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SYFY WIRE Oppenheimer

Christopher Nolan Explains Why He Cast His Own Daughter for Gruesome Oppenheimer Sequence

Christopher Nolan's daughter has a particularly memorable Oppenheimer cameo.

By Matthew Jackson
Christopher Nolan filming on the set of Oppenheimer (2023)

Filmmakers cast their families in cameos all the time, but Christopher Nolan went a little further than most for a particular moment in Oppenheimer.

Nolan's new film, about the title scientist (Cillian Murphy) and his relationship to the creation of and battle over the first atomic bomb, is full of Oppenheimer's own doubts, fears, and questions about the nature of atomic-driven destruction. That means that certain sequences will lean heavily on Oppenheimer mulling the consequences of creating such a weapon. One such sequence, according to The Telegraph, features a young woman being burned alive by a blinding light. It's what Nolan referred to as an "experimental" sequence meant to convey Oppenheimer's vision of the horror of atomic weapons. 

RELATED: Could Oppenheimer's Atomic Bomb Really Have Destroyed The World?

That young woman? Nolan's own daughter, Flora, who's currently a student at NYU's Tisch School of Arts. 

“We needed someone to do that small part of a somewhat experimental and spontaneous sequence,” Nolan explained. “So it was wonderful to just have her sort of roll with it.”

Christopher Nolan filming on the set of Oppenheimer (2023)

The somewhat gruesome appearance isn't Flora Nolan's first cameo in one of her father's films. She previously popped up as "Girl on Truck" for a brief cameo in Interstellar, and of course she's grown up around his movies (her mother, Emma Thomas, is also Nolan's constant producing partner). But what made Christopher Nolan want to use his daughter for this particular sequence, in which he's essential casting his own child as a victim of nuclear holocaust? 

"Truthfully, I try not to analyze my own intentions," Nolan said. "But the point is that if you create the ultimate destructive power it will also destroy those who are near and dear to you. So I suppose this was my way of expressing that in what, to me, were the strongest possible terms.”

For many moviegoers, the reality that Nolan cast his daughter in such a dramatic moment in Oppenheimer will pass by without notice, but his creative choices underscores one of the key points of the story. Nolan's source material for the film, Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin's Pulitzer-winning biography American Prometheus, emphasizes repeatedly the feeling Oppenheimer had throughout his later life that he had blood on his hands for his role in the creation and use of the first atomic bombs, something Nolan is clearly hoping to underline with his film. Casting someone he loves in such a dramatic moment might be a smaller nod in that direction than other choices in the film, but it certainly helps to drive the point home.

Oppenheimer is in theaters Friday. Get tickets at Fandango.