It’s been almost 20 years since Christopher Nolan and Cillian Murphy first teamed up for Batman Begins, and now, with Oppenheimer due this July, the two have just completed their sixth collaboration. But in a recent interview with Entertainment Weekly, the pair revealed that their professional relationship had a bit of an odd starting point: Nolan inviting Murphy to do a screen test for Bruce Wayne, only to decide the up-and-coming actor was better suited for Scarecrow.
While searching for his Batman Begins star, Nolan had seen a photo of Murphy in a newspaper and wanted to set up a screen test. But by the time the two men began discussing the opportunity, they both started to get a vibe that another role might be more appropriate.
“When we had our first conversation I think both of us knew that you weren’t going to wind up playing Batman,” Nolan said to Murphy in the conversational interview. “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.”
That electric atmosphere proved to be the deciding factor. While both men wanted Murphy in the film, Nolan was worried about how to sell it to the executive powers-that-be, who were searching for bigger names to cast. However — even though neither man thought he was fit for the role — Murphy’s screen test for Bruce Wayne/Batman ended up being the perfect tool to get him on the executives’ radars.
“Everybody was so excited by watching you perform that when I then said to them, ‘Okay, Christian Bale is Batman, 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.”
Murphy explained that he was in awe of the process. “It was clear to me from the beginning that I wasn’t Batman material,” he said to Nolan. “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.”
Nolan and Murphy also joked about the fact that Scarecrow still lives on in the Batman universe. “He never died, just conveniently would be sort of offscreen somehow,” Nolan said. “Therefore [I was] able to call you up and say, ‘Come on back and put the sack over your head one last time.’” In response, Murphy said: “Yeah, he’s still out there.”
Murphy stars as the “father of the atomic bomb,” J. Robert Oppenheimer, in Nolan’s new film Oppenheimer, which will hit theaters on July 21st.