Oppenheimer Was A Natural Fit For Cillian Murphy After Peaky Blinders

There was a time when it seemed like Cillian Murphy was destined for movie superstardom. The Irish actor was mesmerizing in early-2000s films like "28 Days Later," "Batman Begins," "Red Eye" and "Breakfast on Pluto." But while he's remained busy over the years, Hollywood just couldn't figure out what to do with him, so he wound up bouncing from leads to supporting roles for a bit until he found a role that fit him like a tweed suit in Tommy Shelby, the crime boss of "Peaky Blinders."

Now that Steven Knight's gangster series has come to a close after six knockabout seasons, Murphy has been gifted a prime opportunity to reestablish himself as a big-screen draw in Christopher Nolan's forthcoming "Oppenheimer." Murphy has been cast as the physicist who spearheaded the Manhattan Project's development of the atomic bomb. Oppenheimer's triumph resulted in the end of World War II and the death of over 200,000 people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined. He was a brilliant, complicated man, quite apart from the ruthless Shelby — at least, it might seem that way. Murphy, however, views these men as similar in their complexities.

What could a mob boss and a nuclear physicist possibly have in common?

In a recent interview with The Guardian, Murphy opened up about his approach to Oppenheimer.

"I'm interested in the man and what [inventing the atomic bomb] does to the individual. The mechanics of it, that's not really for me — I don't have the intellectual capability to understand them, but these contradictory characters are fascinating."

It's this contradictory nature that leads Murphy to compare Oppenheimer to his "Peaky Blinders" character: "Tommy Shelby's a complete contradiction, too. People identify with that, because we all walk around with these contradictory ideas coexisting in our heads."

Oppenheimer is a fascinatingly tragic figure. His efforts were initially hailed by the U.S. government, but as time wore on, he fell out of favor. It's unclear the extent to which Nolan's film will delve into the scientist's later years, but even if the film covers only his work at the Los Alamos Laboratory, Murphy will be able to sink his teeth into a man who was moved to invent the means of humanity's extinction in order to beat back a toxic wave of fascism. That's a heckuva lot of conflict pent up in one man.

This won't be the first time Oppenheimer has been portrayed on screen. Dwight Schultz, best known as "Howling Mad" Murdoch on the 1980s action series "The A-Team," played the physicist in Roland Joffe's dramatically inert "Fat Man and Little Boy." If they ever get around to giving that hit NBC show another big-screen shot, we could see Murphy acing the part of that maniac pilot.