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Cillian Murphy Breaks Down ‘Mind-Blowing’ First Oscar Nom; Christopher Nolan Says Actor’s ‘Oppenheimer’ Transformation Reminded Him of Heath Ledger’s Joker

Shortly after the Oscar nominations were announced on Tuesday morning, “Oppenheimer” director Christopher Nolan recalled watching Cillian Murphy transform into J. Robert Oppenheimer for the first time.

“It was really in the hair and makeup tests, which we shoot on Imax and in black-and-white,” Nolan told Variety. “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.”

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“Oppenheimer” earned 13 noms, the most of any films this year. Nolan goes into Oscar night with individual nominations for director and adapted screenplay. Murphy and Emily Blunt are first-time nominees for their work. Robert Downey Jr. also picked up a supporting actor nom.

Murphy learned of his best actor nod from his home country of Ireland. “Thankfully, I live in a time zone that I don’t have to get up at 5 a.m.,” he told Variety. “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.”

He was in his childhood kitchen when the nominations were revealed. “We had a cup of tea and a slice of cake. It was quite nice,” Murphy said. “My mom made a sponge cake. It was very tasty.”

Below, Murphy speaks with Variety about what the nomination means to him and what the real Oppenheimer would think of the film.

This is your first Oscar nomination. The film has been a huge success. How do you wrap your mind around all of this?

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. 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.

Who from the movie texted you first this morning?

It all came at one time. Everybody. We’re a very tight unit. We’re all very close so it’s lovely to share it with your friends.

Who are you bringing to the Oscars?

I’ll bring my wife and my boys, hopefully. That’s the plan so far.

Has anyone given you advice about going to the Oscars as a nominee?

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.

You’ve been doing awards season and meeting a lot of people, but is there someone you still want to meet at the Oscars?

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.

Do you get starstruck?

I met some of the guys from “Succession.” That’s my favorite show on the telly. I’m so heartbroken that it’s finished.

What do you think J. Robert Oppenheimer would think of all this?

That’s a really good question. I think he’d 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. But this is there. It’s like the sword of Damocles hanging over all of us all the time. 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.

I have to ask about the “Peaky Blinders” movie – when do you start shooting?

[Laughs] If there’s more stories to tell, I am going to be there. I’m really, really proud of the TV show. I think we made something very special. We made 36 hours of what I consider to be high quality TV. For the film, it will have to be special. But I’m there, man. If there’s a good script, I’m there.

Your next film, “Small Things Like These,” is opening the Berlin Film Festival. [Based on Claire Keegan’s historical novel of the same name, the film tells the story of Ireland’s infamous Magdalen laundries.]

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.

Why is it one of your favorite books?

It’s heartbreaking and beautiful and quiet and political. It has all the qualities that I enjoy. I hope we’ve been able to do it justice in the adaptation.

Matt Damon and Ben Affleck are also producers.

Their company paid for the movie and we produced it together. I pitched it to Matt when we were out in the desert and shooting “Oppenheimer.”

Do you pitch it to him in between takes or do you say, “Let’s go to dinner. I want to pitch you something?”

I wasn’t going for dinner. I wasn’t eating. It was in between set-ups. I think it was during one of the rain set-ups. There’s no time wasted on a Chris Nolan film. There is rarely sitting around. There are no seats. But on this occasion it was a night shoot. We were waiting for the rain towers to get fixed and I pitched him this idea and he went for it.

They don’t serve dinner at the Oscars, so will you bring a snack with you?

Maybe I’ll bring some of mom’s sponge cake in my wife’s handbag.

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