Christopher Nolan Was Working Cillian Murphy Super Hard On Oppenheimer. The Sweet Way Robert Downey Jr. Advocated For Him

Robert Downey Jr. and Cillian Murphy, pictured side by side, in Oppenheimer.
(Image credit: Universal)

For roughly 20 years, Christopher Nolan and Cillian Murphy have been working together. From 2005’s Batman Begins to Oppenheimer, the king of the 2024 Oscar Nominees, actor and director have made quite a run of films that spans genres and performances. This year’s Best Picture-competing heavyweight was a singular challenge for both Nolan and Murphy, and in seeing how hard the Peaky Blinders actor was working, co-star Robert Downey Jr. was inspired to advocate on his behalf. 

In an extensive profile interview conducted by Deadline, the story of how Christopher Nolan first discovered his future collaborator revealed a promo photo from 28 Days Later to be the lure. The rest was history, as Cillian Murphy’s desire to be a “leading man” turned into the tremendous success that is his performance in Oppenheimer. This, in turn, let to Nolan’s admission of how their running relationship led to those concerns voiced by Robert Downey Jr.: 

For me, particularly with such a big cast, Cillian was the element I was able to completely take for granted to the point where on Downey’s last day, he came up to me and said, ‘Do you understand how hard this guy is working for you?’ It was towards the end of the shoot. He was like, ‘He’s exhausted.’

It certainly sounds like Oppenheimer was the sort of challenge that both men needed, and at the right points in their careers. As Robert Pattinson’s Tenet wrap gift pushed Christopher Nolan ahead with making his astonishing biopic, Cillian Murphy was coming close to the end of his run on the hit TV series Peaky Blinders. As shown above, an ambitious project and a trusting partnership can lead to some long days. 

But as Nolan continued to explain the situation, he also admitted that Robert Downey Jr.’s concerns weren’t invalid. Rather, it was a proverbial fog of war, or rather moviemaking, that was clouding him from seeing this intense work as just that. Oppenheimer’s post-production phase was the enlightenment for Christopher Nolan, as he explained thusly: 

And I said, ‘Thanks, Robert, he’ll be fine.’ And he was fine. But the point was taken that, yeah, I was able to take what he was doing on set for granted because I knew how great the work was. But the reality is, I didn’t realize the magnitude of the performance until I put it together in the edit suite. This is true, I think, of all great performances; you see what you see on set. But then, in the edit, you actually see it the way the actor has performed it. Even though you have been shooting in a crazy order, he’s figured out how all these pieces go together, and then you start to see it come together. It’s a really pretty magical thing.

It won’t be long now before we see if the work of Cillian Murphy, Christopher Nolan, and the rest of Oppenheimer’s cast and crew will be considered a golden success. And yet, in its own way, that doesn’t matter, as Robert Downey Jr.’s empathy is just as telling as any accolades the movie might receive. 

Though you can judge for yourself how awe inspiring the work itself happens to be, as Oppenheimer is currently streaming with access to a Peacock subscription, so you can check it out at your leisure. Meanwhile, the 96th Academy Awards will air live on ABC starting at 7 PM ET on Sunday, March 10th. 

Mike Reyes
Senior Movies Contributor

Mike Reyes is the Senior Movie Contributor at CinemaBlend, though that title’s more of a guideline really. Passionate about entertainment since grade school, the movies have always held a special place in his life, which explains his current occupation. Mike graduated from Drew University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science, but swore off of running for public office a long time ago. Mike's expertise ranges from James Bond to everything Alita, making for a brilliantly eclectic resume. He fights for the user.