Christopher Nolan on Robert Downey Jr. in Oppenheimer: "He’s one of the greatest actors of all time"

Robert Downey Jr. in Oppenheimer
(Image credit: Universal)

Christopher Nolan's Oppenheimer has a wildly impressive and star-studded cast. Leading is Cillian Murphy as the titular J. Robert Oppenheimer – often referred to as 'the father of the atomic bomb' for his part in creating the weapon. The Irish actor has always played (significant) supporting roles in Nolan’s films, from the Dark Knight trilogy to Inception and Dunkirk. While Nolan asserts that he tries to not have actors in mind while writing his screenplays, he admits that he’d been relishing the prospect of being able to offer Murphy a headline role.

"I’ve always known since I first met him – however many years ago it is now, almost 20 years – that he is one of the great actors, not just of his generation, but of all time," he tells Total Film in the upcoming 2023 Preview issue of the magazine. "And I’ve been waiting for the project, and I know he has too, where we can collaborate with him as the lead, and I could put the most enormous weight – cinematic weight – on his shoulders, and watch him carry that burden. It was such a thrill to be able to call Cillian, and say, ‘This is it.’"

The huge cast also includes Matt Damon, Florence Pugh, Rami Malek, Gary Oldman, Josh Hartnett, and Kenneth Branagh to name but a few. Robert Downey Jr. appears as Lewis Strauss, chairman of the US Atomic Energy Commission, who would later clash bitterly with Oppenheimer.

"We all know that Robert Downey Jr. is one of the great movie stars," explains Nolan in Total Film. "It’s so easy to forget that he’s also one of the greatest actors of all time. Watching him lose himself in that performance, and completely lose himself in a character in this way, was just an incredible reminder of just what an amazing actor he is." Above, you can see an exclusive first look at Downey Jr. in the role.

Oppenheimer opens in cinemas on July 21, 2023. Inside the new issue of Total Film, which is on sale Thursday, December 15, Nolan talks in detail about Oppenheimer, which he describes as "a story of immense scope and scale". From the groundbreaking use of large-format black-and-white film to the cinematic appeal of Oppenheimer, it’s a thorough primer on a historical biopic like no other.

Total Film’s Oppenheimer coverage kicks off a huge 2023 Preview, looking ahead to the biggest films of the coming year. And the print version of this new issue comes with a special 52-page supplement counting down the best films, must-see moments, and breakout stars of 2022.

Total Film's 2023 Preview and Review of the Year 2022

(Image credit: Universal/Syncopy/Total Film)

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(Image credit: Total Film/Universal)
Matt Maytum
Editor, Total Film

I'm the Editor at Total Film magazine, overseeing the running of the mag, and generally obsessing over all things Nolan, Kubrick and Pixar. Over the past decade I've worked in various roles for TF online and in print, including at GamesRadar+, and you can often hear me nattering on the Inside Total Film podcast. Bucket-list-ticking career highlights have included reporting from the set of Tenet and Avengers: Infinity War, as well as covering Comic-Con, TIFF and the Sundance Film Festival.

With contributions from