Cillian Murphy opens up about challenges of playing J. Robert Oppenheimer and potential "Peaky Blinders" film

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Cillian Murphy, celebrated around the world for his transformative performances, said he felt the weight of the responsibility and the challenges associated with portraying J. Robert Oppenheimer, the enigmatic father of the atomic bomb. 

Reflecting on the role, Murphy said that while he was familiar with Oppenheimer’s role in developing the atomic bomb and the Trinity nuclear tests, the subsequent events of Oppenheimer’s life were mostly new to him. 

“That whole aspect of his life and the hearing where he lost his security clearance and all of that, and how he kind of became vilified in American society, even though he had been this … the most famous scientist in the world,” Murphy said. 

His insights into Oppenheimer’s life beyond the bomb underscore the complex narrative he embraced, likening it to “the Prometheus aspect of the story.”

“I knew I had an awful lot of work to do as quickly as I could,” said Murphy, who took the role without having read the script.

Despite the daunting task of playing the father of the atomic bomb, in the latest cinematic venture directed by Christopher Nolan, Murphy said he took on the role because he was driven by the challenge it presented. 

“I love work that is very, very challenging and scares the life out of you because you think, ‘How am I going to do this?'” said Murphy. “It’s such a huge thing to take on. That’s the stuff that really gets me going, rather than something that I think, ‘I know how to do that.'”

The work paid off. “Oppenheimer” led the 2024 Oscar nominations with 13 nods — including a best actor nomination for Murphy, the first one in his lengthy career.

Murphy credits Nolan’s direction and their shared understanding after working together on several films, which he said allowed him to fully immerse himself in the character.

“I feel really safe being directed by him and really secure, and you can really push yourself, and he pushes me,” said Murphy. 

The film’s reception has been humbling for the actor. 

“None of us ever anticipated that the film would have had this response, critically and commercially,” he said. 

The interaction with fans who have seen the movie multiple times has been particularly rewarding for Murphy.

“You really realize that this is a story and a film that’s really profound and connected with people,” he said. “That’s very humbling. We’re all still kind of in shock.”

Many fans of Murphy were first introduced to him as Tommy Shelby in a “Peaky Blinders” film. While the series ended in 2022, Murphy said that he would be open to returning as Shelby in a movie.

“It’s always about the story. It’s always about the script,” said Murphy, who said scriptwriter Steven Knight had written all 36 hours of “Peaky Blinders.”

“If he feels like there’s more story for Tommy, then I’ll be there,” said Murphy. 

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