Christopher Nolan and Cillian Murphy have had a long-standing partnership that began when Murphy auditioned to play Batman in the Dark Knight trilogy. The role would of course go to Christian Bale in Nolan’s Batman movies, but he hired the relatively unknown Murphy for the main movie villain. They reunited on science fiction movie Inception and on war movie Dunkirk. In the upcoming Oppenheimer, Murphy will be taking the lead in a Nolan blockbuster for the first time.
Nolan and Murphy have been speaking to EW about their twenty year friendship. And Nolan explains how he first came to notice Murphy; “I remember I was up in San Francisco writing Batman Begins and there was something in the San Francisco Chronicle about zombie movie 28 Days Later. I saw a picture of you [Murphy] with your shaved head and your crazy eyes — no offense.”
“I remember being struck by your presence, literally from that one photograph, and then started to look into who you were, and what you’d done, and got very excited about the idea of meeting you, and having you screen test for Batman.”
Murphy says; “It was clear to me from the beginning that I wasn’t Batman material. It felt to me that it was correct and right that it should be Christian Bale for that part. But I remember the buzz of trying on the suit and being directed by you. Those tests were high production values.”
Nolan adds; “When we had our first conversation I think both of us knew that you weren’t going to wind up playing Batman. But I really wanted to get on set with you, I wanted to get you on film. We did those screen tests very elaborately, on 35mm, with a little set. There was just an electric atmosphere in the crew when you started to perform.
“We did two scenes – there was a Bruce Wayne scene and a Batman scene – and I made sure that executives came down and watched what you were doing on set. Everybody was so excited by watching you perform that when I then said to them, ‘Okay, Christian Bale is the Batman actor, but what about Cillian to play Scarecrow?’ there was no dissent.
“All the previous Batman villains had been played by huge movie stars: Jack Nicholson, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jim Carrey, that kind of thing. That was a big leap for them and it really was purely on the basis of that test. So that’s how you got to play Scarecrow.”
For more from the world of Gotham, check out our guide to the best Joker actors.