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SYFY WIRE Oppenheimer

Christopher Nolan Went So Method He Used Actual Scientists as Extras on Oppenheimer

Oppenheimer detonates on the big screen Friday, July 21.

By Josh Weiss
Oppenheimer Trailer

Oppenheimer — the thirteenth feature of Christopher Nolan's celebrated filmography — is, perhaps, the largest undertaking the writer/director has ever tackled throughout his career thus far.

Not only does the ambitious biopic feature a massive cast packed with A-listers (Cillian Murphy, Matt Damon, Florence Pugh, Emily Blunt, Robert Downey Jr., Josh Peck, and Benny Safdie are just a small fraction of the faces one can expect to see onscreen), but it also casts a wide historical net in an attempt to paint the full picture of how the top-secret Manhattan Project changed the course of human history by unlocking the terrible power of the atom and unleashing it upon the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

RELATED: Cillian Murphy On the 'Huge Responsibility' of Christopher Nolan's Oppenheimer

During a recent conversation with Entertainment Weekly, however, Nolan — who also wrote and produced the film — revealed that despite the sheer size of the endeavor, he and veteran cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema (Interstellar, Tenet) opted for a shoot that was "sort of fast and furious and efficient."

"We kind of jumped back to an earlier point in both of our careers, where we had no Steadicam on set, we had no playback or monitors," he continued. "We were approaching it in a very stripped-down manner which gave us a terrific energy. I think it gelled very well with the ensemble nature of the piece. Even though Oppenheimer is at the center of it, we had this incredible ensemble of actors bringing so much to the table, and we really wanted to be able to move fast, jump around, and capture anything that was going to get thrown up by that."

"Every day, you had these phenomenal actors, who are heroes of mine, coming in. Every day, you were having to raise your game to work with these legends," added Murphy, who plays the titular father of the atomic bomb. "Everybody was so unbelievably well-prepared. Every single actor, no matter what size their role or the significance of their character in history, each one of them had this massive depth of knowledge that they could draw on."

RELATED: Christopher Nolan says his 'Oppenheimer’ film is 'both dream and nightmare'

And it's not just the principal actors who brought their A game to set. For the scenes at Los Alamos (the famous New Mexico facility where a bulk of atomic research and testing took place), Nolan tapped actual scientists to play extras for an added layer of realism.

"You've been on sets where you've got a lot of extras around and they're more or less thinking about lunch. These guys were thinking about the geopolitical implications of nuclear arms and knew a lot about it," he said. "It actually was a great reminder every day of: We have to be really on our game, we have to be faithful to the history here, and really know what we're up to."

Based on American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer — the Pulitzer-winning biography by Kai Bird and the late Martin J. Sherwin — Oppenheimer detonates on the big screen Friday, July 21.

Jonesing for another thriller based on true events? A Friend of the Family is now streaming on Peacock.