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Robert Downey Jr praises Cillian Murphy’s ‘great sacrifice’ for ‘behemoth’ Oppenheimer role

Downey Jr said the Irish actor had the ‘humility’ that was needed ‘to survive’ playing the lead role in Christopher Nolan’s biopic

Nicole Vassell
Monday 24 July 2023 11:53 BST
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Cillian Murphy says it 'took a toll' playing scientist J Robert Oppenheimer

Robert Downey Jr has showered praise on his Oppenheimer co-star Cillian Murphy for his level of commitment to his portrayal of the film’s lead character.

Murphy plays the real-life physicist J Robert Oppenheimer in the new Christopher Nolan-directed epic, about the man who is credited with creating the atomic bomb.

The movie has received critical acclaim and emerged as a box office hit, with particular praise reserved for Murphy’s performance.

In a recent interview, Downey Jr took the opportunity to commend Murphy for his hard work and dedication to perfecting the role.

“I have never witnessed a greater sacrifice by a lead actor in my career,” the Iron Man star told People magazine.

“He knew it was going to be a behemoth ask when [Nolan] called him. But I think he also had the humility that is required to survive playing a role like this.”

Downey Jr, who plays Atomic Energy Commission chairman Lewis Strauss in the film, went on to share an example of how devoted Murphy was to the additional work required for the role.

“We'd be like, ‘Hey, we got a three-day weekend. Maybe we’ll go antiquing in Santa Fe. What are you going to do?’ ‘Oh, I have to learn 30,000 words of Dutch. Have a nice time.’ But that's the nature of the ask.”

Robert Downey Jr and Cillian Murphy (Getty)

Ahead of the film’s release last week (Friday 21 July), the Peaky Blinders star had admitted to feeling the pressure of the complex character.

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“You kind of don't know it on a conscious level, but on an emotional, atomic level, it really, really affects you,” he explained. “And in this movie, the moral dilemmas and the paradoxes that the character was grappling with, emotionally and morally and psychologically, were huge. So it does take a toll, but in a brilliant way. It was the biggest, most exhilarating challenge.”

The highly anticipated film also shared a release date with Greta Gerwig’s Barbie, the combination of which has now resulted in UK cinemas seeing their highest weekend ticket sales since 2019.

Film Review - Oppenheimer (© Universal Pictures. All Rights Reserved.)

Nolan shared his thoughts about whether measuring a film’s success by box office numbers was a reductive practice in an interview with The Independent and noted that there were several different ways to view the topic.

“It’s a combination of factors,” he began. “My impulse is to tell a story, but I’m not a filmmaker who works in a vacuum. I’m not a filmmaker who purely makes a film for themselves. I make a film that I want to experience with an audience, and I make them at budget levels where you really have to try and find the widest crowd. I enjoy that form of communication.

“I think the Hollywood blockbuster, at its best, can reach people in a way that few other forms, including other forms of movies, really can, all around the world. Beyond that, box office numbers tend to be a little bit of an abstraction.”

Oppenheimer is in cinemas now. You can find The Independent’s review here.

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