Emily Blunt Doesn’t Care If Her ‘Oppenheimer’ Character Is Likeable


In “Oppenheimer,” writer-director Christopher Nolan’s hit summer biopic (three words that don’t usually go together), Kitty Oppenheimer’s character is erased twice.

Kitty, played by Emily Blunt, is the woman behind the man: although a scientist herself, she is the marginalized wife of J. Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy), the American physicist who led the development of an atomic weapon during World War II. in Los Alamos, NM “Oppenheimer” is emphatically his movie, so much so that much of the script was written in the first person (“I open my eyes, JUMP out of bed, THEN to get dressed”).

And second, although Kitty was Robert’s wife (they had two children together), she was not his first love nor, as the film suggests, his strongest. Psychiatrist Jean Tatlock (Florence Pugh) was initially involved with Robert for three years, and the two continued to see each other, even after the Oppenheimers married. Halfway through the movie, Kitty finds her husband manic over her death.

“How heartbreaking it must have been for her,” Blunt said, “to see him in that state for another woman.”

All of this is to say that Blunt, the London-born actress known for films such as “The Devil Wears Prada,” “Mary Poppins Returns” and “A Quiet Place,” might have disappeared in the three-hour epic, which It was based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning biography “American Prometheus.” But Blunt’s is among the most memorable performances in a film packed with movie stars and acclaimed character actors. Blunt, winner of a Screen Actors Guild Award for “A Quiet Place” in 2019, is now a likely contender for her first Academy Award nomination.

In a video interview last month, he talked about sympathetically portraying an unfortunate but not exactly likable character. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.

Christopher Nolan asked actors to learn about their real-life characters. What happened with Kitty Oppenheimer that influenced your acting?

We all read “American Prometheus.” On the flight to Albuquerque, I could see other people trying to crowd it. The wives of Los Alamos described her as one of the most evil people they had ever met. Her men were intrigued by her but a little intimidated. Kitty didn’t make small talk. She just talked a lot.

Robert and Kitty Oppenheimer temporarily gave their son to their friends, the Chevaliers, because they were so overwhelmed. Was that scene difficult to do?

I have girls ages 9 and 7 and I love being a mom. I have always loved children. So it’s pretty hard to be so cold to these little guys on set. Clearly Kitty has a trauma there, a trauma that was not named at the time. She has fallen into drinking too much. I tried to empathize with the woman who was in possession of a phenomenal brain, that she has to contort herself to become a good housewife. It must have been agony for someone like her, who was so wild, so brilliant, that she should never have been a mother and that she clearly had a major depression after the child was born.

How do you balance empathy with fidelity to the character, potentially at the expense of sympathy?

For me, it’s never important if someone is nice. I just have to understand them. She could play that quiet desperation of the character, the restlessness and that sassy gift that she had, that was so hot and exciting. And yet, she was a very stabilizing force for him. She was his most vigorous protector. I think she had some pretty extraordinary qualities, plus others that really let her down as a person. She’s abrasive and flawed, but I really sympathized with the idea of ​​someone deteriorating on the ironing board, when she should have been made for intellectual endeavors that would have excited her.

Were there other scenes that unlocked Kitty for you?

Remember the scene under the rock with Cillian? She is babbling incoherently about his lover.

When I read the scene, I thought, “Wow, that’s so interesting, it’s almost like I can’t see that he’s talking to his wife.” And I slapped him. Chris said, “Slap him.” It’s not in the movie, but I hit that famous cheekbone one too many times. Perhaps what I played the most is his attempt to save face. Like, “Calm down, the people here depend on you.” It’s more like “Yo It depends on you.”

How did the unconventional, first-person nature of the script influence your approach to the role?

It was clear to all of us that this is a unique perspective. Oppenheimer’s character will come across the screen and put you inside his head, and you have these much wilder, more colorful characters around him. We were there to emotionally bring out different sides of this character.

Yo interviewed Nolan shortly before the premiere of “Oppenheimer” in 70-millimeter IMAX format.

It must have been like Dork Central for him. The passion for cinema is contagious.

What was it like filming with the IMAX cameras?

They would bring it in as if it were a huge refrigerator. And it’s loud: it sounds like Chewbacca walking in. There’s something liberating, because you know she’ll capture every little flicker and nuance on anyone’s face. But it’s noisy and at first you wonder, “How am I going to function?” It’s the low-key nature of Chris’s sets, the focus and lack of chaos, which was never this declamatory moment that IMAX was coming into.

How would you contrast Nolan’s “calm” sets with others you’ve been on?

In some series, you’re flying by the seat of your pants. It can work both ways: with a comedy or something that’s more free-spirited, sometimes it’s great for it to be a little more chaotic. But with Chris, it’s his preparation, so that when you show up, you don’t feel rushed as an actor. I’m sure the crew was horizontal every night at 7 p.m.

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