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Matt Damon On Barbie vs. Oppenheimer: "People Are Allowed to Go See 2 Movies in a Weekend"
In the words of that Old El Paso commercial: "Why not both?"
Friday, July 21 promises to be a legendary date for moviegoers with Christopher Nolan's Oppenheimer (Universal Pictures) and Greta Gerwig's Barbie (Warner Bros.) going head-to-head at the box office. As you have no doubt noticed over the last year or so, there are plenty of internet memes directed at the opposing nature of the two studio blockbusters: one is solemn and introspective while the other is bubbly and effervescent.
That's not to say one is better than the other — they're just different and would make one hell of a double feature.
Matt Damon — who plays the role of Lieutenant General Leslie Groves in Oppenheimer (his second collaboration with Nolan following a brief appearance as Dr. Hugh Mann in 2014's Interstellar) — recently admitted to Vanity Fair that he was unaware of the conversation surrounding the films, but doesn't really see what all the fuss is about.
"This is the first I’m hearing about it, actually. I haven’t paid any attention to that,” the actor said. "People are allowed to go see two movies in a weekend. Oppenheimer is one of them!"
Based on American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer (the Pulitzer Prize-winning biography written by Kai Bird and the late Martin J. Sherwin), Nolan's 3-hour biopic explores the creation of the world's first atomic bomb during World War II under the auspices of the top-secret Manhattan Project. Groves oversaw the program and personally selected Doctor Oppenheimer to oversee the research and testing in Los Alamos, New Mexico.
"Groves was a military man, and so much of that ethos is about compartmentalization and the need to know all of the stuff," Damon explained. "And the scientists were all about sharing information so that they can get the truth right…there was this constant tension. The scientists felt it was actually necessary to be sharing all the information that they could, and the military felt we had to try to make whatever gains we could without giving away any of our secrets."
The actor also confirmed that Nolan (who wrote, directed, and produced the film) went the extra mile by hiring actual scientists as extras, filming at historical sites, and recreating the detonation of an atomic device without the use of CGI. How he exactly pulled off third thing on that list remains a mystery. In a way, the experience brought Damon back to his time filming Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan, whose climax took place in a bombed-out French town full of excruciating detail.
“You could see over the horizon the actual testing site and where the original town was,” Damon said of the Los Alamos set. "Ruth [De Jong], our production designer, basically rebuilt the town, so we had an active kind of town to work in. It reminded me of shooting [Saving] Private Ryan in the sense that [Steven] Spielberg would rebuild these areas and we had carte blanche—we could go anywhere we wanted to go. So, Chris had the flexibility to shoot as he wanted and needed to all around the town. It was fully immersive."
We'll just how much Oppenheimer and Barbie end up clashing at the box office when July 21 rolls around in two months' time.
Jonesing for another thriller based on true events? A Friend of the Family is now streaming on Peacock.