When “Oppenheimer” hits theaters this summer, it will mark the second time that Christopher Nolan has directed a film based on a true story. While he found success with the World War II thriller “Dunkirk,” he generally focuses on wildly imaginative original genre projects. So what drew him to tell the story of the man who invented the atomic bomb?
In a new interview with Total Film, Nolan explained that his interest in Oppenheimer stemmed from his career-spanning fascination with “protagonists who have ambiguity to them.” He said that the inventor’s morally ambiguous approach to his work placed him firmly in line with other famous Nolan characters — including the Dark Knight himself.
“I think of any character I’ve dealt with, Oppenheimer is by far the most ambiguous and paradoxical. Which, given that I’ve made three Batman films, is saying a lot.”
Nolan heaped praise on Cillian Murphy’s ability to embody the complex character, saying that his frequent collaborator might have been the only actor who could handle the job.
“In truth, there are just not that many actors that you could say, on a first-person approach, ‘Yeah, we’re going to be this guy for three hours,’” he said. “You’re making a demand of an actor that very few actors in the history of film can rise to. I will say that even with that confidence in him, he was continually surprising me on set every day. And when we got into the edit suite and were putting the performance together, and seeing the truth of it, I was absolutely blown away.”
Murphy echoed Nolan’s sentiments, adding that his fascination with the character only grew once he got past the surface-level historical facts and began to dig into Oppenheimer’s psyche.
“I think I had kind of Wikipedia-level of knowledge of Oppenheimer, like most people,” Murphy said. “So then it was… Well, it was just starting from scratch, really. Chris guided me through that. You can only do it one bite at a time. You have to go slowly. And thankfully we had time.”
“Oppenheimer” opens in theaters on Friday, July 21. Check out more details about the film here.