Cillian Murphy almost played Oppenheimer in a TV show 10 years ago – but luckily he didn't

Cillian Murphy in Oppenheimer.
(Image credit: Universal)

Oppenheimer may be taking the box office by storm, but Christopher Nolan's new movie isn't the only recent Hollywood take on the birth of the atomic bomb. 

Manhattan, a TV show that ran for two seasons on the now-defunct network WGN America, told a fictionalized account of what went down in the laboratories at Los Alamos, the isolated town in the New Mexico desert where the nuclear weapon was tested and made. Airing between 2014 and 2015, the cast included Rachel Brosnahan, David Harbour, and Neve Campbell.

While the show mostly featured fictional characters and was not aspiring to be historically accurate, some real figures from the Manhattan Project did make an appearance – one of which was J. Robert Oppenheimer. When it came to casting, showrunner Sam Shaw had a few names on a shortlist, including one very familiar face. "A thousand percent, Cillian Murphy was on that list," he told Vanity Fair.

Beck, David Bowie, and The Bear's Ebon Moss-Bachrach were also considered. "We wanted Oppenheimer to feel both like he possessed a certain undeniable charisma, a presence onstage, but also that he was playing a different instrument," Shaw continued. "He needed to feel alien – or other – in some ways. He stood out." In the end, the role went to Old Joy and Synecdoche, New York actor Daniel London.

And, of course, Murphy went on to play Dr. Oppenheimer in Nolan's movie, with a performance that's already prompting talk of Oscar nominations (and wins). With Murphy and Nolan collaborating on a number of projects prior to Oppenheimer, including Dunkirk and the Dark Knight trilogy, it's safe to say that this was the version of the physicist that Murphy was born to play. 

Oppenheimer is out now in cinemas. For more on the movie, check out the rest of our coverage: 

Entertainment Writer

I’m an Entertainment Writer here at GamesRadar+, covering everything film and TV-related across the Total Film and SFX sections. I help bring you all the latest news and also the occasional feature too. I’ve previously written for publications like HuffPost and i-D after getting my NCTJ Diploma in Multimedia Journalism.