Your Much-Needed Guide To Navigating the Many Men of ‘Oppenheimer’

I’ve learned something in my life that has proven very useful to me: My knowledge of celebrities is not universal. Our Kaila Hale-Stern said to me after she saw Oppenheimer that she wished I was with her simply so I could tell her who everyone is and where she knew them from. It is, as the kids say, a gift. Maybe it is just because I had very little to do in high school and college and surrounded myself with other people who loved movies and actors but I just simply always knew who these people were and what roles they’d played in the past.

That’s why when everyone was suddenly on the Cillian Murphy train, I was shocked. Did you also not have a confusing experience watching the movie Red Eye back in 2005? Just me? Well, okay then.

I realized after my third viewing of Oppenheimer that I could be using this skill to good use. Mainly because after every single time I saw the movie, I heard people wondering who was who and why they knew them. I’m here to help. Focusing on mainly the men (because there are so many of them in this movie and because we all should know who Florence Pugh and Emily Blunt are), let’s unpack how you know the cast of Oppenheimer.

Cillian Murphy as J. Robert Oppenheimer

Cillian Murphy as J. Robert Oppenheimer in Oppenheimer
(Universal Pictures)

A Christopher Nolan staple if there ever was one, Murphy began working with Nolan on Batman Begins and the two would go on to work on five other movies together, Oppenheimer included. But prior to his work with Nolan, Murphy was popular in his home country of Ireland before making the leap to Hollywood audiences. Batman Begins hit theaters two months before Red Eye did and the rest is history. If you weren’t a “Nolan bro” prior to seeing Oppenheimer, you probably saw Cillian Murphy in movies like Sunshine starring opposite Chris Evans and Michelle Yeoh or maybe you thought that guy with the beard in A Quiet Place Part II was hot.

For those who really don’t know why they knew him other than Oppenheimer, it’s probably Peaky Blinder. Playing Tommy Shelby, Murphy led the series throughout its entire run and the show was very popular and still is to this day. Chances are Shelby was your introduction to Murphy. If anyone other than me saw In the Heart of the Sea or In Time, then I’d be surprised but he was also in those. Point is: Murphy has been around.

Robert Downey Jr. as Lewis Strauss

Robert Downey Jr. as Lewis Strauss in Oppenheimer
(Universal Pictures)

C’mon. Like actually. If you were confused as to who was playing Lewis Strauss, I have to assume you were living under a rock for the last fifteen years. Only because Robert Downey Jr. was leading the charge over in the world of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Tony Stark. So acting like you don’t know who he is makes no sense. Prior to the MCU though, Downey also had a huge career spanning decades. Starting with a string of teen comedies in the ’80s and an emotionally raw performance in the 1987 film Less Than Zero, he went on to be a romantic lead in the 90s before his Oscar nomination in 1993 for his film Chaplin.

Point is: He’s been around. And is arguably one of the most recognizable people on the planet. Downey is the kind of actor who can transform himself for each role he takes on so if anyone was confused by how different he looks in Oppenheimer compared to his superhero counterpart, that could be at least a little understandable. Still, this is hopefully the role that gives him that Oscar win because he is so incredibly good as Lewis Strauss.

Rami Malek as David Hill

Rami Malek as David Hill in Oppenheimer
(Universal Pictures)

Speaking of Oscars, Rami Malek has one! Remember Bohemian Rhapsody? This is your Freddie Mercury! Malek became a fan favorite for his work on Mr. Robot, starring opposite Christian Slater in the hit USA series. He has since gone on to be the latest and last Bond villain for Daniel Craig’s turn as James Bond in No Time to Die as well as working with Robert Downey Jr. in his movie Dolittle.

Malek is in a lot of things but he is a somewhat newer presence for some audiences. Seeing him rise to prominence has been exciting to watch because Malek is so captivating on screen. If you need proof of this, look no further than his final moments in Oppenheimer when he swoops in to destroy what little hope Strauss had of having a seat on Eisenhower’s cabinet.

Benny Safdie as Edward Teller

Benny Safdie giving the Teller stare in Oppenheimer
(Universal Pictures)

Talk about a year! Benny Safdie is a filmmaker himself, most known for his work in his latest film with his brother Josh Safdie titled Uncut Gems. While Josh Safdie is typically behind the camera, Benny Safdie does a bit of both. It is why he has played two great roles so far this year. First, he played Herb Simon in the long-anticipated film Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret before heading into Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer as a fan favorite.

Before that, Safdie was also in his own movie starring opposite Robert Pattinson in Good Time and he also made his Paul Thomas Anderson debut in Licorice Pizza. For the Star Wars fans, you might also recognize him as Nari in the Disney+ series Obi-Wan Kenobi. He started to really make his mark in 2017 as an actor and filmmaker but he has recently shot to stardom for a good reason.

Jack Quaid as Richard Feynman

Jack Quaid (sans bongos) in Oppenheimer
(Universal Pictures)

Where do I even start? Do you watch The Boys? Well, it’s Huey. Are you a Star Trek fan? Well, great. It’s Boimler. Are you a fan of romantic comedies from the 90s and early 00s? You probably know his parents then because Jack Quaid is famously the son of Dennis Quaid and Meg Ryan. He’s also the guy who kills Rue in The Hunger Games so you probably hate him and don’t know why. Hope that helps with the anger you feel!

Quaid has been acting for a while and while he is part of the nepo baby conversation, he’s a very good actor so we let it slide. Now, he’ll probably be known for playing bongos after the Trinity Test (which was a very real thing that Richard Feynman did) but hey, at least he’s not going to be known as the villain from The Hunger Games anymore, right?

Matt Damon as Lt. Leslie Groves

Matt Damon as Lt. Leslie Groves in Oppenheimer
(Universal Pictures)

Again, I don’t think anyone came out of Oppenheimer and wondered who Matt Damon was. The boy wonder who wrote Good Will Hunting (along with his friend Ben Affleck) while he was in college at Harvard around the age of 24 so let that sink in for you and your achievements. After the movie was released in 1997, Damon has continued to climb in Hollywood from working with Affleck (who he won an Oscar with for Good Will Hunting) to just being a leading man.

So what have you seen him in? That depends on what kind of movies you enjoy. He was in The Great Wall with Pedro Pascal so if you went through Pascal’s filmography, you at least saw him in that. He’s very funny so he’s been in films like Dogma as well as that movie where he buys a zoo. He’s also worked with Nolan before in Interstellar and he has been in space even more with films like The Martian. Maybe you know him from my favorite Martin Scorsese film because he is the best in The Departed. I don’t know man, it’s Matt Damon.

Devon Bostick as Seth Neddermeyer

Devon Bostick as Seth Neddermeyer sitting in Oppenheimer
(Universal Pictures)

Now I personally was a little too old for these movies when they came out but my little cousin loved them so I watched them with him. That is, of course, the Diary of a Wimpy Kid franchise. Devon Bostick played Rodrick Heffley, Greg’s older brother. So if you were a kid going to see those movies, it probably is a little weird to suddenly see Greg’s older brother as a serious scientist helping to build the first atomic bomb.

Bostick has also been in movies like Okja and he’s around but for the most part, the “why do I know that guy?” conversation is probably definitely centered around his work as Rodrick.

Josh Peck as Kenneth Bainbridge

Josh Peck during the Trinity Test in Oppenheimer
(Universal Pictures)

Ah, my time as a young millennial woman is here. Josh Peck was a staple of my childhood. You know those Nickelodeon shows that are aimed for younger teens instead of little kids? That’s where Drake & Josh lived and I was 12 when the show began, the perfect age to watch a blended family come together to shine. Peck, after the show, grew up and was popular on Vine for a while before he really jumped back into the acting world with shows like How I Met Your Father.

He’s been around since at least 2004 for many of us but he has gone in and out of stardom. So seeing him in a big movie like Oppenheimer was a bit shocking, just because we’ve never really seen something like this from him in the past.

Josh Hartnett as Ernest Lawrence

Josh Hartnett as Lawrence during the Trinity Test in Oppenheimer
(Universal Pictures)

Sometimes, being a young girl of the ’90s and early ’00s comes in handy in 2023. Josh Hartnett was a major heartthrob. Many of us were in love with him back in the late ’90s/early aughts and for about ten years, Hartnett was in everything. Pearl Harbor, Hollywood Homicide, The Virgin Suicides, Halloween H20: 20 Years Later, The Black Dahlia, Sin City, and more. He continued to work but not at the same pace as during his heartthrob era, so you may have seen him in less blockbustery movies like Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre by director Guy Ritchie. Still, many of us were in love with him and it feels great to have him back.

David Dastmalchian as William Borden

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA - JULY 21: David Dastmalchian presents at the 2023 Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards held at the Indigo Ballroom at the Hilton Bayfront Hotel on July 21, 2023 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Albert L. Ortega/Getty Images)
(Albert L. Ortega/Getty Images)

A character who comes in and destroys whatever peace that Robert Oppenheimer has found in himself, William Borden could have been played as a villain or as a man just trying to do his job. Luckily, David Dastmalchian brought nuance to the role as he does with all of his work. A true chameleon, you’ve definitely seen him before. Even this year, he was in The Boogeyman as Lester Billings as well as starring in Boston Strangler and most recently, The Last Voyage of the Demeter.

He’s been in quite a few superhero properties. He’s one of Scott Lang’s friends in Ant-Man and Ant-Man and the Wasp while playing Veb in Quantumania and Polka-Dot Man in James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad. No stranger to Christopher Nolan’s work, he was also in The Dark Knight. Dastmalchian is pretty much everywhere.

Gary Oldman as President Truman

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 13: Gary Oldman attends the Apple TV+ BAFTA TV Brunch celebrating excellence in global storytelling and creativity at 180 House on May 13, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Dave Benett/Getty Images for Apple TV+)
(Dave Benett/Getty Images for Apple TV+)

One of the things that inspired me to write this piece was how many people didn’t recognize Gary Oldman. Showing up as President Truman after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he serves an important reminder for the film as a whole: Oppenheimer felt like he had blood on his hands and men like Truman wanted credit for killing hundreds of thousands of innocent people for power.

Oldman has been in Christopher Nolan movies before as Commissioner Gordon in his Batman trilogy. More than that, Oldman is constantly working. Whether it is Léon or his work as Sirius Black in the Harry Potter series, he’s around. You might have seen him as the villain of Air Force One or maybe you’re a fan of The Fifth Element. He’s been all over the place for decades.

Dane DeHaan as Major General Kenneth Nichols

Dane Dehaan is Kenneth Nichols in OPPENHEIMER, written, produced, and directed by Christopher Nolan.
(Universal Pictures)

Remember in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, when Andrew Garfield’s friend Harry showed up and became his Green Goblin? That’s Dane DeHaan. His roles are frankly all over the place in the best way because you could know him from anything. He starred in Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets as well as Kill Your Darlings, A Cure for Wellness, and the long-awaited film Tulip Fever.

For me, he also starred in A Place Beyond the Pines as Ryan Gosling’s son Jason when the film time-jumps. It’s a beautiful movie and one that highlights just how talented its cast is and was really a star moment for DeHaan. One that makes his work in Oppenheimer that much more menacing.

Alex Wolff as Luis Walter Alvarez

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - OCTOBER 24: Actor/writer/director Alex Wolff visits the Build Series to discuss his directorial film debut “The Cat and the Moon” at Build Studio on October 24, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Gary Gershoff/Getty Images)
(Gary Gershoff/Getty Images)

Are you a fan of The Naked Brothers Band? What about My Friend Dahmer? The Nic Cage movie Pig? Maybe you’re trapped on that beach that makes you age really fast (yes he was in Old). You could have also just gone down a rabbit hole with him and his brother Nat Wolff performing together. The pop-rock duo of the Wolff boys are all over and for good reason, they’re great! The confusion might come in when someone who doesn’t know them that well has to figure out if it is Alex or Nat Wolff you’re watching.

He was a fun scientist working with Lawrence in Oppenheimer but Alex Wolff has been all over the place with his work, most recently in the film The Line which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and was a great highlight of his work as an actor.

Kenneth Branagh as Niels Bohr

Kenneth Branagh with an apple in Oppenheimer
(Universal Pictures)

There are actors you see for the first time and then feel compelled to watch every single thing they’ve ever done after that. With Branagh, that first for me was Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, where he played Gilderoy Lockhart and it set me on a path to greatness consuming the rest of Kenneth Branagh’s works. If you are a fan of Shakespeare, you can probably thank Branagh for bringing a lot of his plays to the big screen.

Maybe you love the first Thor movie? That’s Kenneth Branagh’s direction. He’s been in Nolan’s films in the past like Tenet and Dunkirk and is a director all himself but his roles are always fully realized, brilliant, and very Branagh. Figuring out why you know him might be a solitary adventure but you’ve seen him in something, that’s for sure.

Jason Clarke as Roger Robb

Jason Clarke is Roger Robb in OPPENHEIMER, written, produced, and directed by Christopher Nolan.
(Universal Pictures)

The new most hated man in Christopher Nolan’s world. Jason Clarke played Roger Robb in Oppenheimer but he also has been all over the map with his career. Playing John Connor in Terminator Genisys, Clarke has been in Oscar nominated films like Zero Dark Thirty to iconic roles as George Wilson in Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby. He’s rarely the star of these projects, often bringing to life a secondary character that is very important to the plot, but he is great at what he does.

The more recent installment in Clarke’s career that people may recognize Pet Sematary, a remake of the classic Stephen King story. While he might not instantly be recognizable to some, his work stands for itself and you realize that you’ve seen a lot of his roles because he’s just so good at creating characters.

Michael Angarano as Robert Serber

Michael Angarano in Oppenheimer
(Universal Pictures)

Another “remember growing up watching his movies?” entry into the cast of Oppenheimer and Michael Angarano is definitely part of that. Starring in movies like Sky High and Almost Famous, Angarano was a staple in a lot of movies that younger millennials watched as kids. Since then, he’s been in shows like Minx as well as starring in The Stanford Prison Experiment.

Recently, he has begun directing projects as well but what you probably had the “what do I know him from?” moment with is something like Sky High.

Olivia Thirlby as Lilli Hornig

Olivia Thirlby as Lilli Hornig in oppenheimer
(Universal Pictures)

In the 2007 comedy Juno, the titular character (played by Elliot Page) had a quippy friend named Leah. 16 years later, Olivia Thirlby showed up in Oppenheimer and I was so excited to see her take on the men of the Manhattan Project and their veiled sexism regarding her abilities as a scientist. Thirlby though has been all over the map with her work, even working with Angarano in The Standford Prison Experiment back in 2015.

Somewhat of an indie film darling, Thirlby is one of those actresses that if you know her work, you love it. If not, you probably didn’t stop and think further about her except for the fact that everyone is in Oppenheimer and they’ve all been in films we know and love. Getting to see her in a Nolan movie excited me because I really did love her as Leah in Juno and hopefully this makes her a more sought-after performer.

Alden Ehrenreich as Senate Aide

Alden Ehrenreich as the senate aide in oppenheimer
(Universal Pictures)

Welcome to the Rachel Screams About Alden Ehrenreich Power Hour. Ehrenreich’s work is always impressive. No matter the size of his role, he commits. It is probably why his performance as Lewis Strauss’ Senate Aide is some of the best work in Oppenheimer. If you wonder where you’ve seen Ehrenreich before, might I point you in the direction of Solo: A Star Wars Story? He also has worked with the Coen Brothers in Hail, Caesar as well as starring in films like Beautiful Creatures, Stoker, and starring opposite Warren Beatty in Rules Don’t Apply.

His career isn’t exactly small but he’s still staking a claim with his work and he’s proven his ability as an actor over and over again. The thing people probably recognize him for though is playing a young Han Solo in the Star Wars universe and there’s nothing wrong with that. Hopefully, though, they go and enjoy other aspects of his filmography now that they’ve seen Oppenheimer.

James D’Arcy as Patrick Blackett

James D'arcy in Oppenheimer
(Universal Pictures)

There is only one answer to this. (There are probably others but I don’t really care about those.) It’s Jarvis! James D’Arcy appears in Oppenheimer as Robert’s tutor who gives him a hard time (who Robert then tries to kill). Why fans might have paused at seeing D’Arcy on screen is twofold. It could be because you actually watched Agent Carter and saw the brilliance of James D’Arcy as Edwin Jarvis, the butler to Howard Stark who would go on to inspire Tony to name his A.I. after him.

The other? Well, he’s briefly in Avengers: Endgame when Steve Rogers and Tony Stark go back in time to the 70s and see Howard Stark before Tony is even born and Jarvis is there to pick Tony up from work. That’s where I know him best, though he’s built a career starring in things like Master and Commander as well as Broadchurch—but it is Jarvis for me.

Matthew Modine as Vannevar Bush

L to R: Tom Jenkins is Richard Tolman and Matthew Modine is Vannevar Bush in OPPENHEIMER, written, produced, and directed by Christopher Nolan.
(Universal Pictures)

The younger audience knows Matthew Modine as Papa. But the reason he’s in Stranger Things at all is for his body of work in the 80s, which includes movies like Full Metal Jacket as well as Birdy and more. Modine has also worked with Christopher Nolan previously and if we know one thing about Nolan it is that if he’s worked with you once, he loves to do it again and so it wouldn’t be surprising if you know him from just working with Nolan in the past.

The thing is that Matthew Modine is so good that you kind of forget how evil he is in Stranger Things. Or maybe that’s just because he’s equally so good in Oppenheimer that you let the lingering thoughts of “Papa” fade.

David Krumholtz as Isidor Isaac Rabi

L to R: Cillian Murphy is J. Robert Oppenheimer and David Krumholtz is Isidor Rabi in OPPENHEIMER, written, produced, and directed by Christopher Nolan.
(Universal Pictures)

Look. This one is the moment, the reason people yell “WHAT?” out loud. This is my great joy in life to tell you if you don’t know already. But this man? This brilliant actor who is always on the top of his game and has recently been killing it with his work? This is Bernard the hot elf from the movie The Santa Clause. Yes, that one where Tim Allen accidentally makes Santa fall off a roof and has to take over as our Christmas gem.

David Krumholtz is having a renaissance. He was in a play called Leopoldstadt on Broadway and was brilliant and prior to that, he was on the show NUMB3RS. Still, where you probably know this man is The Santa Clause and I just think that’s neat.

Tony Goldwyn as Gordon Gray

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MARCH 20: Tony Goldwyn attends MGM's
(Cindy Ord/Getty Images)

Hello, Mr. President (from Scandal). In Oppenheimer, Goldwyn (yes of the MGMs) was one of the people deciding whether or not Robert “Oppy” Oppenheimer deserved to have his security clearance. What everyone knew him from before that though was the President in Scandal who was sleeping with Kerry Washington. He’s often in smaller roles in projects, like playing a coach for Venus and Serena Williams in King Richard as well as starring in the movie Plane.

He’s been in a lot of things and if you’re not a Scandal fan then maybe you’ve seen him in the Divergent movies. I know him from seeing him while I was in a taxi and going “I think that’s that guy from Scandal?” to the driver but that’s just me.

Scott Grimes as Strauss’ Counsel

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA - JULY 20: Scott Grimes speaks at
(Amy Sussman/Getty Images)

Strauss’ other counsel was played by Scott Grimes, who was a little more open to understanding where Downey’s Strauss was coming from. While he is the kind of movies like the Critters franchise, Grimes is really known for a show that means a lot (funnily enough) to Star Trek fans. I’m talking about The Orville. A show made with love by Seth MacFarlane, who loves Trek, the series is a funny take on the world that Gene Roddenberry built.

Playing Lt. Gordon Malloy, it is arguably his most famous role. And hey, maybe I was the only one who saw him and thought to myself “Wait, I know him” but I do think Scott Grimes is very charming and funny. Seeing him in a Nolan movie? That was just a personal delight for me.

James Remar as Henry Stimson

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - OCTOBER 05: James Remar attends the
(Dominik Bindl/Getty Images for Film at Lincoln Center)

Talk about an actor (trademark). James Remar has been in some classic movies. Mainly The Warriors, which I have a deep love for. But most people know him as Dexter Morgan’s father on the series Dexter. Part of The Fast and the Furious franchise as well, Remar is constantly working and bringing us amazing work to celebrate him for, whether or not you know him by name.

If you’re trying to remember now who he was in Oppenheimer, he’s the guy who said they couldn’t possibly pick Kyoto as a target to bomb because he had his honeymoon there. One of the most horrifying lines in the film and Remar delivered it with such sincerity that it stays with you.

______________________

Here you have it, the cast of Oppenheimer. Anyone I missed?

This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the work being covered here wouldn’t exist.

(featured image: Universal Pictures)

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