13 ‘Oppenheimer’ Characters with Their Real-Life Counterparts

oppenheimer premiere in london
The Oppenheimer Cast And Their IRL CounterpartsAnadolu Agency - Getty Images
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Obviously, a great performance transcends how much you naturally look like a historical figure, but it’s still fun to see how directors choose to cast movies based on real people. In Christopher Nolan’s second historical film after 2017’s Dunkirk, he took on the creation of nuclear weapons in America for Oppenheimer (2023). It’s based on American Prometheus, a 2005 biography of scientist J. Robert Oppenheimer.

The movie, which won the 2024 Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture - Drama on Sunday, has a star-studded cast who play the people involved in one of the most significant events of the 20th century, and human history in general. Some of the greatest scientists in the world were involved in the Manhattan Project in some way including Oppenheimer himself, Enrico Fermi, Niels Bohr, and Albert Einstein. Here are some photos of the Oppenheimer cast plus the people they are portraying.

Watch Oppenheimer on Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV+, or Vudu.

Cillian Murphy

Oppenheimer is Cillian Murphy’s first starring role in a Christopher Nolan film, though they have collaborated on five other earlier movies. The pair reportedly first met to see if Murphy would be a good fit to play Bruce Wayne/Batman in Batman Begins, but he was instead offered the role of the iconic villain Scarecrow. Murphy took home the trophy for Best Actor in a Motion Picture - Drama at the 2024 Golden Globes for his performance.

cillian murphy looks at the camera while wearing a black suit jacket, shirt, and tie
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J. Robert Oppeneimer

Murphy plays the movie’s namesake, J. Robert Oppenheimer. His scientific expertise was pivotal in the development of the atomic bomb as the director of the Manhattan Project’s Los Alamos Laboratory in New Mexico. After developing the technology, Oppenheimer became an advocate for the international control of nuclear power to avoid further proliferation and opposed the development of the second-generation nuclear bomb design: the hydrogen bomb.

j robert oppenheimer holds a cigarette in one hand and has his other hand in another pocket, he wears a three piece suit
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Emily Blunt

Emily Blunt stars in her first Christopher Nolan film with this part. The actor has a ton of range and can hold her own in a period drama, fantasy world, or elaborate science-fiction scenario. In this interview with People, Blunt recalled that the vibe on the set was “like being at camp!"”

emily blunt looks at the camera while holding the handle of a large clear umbrella, she wears a golden suit jacket
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Katherine “Kitty” Oppenheimer

Blunt plays Kitty Oppenheimer (née Katherine Puening), a biologist who met Robert in 1939 while completing postgraduate research at UCLA and married to her third husband, Stewart Harrison. After marrying Robert in 1940, Kitty lived at the Los Alamos facility with her new husband and their children. Her biological expertise also came in use as she helped health workers at Los Alamos assess the effect of radiation on participants’ blood.

kitty oppenheimer stands next to a door outside with a young girl and a dog in front of her
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Matt Damon

Actor-director-writer Matt Damon has worked with Nolan once before on Interstellar as Mann, an astronaut the main crew discovers in cryosleep on a mysterious frozen planet. Along with doing great acting work recently, he was one of the screenwriters of Ridley Scott’s The Last Duel with Ben Affleck and Nicole Holofcener.

matt damon looks at the camera, he wears a blue suit jacket and tie with a white collared shirt
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Lieutenant General Leslie Groves

Damon plays U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officer Lieutenant General Leslie Groves. After overseeing the construction of the Pentagon, Groves became a director of the Manhattan Project, helping select research sites, secure materials, and construct facilities needed by the scientists. As one of the military leads of the project, he was also in charge of intelligence regarding Germany’s nuclear weapons project and helped select the Japanese cities Hiroshima and Nagasaki as targets for the United States’ deadly nuke attacks.

leslie richard groves jr sits at a desk with a pen and paper in his hands and smiles
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Florence Pugh

Florence Pugh had a strong 2022 with The Wonder and Don’t Worry Darling, and one of her most memorable roles was as Amy in 2019’s Little Women. The performance earned her an Oscar nomination. Oppenheimer is her major project for this year, but look for her appearance in Dune: Part Two come 2024.

florence pugh looks over her shoulder, she wears a navy blue and black outfit
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Jean Tatlock

Pugh plays Jean Tatlock, an American psychiatrist who had a romantic relationship with Oppenheimer before he married Kitty, which also rekindled during the marriage. Tatlock also introduced Oppenheimer to several Communist Party associates or sympathetic groups during their initial relationship in California.

a person with short hair
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Robert Downey Jr.

Robert Downey Jr. took a brief break from acting after leaving the role of Tony Stark/Iron Man in the MCU, but he’s back in a big way with this film. He was an awesome movie superhero but has also played classic characters like Sherlock Holmes, and even has an Oscar-nominated performance as Charlie Chaplin under his belt. His Oppenheimer role has earned him flowers as well: Downey Jr. accepted the trophy for Best Supporting Actor in Any Motion Picture at the 2024 Golden Globes.

robert downey jr speaks into a microphone while wearing sunglasses and a blue suit jacket over a white striped shirt and gray tie
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Lewis Strauss

Downey plays former Atomic Energy Board (AEC) chairman Lewis Strauss. Strauss served in the U.S. Navy Reserve during WWII, and he was reportedly frustrated over the secrecy of the Manhattan Project. Strauss joined the AEC in 1947 and had a lot of influence over America’s nuclear strategy during the early Cold War. He distrusted Oppenheimer due to the physicist’s Communist beliefs and was the driving force of the 1954 AEC Personnel Security Board hearings that led to Oppenheimer’s security clearance being revoked.

lewis l strauss sits and talks at a table with papers in front of him and a chalkboard on the wall behind
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Josh Hartnett

Josh Hartnett has historical film experience from Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor, and this is certainly a pretty different approach to the similar time period. He has more recently appeared in films like Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre, and shows like Penny Dreadful as well as an episode of the new Black Mirror season.

josh hartnett stands with his hands in his pockets, he wears a blue gray suit with a light blue shirt unbuttoned at the collar
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Ernest Orlando Lawrence

Hartnett plays Ernest O. Lawrence, a nuclear physicist known as the inventor of the particle accelerator the cyclotron. His expertise in these machines brought him into the fold of the military during WWII, and his work on uranium-isotope separation advanced the development of the atomic bomb.

ernest o lawrence stands outside and holds a piece of machinery in his hands, he wears a plaid suit with a light collared shirt and tie
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Rami Malek

Rami Malek is fresh off wrapping up his incredible role as Elliot in Mr. Robot in 2019, as well as his Oscar-winning portrayal of Freddie Mercury for Bohemian Rhapsody.

rami malek looks at the camera with his hands clasped in front of him, he wears a dark gray peacoat over a black collared shirt
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David Hill (Left)

Malek plays physicist David L. Hill, who worked on the Manhattan Project at the University of Chicago’s Metallurgical “Met” Lab. He was a signee of the Szilard Petition, a memo signed by 70 scientists and other workers calling on President Harry S. Truman to perform a demonstration of the nukes for Japan instead of dropping them on cities.

one man sits at a large supercomputer and looks at papers, another man points at the large supercomputer from the back
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Kenneth Branagh

This will be Kenneth Branagh’s third film with Nolan, and he is also a world-renowned actor-director with credits from excellent Shakespeare adaptations like Henry V, one of the first modern MCU films with Thor, and the recent Oscar-winning film Belfast.

kenneth branagh smiles, he wears a dark navy suit jacket over a white collared shirt and red plaid tie
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Niels Bohr

Branagh plays Niels Bohr, the renowned physicist who developed the Bohr model of the atom. He occasionally visited the Los Alamos Lab to consult on a few issues with the Manhattan Project and became an advocate for international cooperation on the development of nuclear energy late in life.

neils bohr looks at the camera, he wears a suit jacket, collared shirt and tie
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Benny Safdie

Benny Safdie exploded on the scene along with his brother Josh with their films Heaven Can Wait, Good Time, and Uncut Gems. Along with co-directing these movies, Safdie had a main role in Good Time and has acted in other projects like Licorice Pizza and Stars at Noon.

benny safdie smiles at the camera, he wears a gray suit with a white collared shirt and multicolored tie
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Edward Teller

Safdie plays Edward Teller, a Hungarian-American physicist who was an early Manhattan Project contributor. He gave a controversial testimony in Oppenheimer’s AEC trial, where he referred to his former superior’s actions as “confused and complicated” and supported the removal of his security clearance.

edward teller smiles at the camera, he wears a suit jacket and tie with a collared shirt
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Dylan Arnold

Dylan Arnold has made a name for himself in dramas like Mudbound, joined an iconic horror franchise with Halloween Kills, and now in his first Christopher Nolan movie.

dylan arnold looks at the camera, she wears a plaid jacket over a black shirt
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Frank Oppenheimer

Arnold plays Frank Oppenheimer, the younger brother of Robert who followed in his footsteps to become a physicist as well. He began working at Los Alamos in 1943, with responsibilities regarding uranium enrichment among others. His membership to the American Communist party was scrutinized in the late ’40s, causing him to be blacklisted from any scientist or professor jobs for several years during the height of McCarthyism.

frank oppenheimer sits behind a microscope, he wears a heavy suit jacket
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Danny DeFerrari

DeFerrari is a well-regarded character actor you might know from plenty of great films and shows. He played Bernie Madoff’s son Andrew Madoff in the Madoff HBO miniseries from 2016, and his role in Shiva Baby was a great showcase of his comedic talents.

danny deferrari smiles at the camera, he wears a blue suit with a black polo shirt and silver chain necklace
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Enrico Fermi

DeFerrari plays the Italian physicist Enrico Fermi, who contributed key breakthroughs to the Manhattan Project, including creating Chicago Pile-1, the world’s first nuclear reactor. CP-1 was also the site of the first man-made nuclear chain reaction when it went critical in 1942. Fermi testified on Oppenheimer’s behalf during his security hearings and also opposed the development of the hydrogen bomb.

enrico fermi smiles while sitting in front of a chalkboard, he wears a three piece suit
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Matthew Modine

Oppenheimer is Modine’s second film with Christopher Nolan, after he played a Gotham City police commissioner in The Dark Knight Rises. You might know Modine from his hit part in Stranger Things, but he’s a veteran actor with credits like Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket.

matthew modine smiles at the camera, he wears a black and white paisley patterned shirt
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Vannevar Bush

Modine plays Vannevar Bush, an engineer and administrator who was the head of the U.S. Office of Scientific Research and Development through much of WWII. Bush was a key advocate for the development of the atomic bomb and occasionally acted as a liaison to report Oppenheimer’s progress to the president and other government officials.

vannevar bush looks at the camera, he wears a suit and tie with glasses
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Tom Conti

Tom Conti is a respected stage and screen actor from Scotland. He won a Tony Award in 1979 for his performance in Whose Line is it Anyway? and received an Academy Award nomination just a few years later for his starring role in Reuben, Reuben.

tom conti smiles at the camera, he wears a yellow suit jacket over a blue collared shirt and royal blue tie
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Albert Einstein

Obviously, Einstein needs little introduction, but people might not be aware of the small but profound role he played in getting the Manhattan Project off the ground. He was asked to write a letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt warning him of Nazi research into nuclear weapons and recommending the United States look into it as well. This letter was reportedly a key factor in motivating America to join the nuclear arms race. Einstein later referred to this choice as “the one great mistake in my life.”

albert einstein looks at the camera, he wears a dark sweater over a collared shirt
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