Christopher Nolan Likens Cillian Murphy’s Oppenheimer Performance to Heath Ledger’s Joker

By: Alex | Published: Feb 28, 2024

In an interview with Variety, Christopher Nolan praised Cillian Murphy’s performance as J. Robert Oppenheimer by comparing him to Heath Ledger’s legendary performance as the Joker.

These comments came shortly after the announcement of Oscar nominations, which Nolan’s latest film “Oppenheimer” led the competition with 13 different nominations. The Oscars are scheduled to take place on March 10th.

Reminiscent of Joker

Nolan told Variety how he felt when he saw Murphy’s initial transformation.

A graffiti drawing of Heath Ledger’s Joker.

Source: Matt Davis/Wikimedia

“You start to see the actor bringing an icon to life, putting the hat on, the cigarette in the corner of his mouth. You’re starting to see how he moves. It’s a thrilling moment. It is on every film. Seeing Cillian put this iconography together, it reminded me of my hair and makeup tests with Heath Ledger for the Joker,” he said.

Nolan Directed Both Films

Christopher Nolan was responsible for directing both “Oppenheimer” and “The Dark Knight”, making him the perfect person to draw such a comparison.

Christopher Nolan’s hand and foot prints at the TCL Chinese Theatre.

Source: Sammyjankis888/Wikimedia

Critics at the time that “The Dark Knight” came out heaped praise on Heath Ledger’s performance, with many fans considering Ledger’s performance the best in the character’s history. Ledger won over Batman fans, who were initially not so pleased by the casting choice. (via Showbiz CheatSheet)

A Legendary Performance

Heath Ledger as the Joker was praised for his deeply layered performance that was equal parts iconic and chilling.

A photo of Heath Ledger from 2006.

Source: Siebbi/Wikimedia

Critic Jason Best from Movie Talk commented “With his smeared whiteface make-up and leering razor-slashed smile, Ledger’s Joker is creepy enough to look at, but what he represents is even more chilling.”

Similar Praise for Cillian Murphy from Critics

Sergio Burstein from the Los Angeles Times praised Murphy’s performance as something that deserves to be seen.

A photo of Cillian Murphy from 2014

Source: Tim Cornbill/Wikimedia

“What he [Nolan] has put before our eyes definitively deserves to be seen, as does Cillian Murphy’s performance in the role of Oppenheimer and the irreconcilable but fantastic Robert Downey Jr. in the role of Lewis Strauss,” he said.

Murphy Picks Up Nomination for Best Actor

Cillian Murphy picked up his first Oscar nomination for his acting in the latest round of the Academy Awards. He told Variety about the moment he learned about the nomination.

The Academy Awards hosted at the Kodak Theatre.

Source: Greg in Hollywood/Wikimedia

“Thankfully, I live in a time zone that I don’t have to get up at 5 a.m.,” he said. “It was already organized for me. We’ve had a few days off and I’ve been at home, which has been very, very pleasant. I’m actually in my parents’ house in Cork city. I was with my parents and my wife today. So that was really nice.”


Variety Asks Murphy About His Feelings on The Nomination

In an interview with the now-Oscar-nominated actor, Variety got Murphy’s perspective on how the nomination has changed his perspective.

A collection of trophies from the Oscars.

Source: Prayitno/Unsplash

“Words don’t really do it justice. I think the superlatives fail you at this point. I’m so truly honored and kind of overwhelmed. But most of all, proud of the movie, and proud that it has achieved so much. It exceeded all of our expectations, any of any of us who are involved in making this movie,” Murphy said.


People Stopped Murphy on the Street After Oppenheimer

Murphy told Variety about how his daily life has changed as a result of his “Oppenheimer” performance.

Cillian Murphy speaks at a conference in 2017.

Source: Maximilian Bühn/Wikimedia

“I get people coming up to me on the street all the time and they say, “I’ve watched the movie five times.” And then these are older people, and they’re younger people and they’re boys and girls. It’s crazy. And then to be recognized by the Academy like we have been, it’s just kind of mind-blowing,” Murphy said.


Murphy Isn’t Taking the Nomination For Granted

Friends of Murphy gave the actor advice on how to enjoy attending the Oscars.

Cillian Murphy stands beside other celebrities at a premiere.

Source: Maximilian Bühn/Wikimedia

“I have friends that have gone to it in the past. They all say it’s a wonderful experience that you never forget. I gotta go in with an open heart and enjoy it because it may never happen again. So that’s my attitude,” he said. (via Variety)


Cillian Murphy is Tight-Lipped on Who He Wants to Meet

Variety pressed Murphy to name someone that he wanted to meet at the Oscars, but he deflected, deciding to leave it up to fate.

A giant Oscar statue.

Source: The Conmunity - Pop Culture Geek/Wikimedia

“I believe the universe will decide who you meet or not. I’m less about making a beeline for someone’s table. If you bump into someone, you bump into someone and it’s meant to be,” Murphy said.


Murphy Thinks the Real Oppenheimer Would Be Confused but Pleased

Murphy positively responded to a question from Variety, speculating that if Oppenheimer was alive today he would be happy with the film shining a spotlight on nuclear weapons and the state of the world.

A photo of Robert Oppenheimer.

Source: Los Alamos National Laboratory/Wikimedia

“I think he’d [Oppenheimer] be quite confused, in a pleased way. I think he’d be happy that if nothing else, maybe people will think about nuclear weapons in a more focused way than we tend to because, you know, half the population on the planet lives in a country that has nuclear weapons and we just don’t think about it because there are more pertinent and pressing things going on in our lives…Perhaps he might be pleased because that was kind of his life’s mission, was to be candid about the state that the world is in,” he said.


What’s Next for Murphy

In the Variety interview, Murphy talked about his next film project “Small Things Like These.”

A photo of Cillian Murphy in Berlin in 2024.

Source: Elena Ternovaja/Wikimedia

“It’s a film that’s very important to me. I’ve produced it, and I’m acting in it. And it’s an adaptation of a book, which is one of my favorite books. We’re the first Irish film to open Berlin,” Murphy said.