David Baddiel questions Cillian Murphy casting in Oppenheimer

Jewish physicist J Robert Oppenheimer is played in Christopher Nolan’s film by non-Jewish actor Murphy

Isobel Lewis
Wednesday 02 August 2023 07:24 BST
Oppenheimer trailer

David Baddiel has questioned the casting of Cillian Murphy as Jewish theoretical physicist J Robert Oppenheimer in Christopher Nolan’s film.

The comedian and writer, who is Jewish himself, has previously spoken critically about non-Jewish actors playing Jewish roles in film and TV.

In a new interview, Baddiel, 59, shared his unease regarding the casting of Murphy and Tom Conti, who plays Albert Einstein, in the biopic about the “father of the atomic bomb”.

Both Oppenheimer and Einstein were Jewish, but are played in the film by non-Jewish actors in the film.

“Authenticity casting I think of as an a priori thing that exists,” Jews Don’t Count author Baddiel told The Times.

“Whatever the rights and wrongs of it, I can promise you that in this business – and I am in this business still – casting directors are now frightened to cast except in line with the minority they are casting. But they are not so worried about Jews.”

The Independent has contacted Nolan’s representatives for comment.

Conti (left) as Albert Einstein and Murphy as J Robert Oppenheimer in ‘Oppenheimer'

The casting of Murphy as Oppenheimer had previously drawn criticism from reviewers and watchers of the film.

In her four-star review of Nolan’s film, The Independent’s Clarisse Loughrey wrote: “[Oppenheimer] feared deeply, as a Jewish man, about what would happen if the Nazis were to develop a weapon of such deadly capability (that a non-Jewish actor has taken on a role in which identity plays such a central role is, in this light, somewhat strange).”

The casting decision was also highlighted in The Guardian’s review, where Peter Bradshaw noted that “Nolan, rightly or wrongly, uses non-Jewish actors for Oppenheimer and Einstein, two of the most famous Jewish people in history and in fact doesn’t quite get to grips with the antisemitism that Oppenheimer faced as an assimilated secular American Jew”.

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The real-life Oppenheimer was the child of two Jewish immigrants, and was raised in a secular Jewish household.

Baddiel has previously criticised non-Jewish actors playing Jewish roles

However, historians have noted that the physicist faced antisemitism throughout his life and would often deny his Jewish heritage.

Biographer Ray Monk, the author of Robert Oppenheimer: A Life Inside the Center, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency: “To the outside world, he was always known as a German Jew, and he always insisted that he was neither German nor Jewish.”

In 2022, Baddiel addressed the debate about whether non-Jewish actors should play Jewish roles, following comments by Maureen Lipman that Helen Mirren should not play former Israeli prime minister Golda Meir as she is not Jewish.

“Casting a non-minority actor to mimic that identity feels, to the progressive eye, like impersonation, and impersonation may carry with it an element of mockery,” he said.

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