In a film career that has spanned more than 20 years, Cillian Murphy just scored his first Oscar nomination, for playing the titular role in Christopher Nolan’s blockbuster epic Oppenheimer.
Murphy, who was at his parents’ house in Ireland when his name was called out Tuesday and was “sitting around having tea” before “the phone started popping,” spoke with Deadline just after the nominations announcement.
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“I feel really privileged and I feel really lucky to be in a film that’s connected with people in a way that it has critically and commercially,” he said. “To be in a film that people have seen three and four and five times and they come up to you and tell you that…”
When asked if he’s grasped the enormity of an Oscar nomination and what he might have thought when he was starting out, he says, “I don’t think you would have believed it or seen it as a possibility or anything like that; I just wanted to make theater and make good theater, and then you do a small part in a short film and then a small part in a film — we’ve talked about this really gradual process and I think that’s why I’m able to deal with it and able to enjoy it. I’m like 48 and I’ve seen a lot and been doing it for 28 years now, so I think I can understand how significant it is to me and how meaningful it is to me and to other people… You know, it’s been a long time in the business. I think as a youngster it just didn’t seem a possibility anything like this.”
The humble Murphy, who famously does not like talking about himself, has recently gotten some practice making heartfelt acceptance speeches, including for his Golden Globe Best Performance by a Male Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama win.
Now that he’s got an Oscar nom, in addition to BAFTA and SAG up ahead, what has he learned on the campaign trail?
He says, “I feel really lucky to have been in rooms full of artists who I really genuinely admire and get to spend time and talk about it. It is a bit of a circus, but it’s there because people love the film and they care about the work and they care about cinema. I have to say I’m really enjoying it… It just felt really a lovely and secure place to be.”
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He adds, “I think you kind of need to open your heart a little bit and just go with it; it’s all positivity and that’s a good thing, I think we need positivity in the world right now.”
Murphy continues, “There’s too much cynicism in the world, I think, and we all recognize our place as actors and we all know where we stand in the sort of import of what we do for society, but I think it’s important to just avoid cynicism and embrace it.”
Murphy called the past few weeks a “fascinating experience to go through” and said it was “really stimulating to meet all these people that you would never get to meet — I mean, you’re standing in a queue and you’re chatting to Meryl Streep or somebody. It’s quite insane, and that may never happen again in my life and you gotta just enjoy that.”
Murphy has also referred to himself as a sort of “weirdo hermit” in previous conversations we’ve had, but he did tell me today that he was aware of the box office success of Universal’s Oppenheimer which has grossed more than $950 million globally. “You couldn’t avoid it, everybody was texting me. We’re all on a group texting, it was phenomenal, beyond all expectations.”
He added, “That’s why you really have to embrace the love from the young and old and from your peers and from critics; you really have to embrace it because it’s universal and that’s rare that happens with a film.”
For Murphy up ahead, there is “no chilling happening between now and March.” He’s got multiple awards shows to attend, and is opening the Berlin Film Festival with Small Things Like These in which he stars and which he produced.
For today, he’ll be doing interviews (“which is good, it’ll keep my mind off things”) and “probably take the dog for a walk and go for some dinner.”
Oppenheimer landed a leading 13 nominations from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences today, following myriad wins and nominations from other bodies. Nolan wrote the script based on the book American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin.
The film centers on the complicated and brilliant physicist tasked with leading the Manhattan Project, the secret effort to create the atom bomb, and the moral and political struggles that followed.
Oppenheimer the man, as the movie tells it, struggled with psychological issues in his youth and grew to become a peerless intellectual though not an entirely likable presence. After the war, he was a vocal opponent of nuclear armament and was stripped of his security clearance during a 1954 hearing that focused on his maybe/maybe-not communist ties.
The story plays out in an unusual first-person approach, with a moral conundrum gathering in Oppenheimer’s head as he begins to envision the dangers beyond a short-term use of a weapon that could — and did — spark an arms race and a new world order that changed us forever. The film presents the audience with philosophical quandaries aplenty.
Oppenheimer also features a large and starry cast that includes Robert Downey Jr and Emily Blunt (both nominated today), as well as Matt Damon, Florence Pugh, Jason Clarke, Kenneth Branagh and an unrecognizable Gary Oldman along with a host of others.
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