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13 'Oppenheimer' Characters with Their Real-Life Counterparts

Which of these modern celebs would have blended in the most in WWII times?

By Jacob Linden
oppenheimer premiere in london
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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 films based on real life people. In Christopher Nolan's second historical film after 2017's Dunkirk, he is taking on the creation of nuclear weapons in America for Oppenheimer. It's based on J. Robert Oppenheimer's 2005 biography American Prometheus, and has garnered significant excitement due to Nolan's production ambitions for the films and apparent use of minimal VFX in the movie.

The film has a star-studded cast who are playing 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.


Cillian Murphy

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Oppenheimer will be Murphy and Nolan's sixth collaboration, and Murphy's very first starring role in a Christopher Nolan film. 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.


J. Robert Oppeneimer

j robert oppenheimer
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Murphy plays the film'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.


Emily Blunt

"oppenheimer" photocall
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Blunt is starring in her first Christopher Nolan film with this part. The actress 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!"

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Katherine "Kitty" Oppenheimer

j robert oppenheimer family at home
Historical//Getty Images

Blunt plays Kitty Oppenheimer (née Katherine Puening), a biologist who met Robert in 1939 while completing postgraduate research at UCLA, and married to her 3rd husband Stewart Harrison. After marrying in 1940, Kitty lived at the Los Alamos facility with Robert 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.


Matt Damon

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The actor-director-writer 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.


Lieutenant General Leslie Groves

lieutenant general leslie richard groves jr was a united states army corps of engineers officer
Universal History Archive//Getty Images

Damon plays United States 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 U.S.'s deadly nuke attacks.

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Florence Pugh

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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. Pugh had a strong 2022 with The Wonder and Don't Worry Darling, and she will be appearing in Dune: Part Two later in 2023.


Robert Downey Jr.

jon favreau's hollywood walk of fame ceremony
Tommaso Boddi//Getty Images

Downey 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.


Lewis Strauss

atomic energy meeting attendees at conference table
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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.

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Josh Hartnett

"oppenheimer" uk premiere arrivals
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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 and an episode of the new Black Mirror season.


Ernest Orlando Lawrence

ernest o lawrence holding particle accelerator
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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.


Rami Malek

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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.

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David Hill (Left)

man works with super calculator to split the atom
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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 Truman to perform a demonstration of the nukes for Japan instead of dropping them on cities.


Kenneth Branagh

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This will be 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.


Niels Bohr

niels bohr 1885 1962 , danish physicist, nobel
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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.

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Benny Safdie

2022 new york film critics circle awards
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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 films, Safdie had a main role in Good Time, and has acted in other projects like Licorice Pizza and Stars at Noon.


Edward Teller

edward teller near chalkboard
Historical//Getty Images

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.


Dylan Arnold

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

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Frank Oppenheimer

denver post archives
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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.


Danny DeFerrari

2014 tribeca film festival after party for "xy," hosted by heineken, at parlor
Ben Gabbe//Getty Images

DeFerrari is a well-regarded character actor you may 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.

Jacob Linden
Temporary Editor, Partnerships

Jacob is a Temporary Partnerships Editor at Hearst based in Queens, New York with his partner and cat Tiger. He loves learning and writing about Film and TV, Video Games, and the weird histories of unexpected subjects.

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