He read the Bhagavad Gita, a Hindu religious text famously quoted by the physicist. Additionally, he underwent a physical transformation, skipping meals to achieve Oppenheimer’s rail-thin frame. During the filming process, Murphy smoked many fake cigarettes, concerned about its impact on his health, mirroring Oppenheimer’s own battle with throat cancer.

The Emotional Toll

Playing Oppenheimer required delving into dark emotional places, especially considering the subject matter of war, genocide, and nuclear holocaust. Murphy’s intensive research during the six-month preparation and long 18-hour shooting days took a toll on him. Though he acknowledges the need for a break after such roles, he downplays the idea of being a method actor, instead attributing the desire for time off to the energy displaced after a project.

The Intensity of the Performance

Emily Blunt, who plays Oppenheimer’s wife Kitty in the film, describes Murphy’s performance as intense, with simmering discontent and wide-eyed panic attacks. Co-star Matt Damon agrees, acknowledging the monumental pressure that Murphy faced during the filming process. While Murphy himself insists that he remained easygoing, it’s evident that the role of Oppenheimer took a profound toll on him.

A World in Turmoil

During the filming of “Oppenheimer,” the world experienced turmoil as Russia invaded Ukraine, leading to global tensions and economic sanctions. The threat of nuclear war loomed large, mirroring the historical context of Oppenheimer’s work on the atomic bomb.

A Troubled Childhood

Murphy grew up in Ireland during the Troubles, a period of sectarian violence in the late 1970s and ’80s. This backdrop of conflict influenced his perspective on the world and adds depth to his portrayal of Oppenheimer.

A Musician at Heart

Before pursuing a successful acting career, Murphy’s teenage years were dedicated to music. He and his brother formed a band, The Sons of Mr Green Genes, inspired by Frank Zappa and The Beatles. Despite being offered a record deal, Murphy chose to focus on acting, leaving behind his musical aspirations.

The Impact of “Oppenheimer”

“Oppenheimer” is a significant film for Murphy, marking his first lead role in a major production. Some critics predict an Oscar-worthy performance, which may elevate his status as a household name worldwide. Despite potential opportunities for more starry roles, Murphy expresses his preference for enigmatic characters and remains humble about his achievements.

The Future for Cillian Murphy

With “Oppenheimer” generating buzz and positive reviews, Murphy’s acting career is expected to reach new heights. While he has more projects in the pipeline, including the Peaky Blinders movie and “Small Things Like These,” it’s uncertain what path he’ll take next. Regardless of what comes his way, Murphy’s passion for the craft and dedication to his roles remain the driving force behind his success.


Cillian Murphy’s portrayal of J. Robert Oppenheimer showcases his range as an actor and his commitment to his craft. By delving into the complexities of Oppenheimer’s character, Murphy brings an unforgettable performance to the screen. As he continues to take on new challenges and roles, fans eagerly anticipate the future of this talented and enigmatic actor. “Oppenheimer” is set to release in UK cinemas on July 21, offering audiences an opportunity to witness Cillian Murphy’s transformative portrayal of one of history’s most influential figures.

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