×
Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

Cillian Murphy Was Nearly TV's Oppenheimer A Decade Ago

While Cillian Murphy fell short in his bid to play Bruce Wayne in Christopher Nolan's "Dark Knight" trilogy, Nolan determined he was the perfect lead for "Oppenheimer."  As it turns out, however, this wasn't the first time that Murphy wasn't considered to play the legendary theoretical physicist who came to be known as "the father of the atomic bomb."

In an interview with Vanity Fair, writer and producer Sam Shaw — the creator of the WGN America series "Manhattan," which ran for two seasons from 2014 to 2015 — said Nolan's "Oppenheimer" star was on his list of potential actors to play the character in the show before the role went to Daniel London. "A thousand percent, Cillian Murphy was on that list," Shaw told Vanity Fair.

While J. Robert Oppenheimer was a key character in "Manhattan," London only appeared in only eight episodes of the series. Like "Oppenheimer," the series detailed the work that went into the Manhattan Project — the historic government program that oversaw the development of the first atomic bomb. And while the "Oppenheimer" cast was made up of several established actors, "Manhattan" featured some actors whose careers were on the rise, including future "Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" star Rachel Brosnahan and David Harbour, before his career took a big turn with "Stranger Things."

In a serendipitous bit of casting, Christopher Denham — who plays scientist-slash-Soviet Union spy Jim Meeks in "Manhattan" — also stars in "Oppenheimer" as Klaus Fuchs, a German theoretical physicist who is spying on Oppenheimer and the Manhattan Project for the Soviets.

David Bowie was also among the names discussed for Oppenheimer in Manhattan

Joining Sam Shaw in the interview with Vanity Fair was his wife and fellow "Manhattan" writer Lisa Byock, who revealed to the publication that in addition to the likes of Cillian Murphy, some major names from the music world were also among those they mulled over to play J. Robert Oppenheimer in their series.

"When we were casting Oppenheimer, we went through a whole series of different ideas," Byock told Vanity Fair. "There were actually some rock stars we considered," to which Shaw replied, "David Bowie was not available. I'm sure we talked about David Bowie, didn't we?"

Byock replied by saying that Beck was discussed as a possible candidate for the role. Shaw told Vanity Fair that he wasn't sure that he and Byock attempted to get in touch with Beck about the role, but that he was indeed considered. No matter the name of the rockers they were thinking about, Shaw told the publication that there was a reason prominent musicians were in the conversation about the qualities they wanted for whoever would play Oppenheimer.

"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 told Vanity Fair. "He needed to feel alien — or other — in some ways. He stood out."

When all was said and done, Shaw was very happy that Daniel London was cast in the role.

Shaw still sings high praises of Daniel London's portrayal of Oppenheimer

Daniel London was no stranger to show business by the time he was offered the chance to play J. Robert Oppenheimer. The actor had more than 40 credits on his resume before he got the call to play the scientist, which was largely made up of guest roles on such hit series as "Law & Order," "Nurse Jackie," "The Sopranos," and "The Americans." Just before "Manhattan," London starred in all 10 episodes of the short-lived Fox sci-fi series "Minority Report" as Wally the Caretaker opposite the show's lead, Stark Sands, who played Dash.

For "Manhattan," Sam Shaw told Vanity Fair, London was able to capture the sort of dual personality needed to channel the scientist. "Oppenheimer was a guy who was famous for being extremely charming when he needed to be, but also extraterrestrial in his erudition," Shaw told the publication. "And I think Daniel really got to that."

Perhaps the biggest thing London had going for him coming into "Manhattan" was his striking resemblance to Oppenheimer, Thomas Schlamme, who directed five episodes of the series, told Vanity Fair. Schlamme, however, didn't want London's performance to solely hinge on his looks. "He looked like Oppenheimer. It was uncanny. So first, I was trying to release him of that," Schlamme told the publication. "I was trying to get to Daniel to see this doesn't have to be an impression."

"Manhattan" is streaming on AMC+ and Freevee. "Oppenheimer" is currently playing in theaters.