Oppenheimer's Matt Damon & Emily Blunt On Their Crucial Supporting Roles And Working With Nolan [Exclusive Interview]

BY JEREMY MATHAI/JULY 20, 2023 2:00 PM EST

As much as the stars tend to steal the show, a Christopher Nolan movie is usually nothing without its ensemble cast. Imagine the entire "The Dark Knight" trilogy without the yeoman efforts of Michael Caine as Bruce Wayne's trusty guardian/butler Alfred, Morgan Freeman as the ever-dependable Lucius Fox, and Gary Oldman as Jim Gordon. How about "Inception" without the likes of Elliot Page, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Tom Hardy working in concert with Leonardo DiCaprio? Well, nothing in Nolan's oeuvre quite compares with the seemingly never-ending amount of heavy-hitters that make up the cast of "Oppenheimer." It's one thing to cast someone as immensely talented as Cillian Murphy in the title role, but it's another entirely to bring in one incredible scene partner after another to star opposite of him — to the point that, collectively, their total IMDb credits would likely rival the size of the Encyclopedia Britannica.

So when Nolan comes calling, no matter how busy an A-lister's schedule might be, you answer the phone. That's the impression that "Oppenheimer" co-stars Matt Damon and Emily Blunt left me with after a recent in-person press junket (conducted well before the SAG-AFTRA strike). Despite not sharing much actual screen time together in the movie itself, it takes no time at all to figure out why the longtime friends are paired together for this interview. Alternating between extremely insightful answers and childlike giggles (when our allotted time runs out far too quickly, Blunt hilariously scolds Damon for talking too much), the pair opened up about the dream of working on a Chris Nolan movie and their crucial role in playing second-fiddle to Cillian Murphy's central performance.

'He makes the biggest movies, the most entertaining movies, my favorite movies'

Matt, you've obviously worked with Chris before in a small role in "Interstellar." Emily, this is your first time. What were you two hoping to get out of working in such major supporting roles on Christopher Nolan movie, and do you think you achieved that?

Damon: Yeah, I got everything I wanted to out of it. Just the chance to be next to him while he works is worth the price of admission. It's awesome. I did have a small role in "Interstellar," then he put me on ice for a couple movies [laughs]. Then he brought me back in a bigger role. So I'm hoping I might be put on ice for a couple movies, but maybe –

Blunt: And then maybe brought back again [laughs].

Damon: Yeah. I just, I'm trending in the right direction [laughs]. No, he makes the biggest movies, the most entertaining movies, my favorite movies. And this is the biggest story, and we talked about it. I have the line in the film, "It's the most important..." and it really is. So, to see a story that's this big matched with a filmmaker like him at the height of his ability, it was really a privilege to be a part of it.

Blunt: Agreed. It's a really exhilarating experience, not only getting the phone call that he wants to meet you, but then you read the script, which was so heart-racing and transporting, and then you get on that set and it was just mind-blowing and everything is practical and physical and you can touch it. It's so immersive working with him, because he loves making movies and he loves actors, and you feel that. The story is so much bigger than all of us. We were just there, really, mainly, as Matt and I have been saying, to support this central extraordinary performance of Cillian's that is like an internal storm the whole way through it.

'It lives and dies with Cillian'

I'm glad you said that, because supporting characters — that's what you guys are playing, but it almost feels like you're co-leads with Cillian and Robert Downey, Jr.

Blunt: God, I don't feel that way [laughs].

Damon: Well, it's more that we have to be strong in the scenes to give him something to play off of, because it's really coming through him. Chris said that to me from the outset. He said, "I need you guys to really, like — "

Blunt: "Own these and eat them alive, these roles."

Damon: "But it lives and dies with Cillian." And so, he's like, "I need you guys in support of that," and we were like, "Yes, we're in." Then the rest, that incredible responsibility gets heaped onto Cillian's shoulders.

Blunt: But Oppenheimer was such an enigma, but yet he did have these sort of fiery, big personalities around him. And I think Chris wanted that. He wanted everyone to come in and just rip the face off it. And that's what we were encouraged to do.

Damon: But watching Chris and Cillian together build that role and watching Chris build the movie around that performance and how internal it is in moments, right? There are moments where Cillian is just, the camera is on him and there's so much happening and it's one of the great screen performances. It really is remarkable. And he just anchors this thing. It's exactly what — it's funny, because Chris, he gives you so much creative freedom, but the movie's exactly what he said it was going to be when he first talked about it with us [laughs]. It's great that he gets the best out of a collaboration, but still it's his vision in the end.

"Oppenheimer" arrives in theaters on July 21, 2023.

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