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Why The Actor Who Plays Oppenheimer Looks So Familiar

There are quite a few familiar faces among the cast for Christopher Nolan's new epic biographical drama "Oppenheimer," including Marvel alum Robert Downey Jr., "Midsommar" star Florence Pugh, "Mr. Robot" actor Rami Malek, and more. However, audience may be most intrigued by just how familiar the titular scientist, J. Robert Oppenheimer himself, looks to them — and it's not just because he's a well-known historical figure. As a matter of fact, Oppenheimer is portrayed by one of Nolan's most long-standing collaborators in the filmmaking industry: actor Cillian Murphy.

Murphy has been a notable name in film and TV for decades at this point. In all of that time, he's appeared in a number of Nolan's most popular movies, but he has also featured in plenty of notable productions outside of that sphere as well. Here are some of Murphy's largest roles and where general audiences have most likely seen him before his turn in "Oppenheimer."

28 Days Later (2002)

Cillian Murphy was active in the professional acting scene as early as 1996, and he mostly spent those earliest years appearing in theatrical productions, small movies, and short films. It may come as a surprise to some to learn that the now-renowned actor's breakout role was as the lead of Danny Boyle's 2002 apocalypse movie "28 Days Later." In the film, Murphy portrays a bicycle courier named Jim, who awakens from a coma to find that society has collapsed due to a virus that makes hosts incredibly aggressive. Together with several other non-infected people, Jim fights to survive.

In a 2022 interview with NME looking back on "28 Days Later," Murphy credited the role with helping him establish himself in the film industry. In retrospect, it could even be viewed as the first domino that led to his role as Oppenheimer. It opened doors for me," the actor explained. "I managed to get meetings. I met Christopher Nolan through that, so it was massive for me."

Batman Begins (2005)

Not long after his big break with "28 Days Later," Cillian Murphy entered the world of superhero stardom in his first collaborative project with Christopher Nolan: 2005's "Batman Begins." The first film in Nolan's "Dark Knight" trilogy starred Murphy opposite Christian Bale as the titular DC vigilante. In the movie, Murphy plays Batman's nemesis Scarecrow, a sadistic psychologist who uses a specialized fear toxin to drive his victims mad. Murphy's Scarecrow would only be a main antagonist for the first movie in the trilogy, but he nevertheless returned as the character in cameo roles for the subsequent entries of 2008's "The Dark Knight" and 2012's "The Dark Knight Rises."

A popular bit of trivia for "Batman Begins" is that Cillian Murphy was almost cast as Batman, or rather that he initially auditioned for that specific role. Of course, he didn't land the part, but he did impress Nolan enough to get a different part and become one of his most trusted collaborators. "You came out to L.A. for the screen test and we had dinner at a hotel," Nolan recalled of their meeting in a dual interview with Murphy for Entertainment Weekly. "I felt an immediate connection. I felt like, this is somebody that I want to work with, somebody who has an interesting take on things creatively."

Inception (2010)

While Christopher Nolan's "Dark Knight" trilogy was still playing out in 2010, Cillian Murphy joined the esteemed director for a different film — a twist-filled, mind-bending epic that is now considered by many to be one of the best action movies of all time. That film is, of course, "Inception." In the movie, Leonardo DiCaprio's Dom Cobb leads a team in performing a dream-based heist in order to topple a business empire. Murphy plays Robert Fischer, their unassuming target who gets wrapped up in life-threatening thrills when the heist goes sideways.

In an interview with Collider around the time that "Inception" released, Murphy spoke at length about why he enjoys working with Nolan as a filmmaker, especially on a project of such a blockbuster scale. "For him the performance is paramount," the actor said. "It's the connection between the actors. He allows room for spontaneity. You know you would imagine spontaneity in a $200 million movie is not particularly high on the list of priorities but for Chris it is. And it's really reassuring as a performer makes you feel really safe and it's just a joy to work with him."

Peaky Blinders (2013)

Not content to simply become a dominant force in the world of modern movies, Cillian Murphy also starred as the lead of one of the most popular TV shows of the 2010s: the gritty period crime drama "Peaky Blinders." Indeed, Murphy features on the series as the early 20th century gang leader Tommy Shelby throughout all six seasons. Murphy takes Shelby to some very dark and vulnerable places over the course of the series, and his performance has been recognized with several awards, with him winning Best Actor at the 2018 TV Choice Awards among others.

When "Peaky Blinders" finally finished off its impressive run in 2022, the production had been running for roughly 10 entire years. In the beginning, Murphy had reservations about his "Peaky Blinders" role, but the long-term nature of the project ultimately turned out to be a uniquely fulfilling experience for him.  "It's fascinating," he explained in an interview with Entertainment Weekly. "We started shooting this in 2012 so when it comes out, that will be a decade, so it's a big chapter of my life, a big chunk of my life. In between I did lots of other things but I've never had that experience of growing older with a character or being able to inhabit it to a point where the character starts thinking for you in the performance [outside of 'Peaky Blinders.']"

A Quiet Place Part II (2020)

One of Cillian Murphy's more recent theatrical roles of note saw the actor once again diving into full-fledged horror. While he wasn't in the original, Murphy joined the cast of John Krasinski's popular scare flick "A Quiet Place Part II." The movie sees him portray Emmett, an old family friend of the Abbotts who helps Evelyn (Emily Blunt) and her kids fight back against the bloodthirsty aliens that have conquered Earth. Murphy amps up the emotion in his performance as Emmett, who starts off in a morose state due to the death of his family. Over the course of the movie, Emmett forges a trusted bond with young Regan (Millicent Simmonds) and regains his sense of humanity and hope.

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Murphy noted that his mostly non-verbal role in "A Quiet Place Part II" was unique in that it allowed him to reach back to some of his earliest experiences while acting. "I did theater for about four or five years before I ever did any screen work," the actor said. "So I feel like I've done a lot of physical acting, and since I've continued to do theater, it was a real sort of liberating experience to get to explore some of that on screen."